Covenant Hearts: Why Marriage Matters and How to Make It Last (Paperback)

by Bruce C. Hafen

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Filled with practical insights and richly illustrated with true stories, Covenant Hearts shows that by living the Christlike life of the Good Shepherd (who will not flee when the wolf comes), husbands and wives will find—and give to each other—the abundant life of authentic joy.

Other books may offer marital counseling tips, but no other book delves as deeply into the big picture of why marriage is so central to both personal growth and the health of society.

Another Bruce C. Hafen, an eritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explains that we are witnessing the biggest cultural shift of attitudes about family life in five centuries. This remarkable collapse of marriage is inflicting toxic damage on children, parents, and society. And "when a confused culture confuses us about what marriage means," writes Elder Hafen, "we may give up on ourselves and each other much too soon." Yet an eternal perspective "can help us transcend the modern chaos, until our marriage becomes the most satisfying and sanctifying—and the most demanding—experience of our lives."

We may begin by marrying mostly for comfort, but uncomfortable opposition always follows. Covenant Hearts teaches ways to learn from working through our natural problems rather than fleeing from them. Then our marriage will bring us joy—a much higher form of comfort. At that level, marriage mysteriously empowers personal growth and fulness, now and forever.

Product Details

  • Size:  6" x 9"
  • Pages:  320
  • Year Published:  2013

About the Author

Bruce C. Hafen was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1996 and received emeritus status in 2010. An internationally recognized family law scholar, he has served as dean of the Brigham Young University Law School and as president of BYU-Idaho (formerly Ricks College). He is also well known for his best-selling trilogy on the Atonement. Elder Hafen currently serves as president of the St. George Utah Temple. He and his wife, Marie, are the parents of seven children and the grandparents of forty-four.

Chapter 1

Wedding Pictures

I recently attended a temple wedding in which the bride’s gentle grandfather performed the marriage. After the sealing, he invited the couple to kiss over the altar. Then they stood before him to exchange wedding rings, and they kissed again. All of us in the room felt their joy. The grandfather leaned toward them and whispered, “Well, how do you like married life so far?”

There is some pristine, unalloyed happiness in a wedding. I once occupied an office with a window that sometimes let me glimpse bridal parties who gathered for wedding pictures near the Salt Lake Temple. I have seen other scenes like that on the grounds of other temples, and it’s always the same—the very sight of the couple’s radiant faces transforms time into eternity, as the universe itself holds briefly still for just this bride and this groom.

A reception in our neighborhood once featured a display of mannequins adorned with the actual wedding dresses of mothers and grandmothers of the current couple. Some of the dresses were more than fifty years old. Near the dresses were old framed photos from the weddings of the couple’s parents and grandparents. The dresses and the photographs connected both the generations and the guests, gracing the reception with the timeless, joyful spirit of weddings.

A few years ago an international news magazine shared the story of Wal Richards of Maryborough, a small town in southeastern Australia. Wal had just died—alone, in his modest home. He had never married. He had a terrible speech impediment and other limitations that made him unable to communicate with people. Yet he was cheerful. He rode a bike everywhere. Some people in Maryborough thought of him as a kind of amiable village misfit.

For more than forty years, Wal came to local weddings to photograph the people. He just showed up carrying his camera, smiling and snapping candid, cheery shots of brides, grooms, their families and friends. He did it so often, people hardly felt married in Maryborough unless Wal came, though he was seldom actually invited. If the wedding were to be in Melbourne, three hours away, Wal would take the 5 a.m. train so he could be there with his camera as the bride and groom came out of the church.

Because no one ever saw his pictures, people assumed Wal had no film or that his pictures never turned out. When he died in his mid-sixties, his family and friends were astonished to find in rows of carefully packed trays and boxes about twenty thousand wedding photographs dating back almost half a century. The city fathers published a notice to all the people who had been married in Maryborough during those years, inviting them to come and identify their own wedding pictures among the fruits of Wal’s lifelong quest.

Not long after reading about Wal Richards, Marie and I found ourselves on a road trip that took us just south of Maryborough. We had been so taken by his story that we drove there and saw some of the photos for ourselves. We saw file after file—some of them out of focus, some at odd angles, but most offering warm glimpses of fresh love. A number of them portrayed their subjects and their mood so memorably that the Central Goldfields Regional Art Gallery placed them on exhibit—in tribute to Maryborough, to Wal, and to the promise of married love.

What does it say about weddings, and human nature, that this man in his utter loneliness would create and keep, as a sort of life’s work, these artistic impressions of the way love gives birth to commitment? Time after time he came to weddings in all seasons, wanting somehow to “hold still” what he couldn’t have and hold for himself. He found vicariously—in weddings— a sense of purpose and promise in his own life. For Wal Richards, as for all the rest of us, a wedding can be the sweetest of times—a day for dreams to come true. And wedding pictures do seem to capture glimpses of the dream.

Yet not all marriages turn out as well as the wedding pictures do. More and more, it seems, our neighborhoods and our extended families are full of people whose own dreams of family love fall short of their promise. Some of those dreams—too many, these days—end up torn and even battered, as in Fantine’s mournful song from Les Misérables:

I dreamed a dream in days gone by when hope was high and life worth living.

I dreamed that love would never die.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

But the tigers come at night with their voices soft as thunder,

As they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame.

When the tigers do come at night, threatening our dream that love will never die, we instinctively reach for the gospel’s perspective and teachings about marriage. Without that perspective, our frustration can lead us into the dark abyss of cynicism, not only about marriage but about life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that our existence is like a three-act play and that mortality all occurs in the second act. Act one was the premortal life, where we lived as the spirit children of our Heavenly Father, preparing for our act two adventure. In act three, we may return to our Father’s presence, depending on what happens in act two.

We marry, raise our children, and live our lives in act two. If we don’t know about, or we lose contact with, act one and act three, our act two experiences can sometimes seem hopelessly hard. When we can’t see with eternity’s perspective on time, we are vulnerable to the pessimist’s assumption that “life is no more than a night in a second-class hotel”—and it can be a sleepless night.

Yet in the gospel’s good news, those wedding photos really do contain a taste of eternity, because they somehow “capture” and keep alive the joy and vision of the wedding day. Making sure that this joy both endures and expands is a cause worth fighting for, as the complete vision of three full acts gives us power to hold on, to keep giving and growing in married love. That big picture helps us make sense of those mortal days when few things seem to make sense. It pours meaning from both yesterday and tomorrow into the hardest possible parts of today.

We can learn about the power of such a vision by looking at other images that hold in place our moments most worth remembering, the way Wal Richards’s wedding photographs do. Glimpses like these can crop up in many places in the lives of Latter-day Saints. In a typical cross-section of such lifespans, I came across these spiritually photogenic images as I listened to conversations among the members of an LDS ward I visited one weekend.

A faithful and exhausted sister missionary travels twenty-four hours from Eastern Europe to arrive home, having learned a language she once thought impossible, having fallen fully in love with and having taught an oppressed people she at first couldn’t understand. Imagine seeing her parents, her little sisters, and her brother welcome her at the airport.

After four years of patient and childless waiting, two young parents hold their newborn child. Imagine seeing them, their parents, and their brothers and sisters, all together in the hospital room, beaming as the new baby cries.

After wandering for six years, the last of five children comes to himself (see Luke 15:17) and is finally married in the temple. Imagine seeing him and his wife in the temple with his parents and all of his married brothers and sisters.

An older man who years before made some mistakes that cost him his family, his priesthood, his temple blessings, and his self-confidence now remarries. His new wife, who has always longed for but never experienced having a priesthood holder living in her home, encourages him along each step toward rebaptism. Imagine being in their home the night his priesthood and temple blessings are restored, and his first official priesthood act is to give his wife a blessing. Weeping, his wife exclaims, “The priesthood is in my home! The priesthood is in my home!”

I listened as the ward members shared and discussed such joyful moments from their own lives, moments in which wedding days hold an honored place. One of them asked, “What is it about these experiences that makes them such treasures?” Some of them are full of exuberance, as when King David was so happy about reclaiming the ark of the covenant that he “danced before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:14). Others are thoughtful, reverent times, such as crying quietly alone from the sheer comfort of being wrapped in the peace of the temple after a long absence.

How is it that these moments have the power to “make your heart swell so much it runs out your eyes and down your cheeks,” as one sister said. These are celebrations of meaning—meaning found in the joy of human love. The joy we feel is from tapping into the deep roots of spiritual promise in our doctrine about that love.

One sister said, “These moments give us a taste of eternity, showing us what we can have—what waits for us.” These are moments of power—staying power. Said another, “No matter what is coming (and often in these scenes we don’t know what will happen next), this moment will always go with us and reassure us.” Therefore, “cast not away … your confidence” (Hebrews 10:35).

Some of the joy is just from being together with the people we love most, as in a temple wedding party. Elder John Taylor called such times “a union of good feelings, good desires and aspirations” in a sense “of power, of faith, and of the Spirit of the Lord” in which the combination of many individual lights creates “a time of union, of light, of life, of intelligence, of the Spirit of the living God; our feelings are one, our faith is one, and … this oneness forms an array of power that no power on this side of earth or hell is able to … overcome.”

We must save these images, the group agreed, and write down our thoughts so we can preserve our clearest personal insights into our eternal nature and possibilities. As soon as they are over, these moments become the yesterdays that enfold our todays with purpose and give hope to our tomorrows—just like wedding pictures, which somehow do feel as if we’ve been granted a glimpse into a place of permanent light, where time will be no more and peace will never leave us.

How do the wedding pictures anchor our sometimes dreary act two lives in the larger perspective of act one and act three? They can touch eternal things, affirming them with the Spirit’s own witness. Brigham Young said that when we “keep the Spirit of the Lord,” we will feel “just as [if we] were again by our Father in Heaven before [we] came into the world.”

These are moments of such strong spiritual reality that they awaken within us the sure feeling of once more being at home, “with Him.” They feel familiar and true because they stir our deepest longings and our oldest subliminal memories of our premortal life. In that core region of our hearts, no desire is greater than our longing one day to “be with” our Father and our eternal companions, families, and friends.

Brigham Young gave us this word picture about eternity’s perspective on time: “He is the Father of our spirits; and if we could know, understand, and do His will, every soul would be prepared to return back into His presence. And when they get there, they would see that they had formerly lived there for ages, that they had previously been acquainted with every nook and corner, with the palaces, walks, and gardens; and they would embrace their Father, and He would embrace them and say, ‘My son, my daughter, I have you again’; and the child would say, ‘O my Father, my Father, I am here again.’”< p>Mel and Helen left their Utah home for eighteen months to serve as temple missionaries in the Washington D.C. Temple. Their three-year-old granddaughter Ashley missed them terribly, having been very close to them in every sense before they left. For Christmas, they sent Ashley’s family a picture showing Mel and Helen standing in front of the temple. When Ashley saw the picture, she pressed it against her cheek. Laughing, she called out, “Gamma! Gamma! I have you! I have you!”

Whether etched on paper or in our hearts, a wedding picture is a type and shadow of being able to say always, “I have you again. I am here again.” Sensing that, Ashley could manage today because the picture showed her she would have Gamma tomorrow. That same assurance breathes life into the familiar and ancient male-female Love Story, the universal pattern that calls out to our very nature.

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Best book on the doctrinal basis for marriage I have ever read

by  Jeffrey  -   reviewed on  September 05, 2013

As Satan continues to mount a clever war against marriage and family, many including some of those sealed under covenant have lost sight of the doctrinal and practical underpinnings for covenant marriage and family. Elder Hafen's book is the best book on this subject I have ever read. It is well written, well researched and doctrinally based. We have six married children. I have asked all of them and their spouses to read it. This book is a clear voice in a world of muddled thinking about marriage and family and the essential role that covenant marriage and family plays in the Plan of Happiness.

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