Let me list some specific things that I think you should teach your students to be glad about and over which they should cease being fearful. I note, for example, getting married, having families, and welcoming children into the world. We in the presiding councils of the Church hear far too often—and perhaps you do as well—that many of our youth and young adults are terrified to get married. In extreme cases they are fearful that the world is about to end in blood and disaster—something they don’t want to take a spouse or child into. In less severe, more common cases, they are fearful that the world will just get more difficult, that jobs will be too hard to find, and that one should be out of school, out of debt, have a career, and own a home before considering marriage. Good grief! On that formula Sister Holland and I still wouldn’t be married! Seriously, when we got married we were both still undergraduates at BYU, with neither set of parents able to help us at all financially, no way to imagine all the graduate education we had yet ahead of us, and this with $300 dollars between us on our wedding day! Now that may not be the ideal way to start a marriage, but what a marriage it has been and what we would have missed if we had waited even one day longer than we did once we knew that that marriage was right. Sure, there was sacrifice; certainly there were restless days and weeks and months; certainly there was some burning of the midnight oil. But I tremble to think what we would have lost if we had taken “counsel from our fears,” as President James E. Faust would later tell me over and over and over that I and no one else should ever do. What if we had delayed inordinately? What would we have missed? I still think the best definition of marital love is James Thurber’s, who said simply that love is what you go through together. I will be eternally grateful for what Pat was willing to go through with me—that she did not feel I had to have my degree and a car and a home and a career all in hand before we could marry.
Sixty-four years ago this September, I returned home from my mission in England. Three days after returning, I attended a Hello Day dance at the University of Utah with a friend of mine. He told me about a beautiful sophomore named Barbara Bowen, whom he thought I ought to meet. He brought her over and introduced us, and we started to dance. Unfortunately, this was what we used to call a “tag dance,” which meant that you got to dance with the girl only until somebody else tagged you out. Barbara was vivacious and popular, so I got to dance with her for less than a minute before another young man tagged me out. That was just not acceptable to me. Having learned the importance of follow-up on my mission, I got her telephone number and called her the very next day to ask her out, but she was busy with school and social commitments. Thankfully, my mission taught me to be persistent even in the face of discouragement, and I was eventually able to make a date. And that date led to others. Somehow during those dates I was able to convince her that I was the only true and living returned missionary—at least as far as she should be concerned. Now, 64 years later, there are seven children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who stand as evidence of the significant truth that no matter how good your message is, you may not get a chance to deliver it without consistent, persistent follow-up.
Most of you are unmarried, but we hope that every normal one of you will be married, and we are reminding you now, with all the power and influence we have, so that none of you will fail a proper marriage and that you will so completely fortify that institution that it will be an eternal one. We are gravely concerned about the number of our people who are being married out of the temple and even out of the Church. Then we’re gravely concerned again about that unbelievable number who permit their marriages to go stale and let them be destroyed. May I say that almost all marriages could be beautiful, harmonious, happy, and eternal ones, if the two people primarily involved would determine that it should be, that it must be, that it will be. A recent spot-check of stakes reveals that fewer than forty percent of the marriages in those stakes were temple marriages. The figures increased in these stakes only 2.9 percent in four years, or less than one percent a year. How long will it take us at that rate to reach a reasonable record? Of course there are a substantial number of sealings after marriage, but we’re mindful also that many of the original marriages fail and end in divorce. We wonder why—why nearly sixty percent of our people would be satisfied with less than an eternal marriage.
Ideally, mating begins with romance. Though customs may vary, it flourishes with all the storybook feelings of excitement and anticipation, even sometimes rejection. There are moonlight and roses, love letters, love songs, poetry, the holding of hands, and other expressions of affection between a young man and a young woman. The world disappears around the couple, and they experience feelings of joy. And if you suppose that the full-blown rapture of young romantic love is the sum total of the possibilities which spring from the fountains of life, you have not yet lived to see the devotion and the comfort of longtime married love. Married couples are tried by temptation, misunderstandings, financial problems, family crises, and illness, and all the while love grows stronger. Mature love has a bliss not even imagined by newlyweds. True love requires reserving until after marriage the sharing of that affection which unlocks those sacred powers in that fountain of life. It means avoiding situations where physical desire might take control. Pure love presupposes that only after a pledge of eternal fidelity, a legal and lawful ceremony, and ideally after the sealing ordinance in the temple are those procreative powers released in God’s eye for the full expression of love. It is to be shared solely and only with that one who is your companion forever.
I realize there are many reasons why you may be hesitating to take that step of getting married. If you are concerned about providing financially for a wife and family, may I assure you that there is no shame in a couple having to scrimp and save. It is generally during these challenging times that you will grow closer together as you learn to sacrifice and to make difficult decisions. Perhaps you are afraid of making the wrong choice. To this I say that you need to exercise faith. Find someone with whom you can be compatible. Realize that you will not be able to anticipate every challenge which may arise, but be assured that almost anything can be worked out if you are resourceful and if you are committed to making your marriage work. Perhaps you are having a little too much fun being single, taking extravagant vacations, buying expensive cars and toys, and just generally enjoying the carefree life with your friends. I’ve encountered groups of you running around together, and I admit that I’ve wondered why you aren’t out with the young ladies. Brethren, there is a point at which it’s time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity. If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness. When you marry, brethren, you will wish to marry in the house of the Lord. For you who hold the priesthood, there should be no other option. Be careful lest you destroy your eligibility to be so married. You can keep your courtship within proper bounds while still having a wonderful time.
And now just a word on the most common and most difficult of all problems for you young men and young women to handle. It is the relationship that you have one with another. You are dealing with the most powerful of human instincts. Only the will to live possibly exceeds it. The Lord has made us attractive one to another for a great purpose. But this very attraction becomes as a powder keg unless it is kept under control. It is beautiful when handled in the right way. It is deadly if it gets out of hand. It is for this reason that the Church counsels against early dating. This rule is not designed to hurt you in any way. It is designed to help you, and it will do so if you will observe it. Steady dating at an early age leads so often to tragedy. Studies have shown that the longer a boy and girl date one another, the more likely they are to get into trouble. It is better, my friends, to date a variety of companions until you are ready to marry. Have a wonderful time, but stay away from familiarity. Keep your hands to yourself. It may not be easy, but it is possible. You young men who plan to go on missions must recognize that sexual sin may keep you from that opportunity. You may think that you can hide it. Long experience has shown that you cannot. To serve an effective mission you must have the Spirit of the Lord, and truth withheld does not mix with that Spirit. Sooner or later you will feel compelled to confess your earlier transgressions. Well did Sir Galahad say, “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure”. My dear young friends, in matters of sex you know what is right. You know when you are walking on dangerous ground, when it is so easy to stumble and slide into the pit of transgression. I plead with you to be careful, to stand safely back from the cliff of sin over which it is so easy to fall. Keep yourselves clean from the dark and disappointing evil of sexual transgression.
The great plan of happiness enables family relationships to last beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants, available only in the temple, make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally. Marriage, the family, and the home are the foundation of the Church. Nothing is more important to the Church and to civilization itself than the family! For some all is not complete in mortal life, for marriage and a family of their own have passed them by. But the great plan of happiness and the laws which govern it continue after death. Watched over by a kind and loving Heavenly Father, they will not, in the eternal pattern of things, be denied blessings necessary for their exaltation, including marriage and family. And it will be sweeter still because of the waiting and the longing. We learned from the revelations that we do not have to tell you young people what is right and what is wrong with regard to morality and marriage. The prophet Lehi taught his youthful children that “men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil.” Because the power to create a mortal body is essential to our happiness and exaltation, the Lord has decreed severe penalties against the immoral use of that power to beget life. Satan knows that if he can corrupt the process of mating and cause men and women to degrade it in immoral acts, he will, to that degree, for them disrupt the plan of happiness. Paul taught, “God … will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” I do not wish to offend the delicate feelings of you wonderful young people, but in your world awash with iniquity, you must be on guard.
A marriage that is timely in our view may be our blessing or it may not. My wife Kristen is an example. She did not marry until many years after her mission and her graduation. Older singles have some interesting experiences. While she was at her sister’s place to celebrate her fiftieth birthday, her sister’s husband shared something he had just read in a newspaper. “Kristen,” he said, “now that you are a single woman over 50, your chances of marrying are not as good as your chances of being killed by a terrorist.” The timing of marriage is perhaps the best example of an extremely important event in our lives that is almost impossible to plan. Like other important mortal events that depend on the agency of others or the will and timing of the Lord, marriage cannot be anticipated or planned with certainty. We can and should work for and pray for our righteous desires, but, despite this, many will remain single well beyond their desired time for marriage. So what should be done in the meantime? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ prepares us for whatever life brings. This kind of faith prepares us to deal with life’s opportunities—to take advantage of those that are received and to persist through the disappointments of those that are lost. In the exercise of that faith we should commit ourselves to the priorities and standards we will follow on matters we do not control and persist faithfully in those commitments whatever happens to us because of the agency of others or the timing of the Lord. When we do this, we will have a constancy in our lives that will give us direction and peace. Whatever the circumstances beyond our control, our commitments and standards can be constant.