It is important to know that the Lord does not always send us back to the person that has hurt us or that we have hurt. He does not always trust us with each other.
The spiritual experience I had in the temple helping me to love and trust my husband through painful difficulties (here) is one I treasure and count among my most powerful spiritual experiences. I have heard experiences from others that are just as powerful and spiritual yet have told them the opposite, that it was time for their marriage to end. The decision of when and how to seek, carve, and build unity is individual and dependent on those involved. However, even if one aspect or form of unity is at an end, the call to unity remains and separation is never complete nor permanent.
The Book of Mormon begins with the story of one family. In this family there are three brothers that are spoken of most often. Laman and Lemuel are the eldest, but do not understand their father or the things of God. This causes many rebellions and jealousy of their younger brother, Nephi, who is spiritual.
In the second book of Nephi chapter 5, Nephi says he “[cried] much unto the Lord…because of the anger of [his] brethren” and then the Lord warned him that he “needed to depart from them and flee into the wilderness” (2Ne 5:1,5). When the anger and fighting became intense enough that his brothers sought to take his life, Nephi needed to leave. The Lord told him to separate. This is when the Book of Mormon stops telling the story of only one family and begins to contain the history of two warring nations.
Even with all the war chapters in the Book of Mormon, it is not about how to hate and beat your enemies. It is about what divides us and what unites us. In the beginning, the Nephites are righteous and the Lamanites wicked, but then there’s all sorts of missionary work and switching roles and turning tables. Nephites that feel the Spirit want their bretheren, the Lamanites, to feel it too, and they serve missions. Then you have incredibly righteous Lamanites that prophecy to increasingly wicked Nephites. When the Savior comes, there are no more -ites, and they are one. God is at the heart of unity.
Just like Nephi, there are times when we must separate. If our lives, be it physical or spiritual, are threatened, we must protect ourselves. When love and trust are not present, it can be more dangerous to stay together than it is to separate. You may end up carving out something that is supposed to be there—your self-esteem, confidence in the Lord, or love for all mankind. To what extent and degree you need to separate is dependent upon your circumstance.
But unity still lies ahead.
In the Doctrine and Covenants section 64 verse 9, the Lord says, “he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” When I read this in my late teens, I thought instantly of someone I struggled to forgive but didn’t see how my sin could be any worse than his. Then I began to realize that I still wanted to prove to other people that I was right, he was wrong, I was better, and he was horrible. I wanted the Atonement for myself, to heal me of my pain and make me stronger, but was denying that same opportunity to my enemy. Could I really act as judge and decide who could or could not access the healing power of the Atonement? To do such would be to usurp the role of Christ whose power the Atonement actually is. That would be a serious blasphemy indeed.
And yet, I worried. If I forgave, would I be vulnerable to more attacks? At the time, I thought that to forgive meant to ignore the past, pretend it didn’t happen, and I could not do that for fear of repeating it. As I prayed, the Spirit told me that forgiveness is hope. It is to hope that the person that hurt you will utilize the Atonement and follow Christ to have their own pains healed. This hope is safe because the healing power of the Atonement also comes with a change of heart so pronounced as to make one no longer desire to do evil. I did not need to be selfish in any way with the love and healing I had found. Doing so would not keep me any safer than sharing it would.
We are called upon to share and serve, to seek for unity through Christ, in different ways. We might be like Nephi, who was not called upon to serve a mission to his brethren after the separation but hoped for some distant future. Or we might be more like the Sons of Mosiah, who did feel a particular call and went personally to the Lamanites and served and loved many people. Other times, we may be preached to by a Samuel the Lamanite. However it comes, the call to forgive, to hope, and seek unity is present.
We must be aware that one side is never completely in the right or wrong. We need to ask ourselves constantly, is it my turn to serve, or is it my turn to listen? Do I have this one right or am I wrong? A degree of separation can help us answer these questions honestly and with the help of the Spirit.
I worried that a distinct separation between my husband and I would be necessary because his bitter anger towards the Church was intense during our time in Michigan. However, with an eye of hope towards the future, I saw that all I wanted was for my husband to feel the Spirit as I have and that meant knowing he was loved and trusted completely. He was not alone or abandoned, he was understood.
My husband and I attend different churches, we worship separately. But we still discuss our faith and what we gained from our worship. This bit of separation has helped both of us continue on our journeys, though they be different, together.
There are times when each of us wishes the other would just close the gap. I wonder what it would take for him to come back to my church and he wonders why I still stay. I worry that he will see my staying as a sort of betrayal. I want him to understand why I stay, but, more importantly, I want him to know that I understand him. I want him to trust me with his fears and know that I will not dismiss them but will still stand with him.
We earn each other’s trust by allowing whatever separation we need while still preparing for unity now knowing it will come.
The call to unity is always worth answering because it is a call of hope and a journey fueled by love.