I have spent countless hours mulling over the loss of my marriage covenant, what went wrong, what mistakes I made, and what meaning my experiences have for the larger picture of life. I believe I have gleaned yet another lesson by comparing marriage to the contract of citizenship.
Growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with parents who have a strong marriage, I was taught what a marriage entails. There are many explicit agreements, including a wife listening to her husband when he listens to the Lord and the covenant to remain together throughout eternity. Even as a teenager and before I had a husband, I took the marriage covenant seriously enough to study it and to shape my life around its expectations. In doing so, I adopted several implicit obligations in a covenant marriage, including the expectation to grow together, to be patient and forgiving of my spouse’s faults, to give everything I had.
Under the government, in one sense my life and my liberty are theoretically unalienable, which means that even I do not have the right to sell them or trade them. I cannot put myself into indentured servitude or slavery, request a doctor to end my life to donate organs to save another, nor legally volunteer to be executed or incarcerated on another’s behalf.
But like everything, there are shades of grey. I can accept employment which pays me far less than the work is worth, or risk my life to donate organs to save another, so long as death is not guaranteed. I can sacrifice my time, talents, and even my personality for another. I can be raised or manipulated to believe I have no other choice. So these so-called unalienable rights are not as unalienable as we sometimes think. There is not really any such thing as an unalienable right in reality, only in the world of legality. And many people, as I claimed in the last post, confuse the difference between reality and legal rights.
In fact, voluntarily giving one’s life and liberty is part of marriage. Even speaking purely legally, a person gives up some right to their own life, liberty and property when they marry, as is obvious when a couple divorces.
This is especially true of a covenant marriage. A true marriage, a true welding of two people into one being, requires Sacrifice. Sacrifice is, perhaps, the most sacred principle of the gospel, more sacred even than agency, though it is built upon it. Agency is innate, but sacrifice is a choice. The Atonement is built upon this seeming paradox. He, having all power, sacrificed it all for us, which is what grants Him power.
And yet, there is a perversion of that most sacred of laws, and there are many all too eager to take advantage. In order for sacrifice to be divine, it must occur by freely submitting our will. There must always be the potential to stop sacrificing. If we sacrifice our lives and liberty, ourselves, time, talents, and everything to the point where we no longer choose to sacrifice, we are no longer exercising our agency, and it is no longer truly a sacrifice.
That was my primary mistake in my marriage, I believe. Sacrifice was no longer a choice, it was an expectation and a way of life. I chose it because I didn’t know I had another choice. I had to be forced to get out of that situation before I realized it was a choice that could be made.
Just like the grey areas in the contract between the people and the government, there are many shades of grey in a marriage involving how far one can go before the other’s agency is violated. However, when I chose to officially end my marriage, it was not because I felt that the contract had been breached. To the contrary, I felt that the only way to fulfill the parts of my marriage covenant that were still within my power was, ironically, to end the marriage. My agency had been violated to the point where I was not doing myself, my children, and even my husband any good.
I took back my agency, the power I had to choose. And by taking back my agency, the sacrifices I made to my husband, the sacrifices I make to God, and the sacrifices I make for my children regained their power and their meaning. They are no longer just a way of life, they are a conscious, fully deliberate choice.
This relates strongly to the choice we are given when participating in a governed society. I believe that so long as we have the power to effect change in a government, so long as a government is open to change through legal means, those means should be followed to the utmost extent of the law. Joseph Smith’s revelation in D&C 134 actually goes into this approach in some detail.
However, once government gets to the point where it is no longer connected to the means of change (such as the voice of the people in most modern 1st world governments,) we are justified in taking the protection of life, liberty and property into our own hands, if we are able. And, as I mentioned in the last post, that judgment is entirely subjective. There are also certainly times when acting on it might be justified but not wise, both in politics and in marriage.
If my husband had been a man who could change himself and his behavior, I could have taken back my agency without ending the marriage. Because he was not, I was left with a choice between my agency and ability to protect my children, and the covenant of marriage that I had made.
This active agency is a right that should not be violated, and should not be given away. The Lord might ask you to trust Him, but He will never violate your agency, neither your right to choose nor your right to account for those choices. (And that accountability is an essential aspect of agency that goes hand-in-hand with freedom to choose.) If we are truly serving Him, we will not try to violate another’s agency even when sharing the Gospel with them. But neither will we remove the need to account for the exercise of that agency. In my marriage, I both removed my own choice, and removed the need for my husband to account to me for his actions in the marriage. By doing so, I also violated agency.
Removing law (and therefore accountability) violates agency just as much as removing choice. And this applies to our relationship with government.
I recently realized that the principle of agency relates both legally and theologically with the gospel and the preaching of it, both within and without the Church, which I will outline in the next post.