My Sacrament Meeting talk given on July 31st, 2016. YSA Branch, Lexington KY
When I first moved out of my parents’ home in 2010, I had taken only the things that were in my room at first. I was moving in with two other girls who’d lived on their own before so I didn’t need much in the way of furniture, aside from what was in my room. However, over the course of the last 6 years, there have been several more moves of my own and my parents have now moved to a much smaller home. Many things have now found their way into my possession. These items include baby blankets, photos, Christmas ornaments, memorabilia from our three years in Japan, and my mother’s entire Christmas Village collection. However, one item I received was a very unique looking candlestick holder. As a person raised on Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Patricia Veryan it’s one of my favorite pieces in the apartment.
The candlestick holder is about eight inches tall and is a spiral from top to bottom and the candle fits down in it. There is a wooden cork at the very bottom and a small iron handle is attached to the wood. It has an elegant looking handle from which to hold the whole thing, but it’s the cork and actual holder that I eventually found so interesting. I’d never seen my parents use the candlestick holder and it looks as brand new as the first time I’d seen it.
One day, I questioned my mother about it, wondering why it would sit in the living room with no candle when there were many other candles in use around the house. My mother smiled and picked up the candlestick holder and told me that it was called a Courtship Candle Holder. Now, I’d read enough books to understand what the word courtship meant but had no idea how it would pertain to a candle. Way back before the modern time of dating, when a young man would visit a young woman at her father’s house, it would probably be very common to find a candle holder such as this in the home. When the young man arrived to visit his potential wife, a candle, placed in that particular candle holder would be lit. When the candle had burned down low enough to reach the top of the candle holder, the young man knew it was time to go home. The cork would then be raised, making the candle higher and the process would begin on the young man’s next visit. The young man was probably given anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes with the young woman, depending on how high the father had raised the candle, or how much the father liked the young man.
But let’s take a moment and examine that picture, of a young man and a young woman with a courtship candle between them. Let’s zoom out of that a little. The two are probably not sitting side by side, even if they are sitting on same couch. There’s probably plenty of distance between them, and a mother or a chaperone of some sort sits close by. The father is probably close by as well, most likely with a freshly polished pistol if he senses someone isn’t treating his daughter the way she deserves to be treated. There’s probably no television, no phone, no computer, or technology of any kind to distract the two from getting acquainted with each other. Siblings are probably running in and out of the room, girls giggling over their sister and boys rolling their eyes at the nonsense of it all.
Later, the young man would leave, and depending on the era of our story, and let’s say it’s the Regency era, and the year is 1816, the gentleman wouldn’t press the woman for anything more than a very chaste kiss, or the touch of her hand, and even only if they were engaged.
For me, this candle holder symbolizes a time when the values of world were a lot stronger than what they are today. A time when living a virtuous life…a life where our moral integrity meant more than fleeting whims of passion, wasn’t so hard or filled with judgement. There were strict rules that defined society and to step outside those lines had severe consequences. But the world has since changed what would seem like several times over since 1816, and traditions such as this are probably so archaic that many would balk at the idea of such a practice being put to use in 2016. With the rapid increase in technology, and the internet opening up before our eyes with just keystrokes, many things are lost to the world. Many find it hard to put down the distractions and focus on the things that are important. A courtship process is most likely one of them. The world thinks very differently now of what romance is and how people should be.
The 1960s is probably where we could see the pendulum of morality swing in the complete opposite direction, and swing very fast. During that era it became more about what you want as opposed to what Heavenly Father wants. Over the last 50 years we can easily see large parts of the world, even in our own immediate society, think of the idea of religion and all that it entails as simply that…an idea. It’s a suggestion, instead of plan. A guideline, instead of a commandment. It is eat, drink, and be merry, layeth up treasure for yourself in this life, instead of preparing for all the treasures and blessings that could be yours in the next life.
Temptation is all around us, despite however much we shield ourselves from the fiery darts of Satan. We see it in the social climate how people’s words and actions tear people apart, instead of bringing them together. We see it in literature and how you can’t read a good book without there having some illusion or expressing an explicitly impure scene. We hear it in music where songs are no more than just bleeps to hide all of the vulgar language. We’re exposed to it in movies where the rating PG-13 now seems to have a very different guideline then what it did say 20 years ago. We see it in our co-workers, or classmates, who live with people who are not their family members, nor are they of the same gender. Roommates who do not share the same values as yourself and who partake in things that do not adhere to the Word of Wisdom.
So, how, brothers and sisters? How are we able to maintain our virtue when the world is so clearly interested going the complete opposite direction? How do we stay true and hold fast to the iron rod and not wander off when the mist of darkness surrounds us? In short, how do we live a virtuous life in an unvirtuous world?
First, we must first be true to ourselves and solidify ourselves on the teachings of Christ. We must develop a personal relationship with Christ and with Heavenly Father that we shall not doubt and so that we shall recognize all that has been prepared for us. There is a reason that in Matthew we read that the first and great commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Our commitment to Him must be first in our lives otherwise everything else falls short. No relationship with any other person, be it a family member, or a friend, or eternal companion, can succeed without putting Heavenly Father first.
By perfecting this relationship we develop virtuous traits that lay the foundation for dealing with our fellow man. One can’t offer a true and sincere prayer to Heavenly Father or “pray always” (Luke 21:36) without gaining humility. For we cannot be prideful when we need help from Heavenly Father. We cannot “be devoted to the studying of the scriptures” (D&C 26:1) without developing our own spirituality. Knowledge and understanding of our Heavenly Father is deepened when we study the words of Christ. We cannot learn to have accountability for our actions if we do not remember our baptismal covenants, and renew them each week when we partake of the Sacrament. Our personal integrity is strengthened when we “bring…all the tithes into the storehouse,” (Malachi 3:10) and give Heavenly Father that which He asks of us.
After we have developed this personal and unfailing relationship with Heavenly Father are we then to proceed with the second greatest commandment: to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” By now, we have learned to love ourselves and developed a strong sense of humility, accountability, spirituality, and personal integrity that we can use those to develop many other traits that can arise only when we are with our fellow man.
I was sitting in Primary a few years ago when this verse was being talked about. A very bright young boy in Senior Primary asked a very serious question: “But what about Adolf Hitler? Or John Wilkes Booth?” This little boy was already seeing how truly difficult it could be to “love thy neighbor” especially when it came to people who had wronged us or wronged others. But how else are we to develop charity? With charity comes longsuffering, kindness, and forgiveness which are just a few of the things that Christ shows when it comes to us. By showing kindness to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) we are slowly becoming more like Christ and have “put on the whole armor of God,” (Ephesians 6:11) so that can we “be in the world, but not of the world” (John 15:19). We develop patience for those who think we’re crazy because we “give up” three hours of our Sunday to go to church. Civility when people ask why we don’t wear the latest fashion trends and immodest clothing when it’s well into the upper 90s outside.
Christ taught that “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” That’s a powerful word: love. We use is so interchangeably now, and say it probably when we don’t mean it. Love is used in such everyday conversation that most have probably forgotten its very definition: an intense feeling or deep affection. I’ve personally tried to make a commitment to use the word “love” only when it’s applicable. Meaning I don’t love that song, or restaurant, or book, or movie, or game, or TV show, but rather, I like them, or they’re my favorites when compared to others. But I love my family and friends; my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and I love this Church and Gospel.
If we do not develop these Christ-like attributes or these virtues, one of the most important relationships will not succeed, that of an eternal nature that can help us achieve the highest glory offered to us, a place where this pure love of Christ carries so much weight: our eternal marriage. Here we see the essence of Matthew 22 where it is important to love God first, and then love thy neighbor, or in this case our spouse. Finding the right eternal companion, is a process which shouldn’t be accomplished in the mere blink of an eye. It is also the perfect time for Satan to fire everything he’s got at us to make our road to the temple seem almost impossible.
Think back to the picture centered around that candle. Now, I’m not saying that we need to mimic the courtship process of two to four-hundred years ago, but there are things that we can learn from it. The gentleman showed accountability for the young woman’s family by leaving when it was time. The young woman had a strong sense of personal integrity by having a chaperone present and keeping distance between her and the gentleman. And both of them probably exuded long suffering and patience given the length of a courtship process.
So are these same situations applicable in our own lives and as we make our way to the temple. Being accountable and using our agency and listening to the Spirit when we are in situations that require us to make the decision to leave. We need to hold tightly to our personal integrity and stand in holy places, that we may been as children of our Father in Heaven and that we know our worth. We need to have patience when those around of us seem to achieve the very thing we are so desperately wanting for ourselves. We must focus our relationship around Heavenly Father for when two people do so are they brought closer together.
My own marriage fell apart due to a lack of honesty, of personal integrity, of the pure love of Christ. I can only stand here and wonder if maybe I’d been more diligent in the beginning, if I’d followed the commandments of my Heavenly Father more closely, than maybe so much heartache and trials could have been avoided. It’s a lot of “ifs” and hindsight is 20/20, but it’s forced me to see now what I should’ve seen then. That a life not centered on Christ, is no life at all. That living a virtuous life is hard and takes work, but the rewards are far greater than the trials. That a relationship with Heavenly Father should always come first, and everything else will fall into place in His time.
Brothers and sisters, let us develop these virtues that we may be more like Christ. Let us “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and be filled with “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). Let us be ever faithful and ever watchful. May we seek for Heavenly Father and come to know him that we may receive everything that is promised to us, is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.