Recently my mom asked me if I would write a post about love. I have always felt that love was at the center of everything related to religion and life, and so I thought it would be pretty easy to whip something up that would make my mom, and others feel inspired to love everyone. I was wrong. Really wrong. This post has turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would. After I thought about it long enough, I realized that writing this kind of blog can come across very judgmental, I admit upfront that I struggle with this idea as much as anyone, but my eyes were opened as I studied and wrote and hope that we can all find something in this post that can help us love one another a little more.
As I listened to my mom talk to me over the phone the first thing that popped into my mind was from the book of First John, and it wasn’t even a full part of the scripture it was just a phrase “God is Love.” This is the actual scripture verse:
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8
What struck me was how definitive John was in saying we could not know God if we don’t love. Does this mean that we just need to love the people who are easy to love, that we already love by nature, our families, like-minded friends, or does it mean everyone? That led me to these two scriptures:
“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” Luke 6:27-28
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” Matthew 5:43-46
Thinking about the idea of loving our enemies, made me wonder if it is really possible to love everyone. I decided to make a mental list of people or groups of people that I did not love and as the list grew I asked myself, “Are there people who don’t have a list like this of people that they dislike or at least do not love?” Obviously there are people or groups in everybody’s lives that have hurt us deeply, fight against things we believe, hurt people we love, or are so incredibly different from us that we are afraid of them. Learning to love these people just doesn’t seem probable for most of us. I can almost see us having the ability to tolerate them, but love them? Based on this, does it mean we cannot know God? Any of us?
Are there any good resolutions, or ideas on how we can actually accomplish this love? Before I get into my suggestions, I want to explore a little further what it means to not know God. A further look at the scripture in First John reveals something interesting:
“Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another…If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” 1 John 4:6-13
It seems like he is saying that we will not have the spirit dwelling with us if we do not love one another. So is it possible that as our love for each other grows our ability to have the spirit with us grows as well? Is it possible that by learning to love people that are different or who have been hard to love we get closer to God as we see his children differently? Our efforts to reach God in prayer, asking God for guidance, seeking inspiration, and feeling joy, peace, and support from the Holy Ghost will be hindered or at least limited unless we increase our level of love of each other, especially those different from us. As further illustration consider this scripture:
“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” D&C 121:45-46
But aren’t keeping the commandments how we get closer to God?. What can we find about love’s connection to keeping the commandments?
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” 1 Cor. 13:1-3
Even keeping the commandments, perfectly if that were even possible, requires love to be our primary motivation for it to even matter. It literally profits us nothing if are not motivated by love. So here we have it all boiled down:
- Our ability to know God and have communion with him is directly influenced by how we love.
- Not only do we need to Love God, but we need to Love everyone, including our enemies and those different from us.
- It seems impossible to Love the way we are asked to Love and so what gives?
I have come up with some suggestions that are simple, and I feel make loving all men possible, if not, hopefully they can give us the perspective that will allow us to grow toward that in our life. I plan to give two suggestions from each of the commandements from the earlier-quoted famous scripture in Matthew that tells us what all the Law and the Prophets (or in other words all the words of God) hang on:
- Love they God with all they Heart, Mind, Might, and Strength.
- Love thy Neighbor as Thyself.
Loving God with all our Heart, Mind, Might, and Strength
Doesn’t this description of the level in which we are asked to love God seem overly difficult? I mean, when do we ever feel that kind of love for anything? The only thing I could compare it to personally is my wife and children, but even then if I am honest, I spend some of my heart, mind, might, and strength on other things. I wondered what was meant by this and then my favorite scripture from my mission came to my mind:
“For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” Mosiah 5:13
Jesus said something similar when he told us that “where our treasure is there will our heart be also.” So I think it could be safely assumed that in order to love God to the level we are asked it would be necessary to integrate him into all the facets of life that we are involved in, so that he is never “far from the thoughts and intents of our hearts.” Our pursuit of our relationship with our Father in Heaven must become part of our life.
“Because love is the great commandment, it ought be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Suggestion 1 – Quit trying so hard to hide our sins from each other.
We are all going to sin, and sinning is part of life. This is the point of the atonement of Christ. We only have to believe that he can save us and then try to improve day by day in order to be saved by him. Whenever we seek to “hide our sins” by justifying them, covering them up in plain daylight, or pretending we are doing the “greater good” we hurt our relationship with God because we are in essence acting as if we do not need Him. I am not talking about telling everyone about the gory details of the worst of our lives, but I am talking about letting down the walls of perceived perfection. The only thing I can think of that causes us to keep up these pretenses is the fear of how others may feel about us when they can see our sin. God already knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts, and sees all of our actions, so “hiding our sins” doesn’t really change His perception. It is only for the benefit of ourselves in relation to others perceptions of us.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:13
This scripture is sometimes erroneously said to mean that we confess to proper priesthood authority. That is not what was being said. If you read the entire chapter it is clear that James is encouraging us to be honest and merciful with each other. In admitting our faults, even to each other, we are able to realize that we all need the Lord Jesus. That realization of needing the Savior is paramount to our ability to Love God. He can drift from our mind easily when we do not need him, and it is my belief that our faults are a means to helping us remember and need Him.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:27
Keeping up a charade of perfection to each other makes it more difficult for us to need God and help each other realize we need God. I think that needing God is something that will increase our love for Him and help us come closer to Him.
Suggestion 2 – Actually Try to Seek a Relationship with God
For all of human history we have tried to understand and define the characteristics of God. These attempts often resulted in the conclusion that God was unknowable, in fact, even God has told us that “his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts.” There are basics that we can discover through scripture study and listening to words of prophets, but in the end there is nothing that can replace seeking God for yourself. This seems so vague and cliché that I almost didn’t write it, but the journey to know who God is to you is the most important journey to start and it takes actual effort.
“Seeking God with all our hearts implies much more than simply offering a prayer or pronouncing a few words inviting God into our lives. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” We can make a great production of saying that we know God. We can proclaim publicly that we love Him. Nevertheless, if we don’t obey Him, all is in vain, for “he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf
It is so easy to just think God is whatever everyone else says he is, we hear about what He is at church, from blogs, from friends, from parents and it causes us to fail to take responsibility for obtaining and maintaining a personal relationship with and knowledge of Him. Here are a few things that help me:
- Meditate every day for longer than you think you have time to
- Pray out loud as often as you can, and spend more than 1 minute praying…the more time you spend the better. When your mind wanders go right back to praying and don’t stop just because you lost your train of thought.
- Study the scriptures in a way that makes you wonder how God was influencing and inspiring the people who wrote the words you are reading.
- Write your own scriptures—writing down the things you are thankful for, the things that have happened to you both miraculous and mundane, write down how you feel about things, people, and your life, write down what you dreams and wishes and desires, and then try to live it the best you can.
Knowing, which is necessary to loving, God seems daunting, but it is just like anything else, we just have to put in the effort and sacrifice necessary to obtain anything worthwhile. A quick story about my son can illustrate. Recently I have been trying to help him learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. Of course any of us who remember that process remember how scared we were to ride the bike without help. My son is terrified, to the point he doesn’t even want to try it. I keep encouraging and telling him it will come to him. It made me think about how the process worked for me. I hadn’t ridden a bike in years and the other day I got on one and it was so natural. At some point after trying, and trying, and doing it we all eventually become so natural at riding the bike we can’t even believe it was so hard. This is my experience with seeking the Lord. We just need to do it, and do it, and eventually it will become natural and we will feel the Lord in our lives.
Love thy Neighbor as Thyself
There have been many explanations for this idea, some focus on learning to love ourselves first and making that a priority before we can really love others. While some others focus on learning to ignore faults in ourselves and others in order to love everyone as we do ourselves. They all seem to fall short of a solution to actually being able to accomplish the commandment. One thing I believe is necessary is to use the following equation:
Neighbor = Thyself
So the key in my opinion to meeting the terms of the commandment is to create a perspective in which we bring all of our neighbors, including enemies, those different from us, those who hurt us, and all kinds of other types of people onto the same level as us. We must focus on how we are the same not on how we are different or we will fail at this commandment every single time, without fail. Here are some scriptures followed by words of current apostles to illustrate this:
“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” Mosiah 4:19
“Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?” Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case?” Jeffery R. Holland
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34
“He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf
In my opinion the only probable way of keeping the commandment to Love thy Neighbor as Thyself, is to see each other in all the ways that we are the same. This is not easy but I have some suggestions.
Suggestion #3 – Quit misusing the phrase “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”
This statement is one that is often used in ways that make me cringe. I think the idea that it is necessary for us to separate others actions from who they really are and love them, is one that is both useful, and extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the phrase is often misused and creates a frame of mind that makes it more difficult to love not easier. The phrase most often comes across as an emphasis on the Sin we hate not loving the sinner. In the context I most often here it, it comes across as a justification for not loving the sinner and hating the sin. Loving the sinner is what the goal is and when we are comparing sins it makes it less likely we will come to equal footing.
Consider, for a moment, how you would feel if one of your sins were known to someone you knew, and they decided to distance themselves from you. If you had the courage to confront them, which most people would not, and their response was “I hate your sin, but I love you, even though you are a sinner.” What would be a greater evidence of their love, them saying I hate your sin and love you, or the fact that they didn’t want to spend time with you anymore?
I found this very familiar story that is over 40 years old enlightening:
“A good friend shared this story about how she learned the deeper meaning of love. Their family has always been active in the Church, trying their best to live the commandments. They were shocked and disappointed, however, when their daughter became engaged to a [someone out of the church]. The next day the mother was telling a good friend about her feelings. She knew her daughter’s fiancee was a fine young man, but she felt angry, hurt, betrayed, and numb and did not want to give her daughter a wedding or even see her. She said that the Lord must have guided her to talk to her friend because she received this reply:
“What kind of a mother are you that you only love her when she does what you want her to do? That is selfish, self-centered, qualified love. It’s easy to love our children when they are good; but when they make mistakes, they need our love even more. We should love and care for them no matter what they do. It doesn’t mean we condone or approve of the errors, but we help, not condemn; love, not hate; forgive, not judge. We build them up rather than tear them down; we lead them, not desert them. We love when they are the most unlovable, and if you can’t or won’t do that, you are a poor mother.” With tears streaming down her face, the mother asked her friend how she could ever thank her. The friend answered, “Do it for someone else when the need arises. Someone did it for me, and I will be eternally grateful.” Jack Goaslind General Conference April 1981
It is easy to get into the habit of thinking our own sins are so much less grievous than everyone else’s, especially those who do not share our beliefs, or who have left our religious society for other chosen paths. We also can focus on one sin of another and come to label that person only in that light, and not see any other things about them that would bring them to our same level of needing help. These things prevent us from accomplishing the commandment that all of our beliefs hang on. We must bring all of ourselves to the same level, and one main part of that level is that we all need Jesus Christ.
The only real way I can see to actually “Hate the Sin, and Love the Sinner” is to see ourselves as the sinners as well and not emphasis the hating of other’s sins but emphasize the love we have for them. Loving them as the priority and as the focus, by seeing all of us as sinners, will give us the perspective we need to love them. This perspective is only the beginning, and just like in Knowing and Loving God, loving each other requires practice. That brings me to the final suggestion.
Suggestion #4 – Actually try to get to know and understand those who are different from us.
Every one of us lives in a self-created bubble. We congregate and associate with, primarily people who are like us. It is comfortable, and it is strengthening. For most of humanity’s existence this led to villages and communities of like-minded people living in the same place for generations. It made raising our children easier, it made life simpler, but it also was not the way the Lord intended it to remain. My generation and those after me have limitless reach in who we associate with and we don’t even have to be in person to congregate with each other. My children do not know physical boundaries to relationships. They can instantly Facetime grandma and grandpa half a world away. It brings limitless opportunities for the practice we need of getting to know others who are different from us.
The following scripture passage illustrates the hands on approach necessary in getting to know those different from us:
“Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.” Acts 3:1-9
In the story, it is not insignificant that Peter actually reached out and touched the man and lifted him up physically. We must spend more time with those who are different than us, not with the intention of making them like us, but with the intention of realizing how much we already are alike. Do we actually try to spend time with those who are different than us, do we even think about it? Can we honestly be surprised if someone thinks we are being fake when our effort to get to know them is obviously missing any real thought about that person? Is it a surprise that someone would not feel love, and therefore not feel God, if we are making them feel uncomfortable because of their sins all while pretending we love everyone, but just dont really want to be around them?
Here are some practical ideas for getting to know others who are different from you:
- Spend time with other people socially outside of church This could be doing social things with co-workers, past friends, extended family, or neighbors. Actually plan out activities where you spend time together.
- Avoid spending time listening and especially forwarding divisive political and social commentary that is meant to separate us into groups who have nothing in common. We should be cultivating a spirit of unity in our minds when we think about people. We don’t have to agree on issues, but focusing on the issues in relation to others prevents us from loving each other. Active engagement into politcs and social commentary should come from a love from people on each side of a disagreement and should be meant to solve problems not divide people.
- Serve those who are in need with more than just money. Service in any fashion brings us to a level we can all relate with. Prioritizing serving people who are different from us will change a person’s heart more than any other thing I have seen.
To conclude, I just want to give a shout out to my mother, who has always been the most loving person I know. She has taught me to love people who are not easy to love, and has showed me that love really can change the hardest of hearts. If you have some time I highly recommend reading and watching the links below.
“It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold. Friendship is like Brother Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence. I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine. Charity, which is love, covereth a multitude of sins… We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons.” Joseph Smith