But then there is the other type of love; that is, the love which Jesus Christ so perfectly demonstrated: the love for everyone--especially those who hate(d) Him--which caused the Savior of the world to lay down His life and suffer and die for each and every one of us so that we may one day live again. This is a love which is just as easy to find as the world's version, but much harder to develop. This love is a gift from God and takes a very concerted effort to develop, which efforts include not only avoiding the carnal passions of mankind but in many cases, doing just the opposite. This is the love which I seek to discuss in this blog post. This is true love. This is a love which is eternal and far more beneficial for everyone involved than the other version.
I do not presume to be an expert in love. In fact, I will be the first to tell you that I am still very far away from having Christ-like love. Which is exactly why I feel qualified to make this blog post? This isn't coming from an expert or a professional, but rather from someone like you who is trying to develop relationships that will be firm and lasting. This is coming from someone who has observed, studied, and taken note of many aspects of love. Here is a brief compilation of some of my thoughts concerning true love.
Observation 1--Love and pain are not disjoint
Many people who do not believe in any form of God ask the question, "If this God loves us so much, why do bad things happen in the world?" This is a very valid question and one that I have often thought about! One day as I was pondering this question, another question came to my mind: does allowing pain imply a lack of love? When thought of from the perspective of a "God" to us, it can present quite a conundrum. But when brought down to a more applicable level, the answer is quite clear. Allow me to illustrate via a personal example.
In the Tucker family, it is a tradition to make gingerbread houses at Christmas time and for each of us to decorate a house. For us, Christmas won't be Christmas without any gingerbread houses. I recall one Christmas in particular. I was near the age of six and it was that time of the season for my mom to make the gingerbread for us to use to construct our houses. As was often the case, I was in the kitchen as she mixed, rolled, cut, and eventually cooked these house pieces.
I recall being told not to touch the pan when it got out of the oven because it would be very hot, but being the young child that I was, my excitement to see the finished product of my mother's hard work won out over my listening skills (or lack thereof). So, against my mother's words, I reached up and grabbed the pan almost as soon as she pulled it out of the oven. You can guess what happened next. A few minutes later, after some screaming and crying, I found myself watching a Christmas movie in the living while my mother continued baking the gingerbread.
Now, after sharing this anecdote, I could assume the following conclusion: my mother allowed me to burn myself on the hot pan, therefore she must not love me. Clearly, however, this is a false conclusion. My mother did what she was supposed to; she told me not to touch the pan, she told me the consequences of doing so, and she put it in a place where I couldn't easily reach it. She had done her best to warn and protect me from injury. But as a result of my own personal negligence and curiosity, I was hurt.
In theory, yes, my mother could have done more to protect me and to make it impossible for me to have burned myself, but I think there is another underlying principle that every parent will agree with. Often the best way to learn a particular lesson is through personal experience. Sometimes the best way for a child to fully grow is for them to disobey and then learn "the hard way" the importance of a given lesson; in my example these could include trusting my parents, listening to others, or the basics of thermodynamics. Through that experience I learned those particular lessons very quickly and as a result, I become a more competent, capable human being.
Maybe that is what God wants from us. Maybe He wants us to be more competent and capable and, therefore, allows us to make mistakes, to disobey His commandments, and to fall of our faces. As the perfect parent that He is, when we choose that path He is right beside us to pick us up, to comfort us when we cry, and to soothe our burn. But we must allow Him to do so. Just like my nephew, if we persist on acting like the toddler that kicks and screams when they get hurt, all we are left with is isolation and no remedy for our pain. Our pride and tantrum-throwing ways actually inhibit the love that is offered us. We must humble ourselves and allow the Father to comfort and heal us. It can be hard to notice, but it always comes.
If God, the most powerful and wise Being in all of existence takes such care of His children, shouldn't we do the same. Truly this is one aspect of love. But please forgive me, I have deviated from my initial observation. True, it is necessary for us to love and comfort those around us, but to go back to my question, does allowing pain imply a lack of love? I hope that my story helped you to realize that not only does the allowance of pain not imply love that is lacking but that, in many instances, it implies greater love than we had initially thought.
How is this so? Because the other person loves us so much that they are willing to let us make our own mistakes so that we will not have to rely on their guidance throughout our lives but so that we can learn our own lessons and make our own growth. Love includes allowing pain when it is necessary. Just ask any parent.
Observation 2--Love requires more
As we read in the book of Mosiah which is found in the Book of Mormon, "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord".
In a recent blog post I summarize what the natural man is and what that causes us to do. The natural man is selfish and cares only for his or her self. It cares not for those around them and their happiness or benefit, but rather it asks the questions, "What do I get out of this? What's in it for me?" Whereas the saint which king Benjamin talks about is always asking the questions, "What can I do for someone else? Who can I help today?"
The natural man is just that, natural. It prompts us to ridicule and criticize others; it is what keeps us in constant competition with those around us; it is what consistently motivates us to assert our superiority, as if being the best means anything in a group of friends. After all, one who insists on you knowing how great they are is far from a true friend.
I love the quote by Jeffrey R. Holland in the talk How do I Love Thee where he says, "I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure."
Truly loving another person requires more from us that what is natural. It requires us to be concerned more for their welfare than our own. It is to think about another more than we think about ones self. Love have no room for criticism, or complaint, or harshness. While these things may be socially popular, they are indicative of a person whose love is artificial, especially when they are done in jest.
True love requires more than the natural man, it requires the best from us "at all times and in all things, and in all places...even until death."
Observation 3: Love is compassion
Gordon B. Hinckley once said, "True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well being of one's companion." Similarly, Jeffrey R. Holland, in his aforementioned talk, says "True love blooms when we care more about another person than we care about ourselves".
The dictionary defines compassion to be "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." What better word is there, in the English dictionary, which summarizes precisely what true love is? Just as the quotes from those prophets indicates, pure compassion is synonymous with true love which, as found in the book of Moroni, is simply equivalent to charity: "But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him."
Surely this is demonstrated powerfully than the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ who gave His own life for every soul who would ever walk the earth--including those who despise(d) Him. I love the summary of His life as found in John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I testify that you, individually, are one of Christ's friends. Regardless of how you feel towards Him, He considers you a friend, and He died for you. There is no greater example of love that in the life--and more particularly the death and resurrection--of the Savior.
True love is compassion.
Observation 4: Love is not convenient
In the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Christ is referenced to have had compassion on another more than ten times with more such instances in His visit to the disciples on the American continent. In most of these experiences, Christ's compassion comes at a time where He is either busy or wanting some alone time.
For example, in Matthew 14:13-14 we read, "When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick."
Similarly in Mark 6:31-34, "And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things."
When Love calls, how do we respond? Do we turn up the music and pretend we don't hear the ringing? Do we sit by the phone like an anxious teenager anticipating their crush to call only to take the phone off the hook because we are afraid that we aren't prepared for the consequences of such an interaction with Love? Or do we rather set down the laundry, turn the TV off, tell the bills they can wait a few more minutes, and allow ourselves to catch up with our old friend, Love?
Love calls every one of us. Daily. And each time we must decide how we will answer, if at all. Rarely will Love call when we have finished the chores and when the scenario is ideal. She will call when we just put dinner in the oven, when we are working on an already-tight schedule, when the kids are tired and cranky, when everything in our life seems to be falling apart, when our stress is high and our patience is low.
And what will we do then? Love demands the very best of us. When the situation is ideal, our best is easy to give. But when the setting is far from ideal, will we be able to conjure up the same "best" as before? Or will it be a hasty, rash, thoughtless action the we deem is "the best we can do"? If that is the best we can do, surely some introspection is necessary.
Love is inconvenient. Love is being kind to the one everybody else steps on even though they annoy you. Love is putting off homework and your own appetite to make sure that a sick friend gets something to eat and that she knows that she can turn to someone if the situation gets worse. Love is sacrificing that hour of needed sleep to talk with a friend who has had a hard day. Love is helping a friend overcome their challenges. It is not only assuring your friend that they should trust you, but making sure that they really, truly know it.
True love always requires a sacrifice from us and frequently comes knocking at the most inopportune time.
I firmly believe that love is at the very foundation of our society and is at the crux of everything we do. Without love we are just creatures going about on our own selfish journeys. Expressing true love to others can be challenging and demanding and exhausting. But it is, unequivocally, worth it.
Over the past few weeks as I have been planning and writing this blog post I have been earnestly trying to express true love to everyone around me. I have pondered these observations, applied them to my life, and prayed for greater strength to love everyone. One final observation has resulted from this experiment: True love comes as we close our eyes and open our hearts. I do not believe we are able to love as we ought unless we can cast aside our judgmental nature, and express true concern to everyone, regardless of their age, ethnicity, beliefs, practices, mistakes, successes, etc. True love cannot be dependent upon outward results; it must be built upon inward results of ones self.
As I have been going about this experiment, I have been surprised to find that the more I want to love someone, the more capable I am of loving them and not with an artificial love that will disappear as soon as anything turns sour. No, the love that I am able to express is a love that is permanent and lasting, even beyond the challenges and drama that accompany these younger years of my life.
Love requires us to jump in with both feet, to not hesitate or think of ourselves, and to set aside our prideful passions and desires for the welfare of another. Love is difficult and painful. In the beautiful words of the Christian author, C.S. Lewis, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."
Love is challenging; it is taxing; it is stressful; it often requires more from us than we have to give. And yet, expressing true love towards another is the most rewarding thing a person can experience.