Last week my husband, our two daughters and I returned from vacation in India. It was my husband’s first time meeting most of my family and our first vacation together since I’m still waiting on that honeymoon.
I’m about to embarrass my husband a bit and I do this with his permission and in hopes of illustrating a point. As I talk about him, think about how this applies to all of us. And should my husband choose to get baptized, he has a wealth of anecdotes about me with that we can all look forward to.
Oliver’s biggest fear is flying but he conquered it for this 18 hour flight to India. After overcoming this fear, how did he soak in this foreign culture and revel in new experiences? He spent much of his time squirreled away on a couch, surfing Reddit on his iPhone. I didn’t even know that was possible because I didn’t realize our cell phone plan covered roaming.
Meanwhile I sat around a table with my family swapping old stories, wondering where Oliver had gone and wondering, “Why can’t he want me the same way he wants Reddit?”
Every relationship is a Mad Lib of this question: “Why can’t he just (fill in the blank)?” Take out the trash on a regular basis. Pick up a crying baby without being specifically asked to. Why can’t my toddler just listen the first fifty times I say something? We have these questions because we are human, but also because we do not understand love. We are either unable or unwilling to love the people around us. In my case it was the latter. Because I know the answer to my rhetorical question: my husband wants me and he wants our family more than any stupid Internet meme. We are the only thing he wants in life but because he is emotionally stunted, as all of us are — please don’t believe I am picking on him– he reflexively fills his time with distractions to avoid people because, gosh, people are difficult. And he especially wants to avoid my criticism of how he spends his time.
IF I love my husband, however, my questions changes from, “Why can’t he” to “How can I let him know that I love him no matter what decisions he makes? How can I share with him the joy of connecting with other people in a way that isn’t frightening? How can I express my gratitude for the fact that he overcame his biggest fear for me, adjusted to the 100 degree heat, coped with jet lag and a language barrier, and did spend some time interacting with my insane family?”
Ask not why your husband leaves his dirty clothes on the floor next to the laundry hamper, but ask how you can pick up his dirty laundry WHILE loving him.
There exists only one kind of love in the world and that is the pure love of Christ. Anything that doesn’t fall under this umbrella is not love. I am supposed to speak about how Jesus exhibited tolerance and love, but I believe the only thing Jesus tolerated was the cross. He LOVED people. Tolerance is very different. These are things that I tolerate: garments in hot weather, the feeling of writing with chalk, and crying babies. Tolerance is when I know that I am a better human being than you, but I personally allow you to retain your agency and be as worthless as you are — in this second, but the next second, who knows? I may have to intervene.
Love, on the other hand, is when I care about your happiness without wanting anything in return. Affection towards a friend, the way I care about your children or mine, the compassion that I feel towards a neighbor — these are all just watered down ways of avoiding the L word. It is all love and it all comes from the same source. Let’s not shirk from calling it what it is. We don’t create love. We are conduits, passing along the love of our Heavenly Father to the people around us. If we are afraid of calling it love, how can we effectively pass it along? Fear is the opposite of love. “A perfect love casteth out all fear.”
So why study how Jesus loved people? We all know he embodied perfect love. My three-year-old understands this concept. It’s not hard. What is the relevance to our lives? First, it helps us feel His love for us. Second, this informs how we love our husbands and wives, children, friends, and neighbors. The prize at the bottom of this cereal box is that these two purposes dovetail into a beautiful feedback loop. The more we feel His love, the more we are capable of passing it on. The more we purify our love towards our family and friends, the more we appreciate the magnitude of His love for us. To that end, I’d like to use Jesus’s life to refine our understanding of love in several specific ways.
First, there is no such thing as self-love. When Jesus was dying on the cross he cried out, “O father, why hast thou forsaken me?” Love moves through us and when it stops, it stagnates. Jesus did not sing Kumbaya and decide to love himself. He suffered because he experienced the extreme agony of being momentarily unable to feel our Father’s love. The rest of us live in this agony every day. This is the only kind of pain that exists and the reason we all do stupid things like hide behind our iPhones, yell at people we care about or lie, cheat, steal. This emotional and spiritual pain is unbearable. When Jesus was being nailed to the cross, he did not cry, “Ow, my hands!” A lack of Heavenly love is far worse than any physical pain. The only reason you and I don’t cry out is that we don’t remember what a lack of pain feels like.
When we understand and believe that all mistakes result from a lack of love, we stop feeling angry or irritated at people and instead apply the salve of love to the underlying wounds.
This was the purpose of Christ’s ministry: loving deeply and personally. He taught a little bit as well, but mostly, he loved.
Second: we cannot give what we do not have. When Jesus was on the cross he did not spend that time ministering to others. And I’m being serious. He’s the Son of God and I’m sure he could have overcome his physical pain to deliver a Sermon on the Cross to match his Sermon on the mount. Imagine how powerful that would have been. But he didn’t. He COULDN’T. For a moment, when he felt separated from our Father’s love Jesus was not capable of loving us. He spent that time crying. Note that Heavenly Father still loved Jesus at this time, it was just that Jesus couldn’t feel it. Now if He can’t love people when he feels alone, I promise you, you and I cannot.
Like they say on airplanes: secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Even if “others” includes your very cute and very innocent baby. And for the times when the love of a Heavenly Father seems too outrageous for you to believe, seek out the love of one of your flawed brothers or sisters. Have them spoon-feed it to you if necessary. Ask to be held, and once you feel safe enough to stir from the fetal position, remember that our Heavenly parents are holding you like this in their arms always, stroking your face and cherishing you, waiting for you to notice, hoping that you will feel their love and be made whole.
Third: in President Uchtodorf’s talk from this latest general conference, he explained that when we love a person, we do not motivate them with fear. Because anger is borne of fear, there is also no anger in love.
Jesus never felt anger. I know this to be true more than I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. But what about the times he admonished the apostles for their lack of faith, you ask. He was doing so for THEIR benefit, so they could learn something, not because he was personally disappointed. What about the time he turned over the table in the temple? He had great showmanship and an interesting personality. This is hard for us to imagine because if you or I upturned a table, it would be anger. We are over-relating when we assume it must have been the same for Jesus.
We believe our Heavenly Parents are annoyed with, angry at, ashamed of, or disappointed in us only because we feel that way with our children. We expect our children to make us happy, proud, accomplished. Our Heavenly parents do not need anything from us because they are already perfectly happy and loving. They are satisfied and want only one thing: for us to be happy — and maybe learn something in the process. Instead of justifying our mistakes by assigning those flaws to our Heavenly parents, let us emulate the pure love of Christ and teach our children how to be happy instead of teaching them how to placate us.
f you still believe that anger and love can coexist, go home and scream and your smallest child. Then text me and tell me how many of you felt the spirit while you were yelling. I have personally tried this experiment many, many times so I already know the answer. Anger feels barren, like a bunch of ashy stumps after a forest fire, not like the still sweet peace that the Spirit ignites. If you are a true follower of Christ, do not express anger towards the people you are angry at while you are angry. Go and vent to one of your brothers or sisters while they love you and hold you. Then come back and lather your family in the love they deserve.
I haven’t spoken much about how Jesus loved, but the practical advice from his ministry is somewhat dated. Like “don’t stone people when they make mistakes.” Okay, we’ve got that under our belts, but the next step is not emotionally stoning people when they make mistakes. There are concrete steps we can take every day to become closer to Him, but many of us don’t take these steps because we don’t know they exist.
Once we know they exist, we have better reasons for not taking them like: it’s too hard. Consider that in the entire history of the world we were given THREE YEARS of His ministry to draw from. Three years. I think my daughter takes longer to get dressed in the morning. What an woefully short time for perfect love to exist on the earth. Brothers and sisters, I do not know why so few people were given the opportunity to experience this love, but I do know that it makes our job almost impossible. If you find yourself feeling spoiled for having a comfortable home in the suburbs, look more closely at your life. Loving the person in front of you is the hardest thing you will ever be asked to do and it is a challenge we all share.
However, even though loving is hard, it’s much easier than being angry and mean. Use the same yelling at your child experiment. Or your spouse. Fear begets fear. You become afraid that your spouse loves you less, you yell at him, then he feels your lack of love and withdraws and you all know how long this pattern of avoidance and anger can drag on. Instead, when your spouse does something mean and thoughtless today– which they will, remember the many mistakes you have made in the past and thank the lord that they haven’t left you you yet. Let it go and give your spouse a nice foot massage while you tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life. Then text me again and tell me how much easier that was than succumbing to anger.
If Jesus ever married, his wife would have gotten a lot of foot massages.
The other reason that we don’t progress is because it requires us to first admit that we are doing something wrong. If we were perfectly aware of how much we were wounding other people, we would be aghast and not get out of bed in the morning. We could still choose to do that. Or we could move forward.
This is where that feedback loop comes in handy. Jesus loves us no matter how many mistakes we make. Jesus told the woman who had committed adultery to “go forth and sin no more.” This is how he feels about our mistakes. It is no big deal! This moment is quoted often but the magnitude of it is lost. Think about how much we revile people for adultery in our society. To Jesus it was no different than any other form of sin and not worth any special reprimand, because the solution is always the same: love and teach.
The tricky part is that “go forth and sin no more” seems like great advice, but the follow through gets a little dicey. If, like I, you are human, it takes us many, many times to learn a single lesson. I hear from my sweet husband very often, “Veena, could you please not yell when I make a mistake? Could you please explain what’s wrong instead of being angry? Could you remember that we’re on the same team?” Sure, sweetie! Great idea! Good point. Then another stressful situation arises, I forget the all-encompassing love of my Heavenly Father, and I yell.
Our Heavenly Father loves us each and every time we make a mistake. He is never surprised or scandalized. He can’t be! This was all his idea in the first place! He was the one who thought it would be a good idea to give us all agency and see what happens. His plan guarantees that we make mistakes and lots of them, big ones. So we have two options: we can pretend we’re already perfect, or we can acknowledge our shortcomings and do something about them. We have nothing to lose except the illusion of our perfection.
Brothers and sisters, if Heavenly love is the solution to all problems, why is it that not all church members are happy all the time? The answer is that when we have little experience with earthly unconditional love, it is incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to feel the love of our Heavenly Father. I don’t know all of you but I do know one person we have in common: our bishop. I know that our bishop loves you. I have a testimony of bishops in general, but right now I mean specifically our bishop. If you don’t yet know this, find out. It doesn’t take much. I figured it out through an email. And then start a list. My bishop loves me. God loves me. My husband is learning how, just like me.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.