“Love is the greatest of all the commandments—all others hang upon it. It is our focus as followers of the living Christ. It is the one trait that, if developed, will most improve our lives.” —Joseph B. Wirthlin
Nephi said the righteous love truth. Alma calls us to remember the song of redeeming love. Mosiah asks us to become as a child, patient and full of love. Mormon warns us of loving money more than the poor. Moroni tells us that the Comforter fills us with perfect love and that love never fails and casts out all fear.
Joseph Smith reminds us that love qualifies us for God’s work, that sanctification comes to those who love and serve God, to be not partial in love, that the priesthood is maintained by love, to show an increase of love after a rebuke and that blessings await those who love the Lord. He warns us not to let love wax cold.
Mark tells us that God is love. Christ said that loving God is the greatest commandment. He instructs us to love our enemies, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love Him by keeping His commandments and reminds us that God’s love of the world is why He sent His only begotten Son to it in the first place.
In fact, there are over 200 references of love in the Bible—more than 500 depending on the translation you use.
Love Fills our Emptiness
So what’s all the fuss about love? Well, here’s some random thoughts on the most written and sung about topic by poets and songwriters around the world from any generation:
Love fills our empty places. It motivates change and growth. It softens the impact of childhood trauma and helps steady long-held insecurities. It fixes and repairs and overcomes. It even keeps infant’s hearts beating. It sets the stage for our development and determines the difficulty or ease by which we trust and forgive others.
Love conquers, redeems, reforms, uplifts and inspires. When ours is lacking, we stumble more and fall harder. Its lack hurts marriages and damages children and breaks up friendships. Its failure is the author of hate and the womb that gives birth to enemies.
What Love Is and Isn’t
Love deepens the foundations of our psychology, the connections in our sociology and the kindness in our philosophy. Love sees beyond exteriors. It notices the lonely and the friendless. It exercises courage to stick up for the defenseless and reaches out to those who need more than they currently have. Love beautifies and expands. It reaches outward and invites inward.
It is slow to judge and quick to forgive. It is not selfish or proud or unkind. It does not covet or hate or steal or lie or turn a cold shoulder. Love, despite claims insisting otherwise, does not hurt. It’s the real or perceived loss of love that feels so bad. Jealousy is its enemy, not its proof. It doesn’t demand, it gives. Our immaturity, weaknesses, misunderstanding, insecurities and emotional histories can make it difficult to spot even when it is standing right in front of us. In that blindness, we can inadvertently pour cold water on its still-burning embers.
Love Begets Love
So, how do we develop more of it then? First, we recognize that love doesn’t come easily. It’s not a cheap trinket we pick up at the swap meet for pocket change. It requires something of us, even demands it. We can chase it away by trying to pin it down. We can diminish it by stomping on those we want it from. But we must pay the price of love if we want its benefits.
That price includes letting go of fear and grudges, forgiving and repenting, extending ourselves and seeking opportunities to develop more of it. We must push against the outer edge of comfort zones and come to the realization that the best way to get more of it is to give more of it away. Love, in fact, begets more love.
The most certain path to it is by following Christ and doing as He does. We serve and bless and minister to others. And so we work at it, fail at it, repent and work some more on it. We pray for it and pay the price for it. We study it in scripture and Conference talks.
Practice, Practice, Practice
But most of all, we practice love. Over, and over, and over and over and over again. When we get it wrong, we apologize, make amends the best we can, and try again. We learn from our mistakes and chip away at our hardened exteriors, breaking down walls and healing trauma. Authenticity and vulnerability inspire it, so courage is a necessary precondition for it.
When we open our hearts to Christ and give Him the burden of our pain and let Him lift our sins from us, we make room for more love in its purest form. That allows patience with ourselves and for others going through that process, acknowledging that we all improve gradually, by degree, one step at a time, not in a straight line, but by falling back, then stepping forward, only to fall and step forward again.
We fuel our love by looking for the best in others and ourselves. We spend time in uplifting and inspiring endeavors. We go to the temple as often as we can to serve those on the other side of the veil and to feel God’s love for us in that sacred environment as we absorb it’s light and beauty.
We invite others sitting alone to sit with us at church or in class. Or we go sit next to them. We look for opportunities to be kind and thoughtful, considerate and encouraging. The needs and wellbeing of others fills our hearts and prayers.
We recognize unity in diversity, oneness in difference and togetherness in acceptance. We recognize the importance and urgency of gathering all to Christ, no matter the background or current set of circumstances. We see the person beneath the hurt and the softness beyond the rough walls they erect to shield their pain. We celebrate and encourage all those scattered along the covenant path, no matter where they are in relation to where we are or wish they were. We joyfully welcome those returning and keep loving those who never do.
Love is Not a Tool
Love is not a means to an end. It is not a tool to manipulate a desired outcome from its target. It is an end in itself, perhaps the end. It undergirds God’s work and glory. It permeates Christ’s atoning sacrifice. His mission and His glorious redemptive work is infused and encompassed by it. His grace is extended by, through, and because of it.
It is at the heart of the Plan of Salvation and the reason for our creation. It is the great motivating force for all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report.”
Where Love Blooms
If you remove love from the world, we are left in a cold, barren, dark and lonely place. But a world (or a ward or family) where love reigns, life comes alive.
It opens and blooms, endowed with purpose and meaning, where weaknesses and mistakes are accepted as part of life and part of the learning and growing process, where differences are embraced, where enough room is given to falter, and encouragement is extended to try again, where intentions are honored even when execution falls short.
Love certainly doesn’t remove life’s challenges or prevent imperfect fails in its expression, but it does make them a whole lot easier to endure. Love is the glow of kindness, the warmth of acceptance and the encouraging nudge toward next steps.
There is not a single style of love, but there is one necessary expression of it. Remember that Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved Him. Each time Christ answered Peter’s protestations of love with the injunction to “Go feed my sheep.”
Love, it turns out, is not merely a feeling of the heart. If love stays expressionless, bottled inside, we cripple it and undermine its potential impact on our own and others’ lives. Love was never meant to be hoarded or tucked away in the corner of our lives. Love that’s kept locked in the heart is a neutered, muted, impotent and empty kind of love, a shell of what it could be. Feeding His sheep is at the foundation of its true expression.
For love to reach the impressive heights of its full potential, it must be loosed from the prison of the heart and directed into our feet and hands and mouths. Feelings of love have to translate into words and actions and expressions of love. Love is not so small that it can be reduced to a mere emotion. It is a character trait as well. It’s not simply what we feel. It is fine-tuned in the act of service, nurtured in thoughtful expressions, deepened in warm embraces and sanctified in selfless prayers.
Love His Sheep
So reach out to those around you. Feed His sheep. The visitor. The old timer. The child. The returning member. Everyone!
Accept them. Resist the very human temptation to judge others. See them. Deeply. Charitably. Look beyond the exterior and see them as their Heavenly Father sees them, as His dear beloved children. Nothing more and nothing less.
Then say hello. Get to know them. Love and embrace them in all their glorious imperfection. Invite them. Pray for them. Smile at them. Befriend them. And then watch what happens to our already-loving ward family as love increasingly becomes an even more natural expression of who we are, disciples of Christ in search of His sheep to feed.
What does love mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo by Pixaby