Last year a group of teenagers in school were discussing basic values and goals. After some consideration, they agreed almost unanimously that the most important thing in life is to love and be loved, to care for and be cared about.
Their conclusion matches gospel principles. When asked the question, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied with a great spiritual message: “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.” (Matt. 22:37–39.)
To love is the greatest commandment; it is the basic principle in living; it is essential for individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, and building the kingdom of God.
Although we accept the beauties and importance of love, we sometimes find it difficult to understand what makes a person loving. What is the essence of loving?
Loving encompasses many actions; one action alone is not enough. Several together, intertwined, emerge as loving. Here are a few:
1. Showing affection. Studies and experience show that everyone needs affection. This may either be physical or psychological, but both are important. Physical affection between a husband and wife enriches and builds a marriage. Shaking a person’s hand or patting his back can witness to him that you care.
I saw a fascinating example of this when I visited the “premies nursery,” a high-risk intensive care area for newborns where undersized babies and sickly infants are kept. Volunteers would come in and hold and rock the babies or place their hands around them to provide body warmth and feelings of love. One such volunteer was an eighty-six-year-old man who spent four hours a day holding and loving infants in need. Both the infants and the man were benefited.
Psychological affection is sharing private feelings and thoughts. A wife or husband may hunger for expressions of love or endearment from a mate. One wife who was coming to me for counseling after twenty years of marriage confided, “I would give anything in the world if my husband would just say, ‘I love you.’” Children, youth, and adults all need these expressions of caring from others.
2. Understanding others. If a person really loves another, he tries to understand how that person thinks, feels, and behaves. I once drove from Salt Lake City to Ogden with a friend who had a very troubled marriage. Anxious to talk, he listed many things he did not like about his wife and then mentioned many things he wished she would do.
I was disturbed by his perspective and wondered how to call it to his attention. I glanced at the ridge of mountains to the north and asked him which of the two peaks was higher, Ben Lomond or Willard. My friend answered quickly, “Ben Lomond, the one to the south, of course.” We drove further, still talking about his marriage, and I asked the question again. This time the peaks appeared to be about the same height. After a few more miles of travel, the answer to the same question was, “The one to the north seems higher now. Which one really is?”
By now my friend had figured it out for himself: where one person stands and views his marriage is often very different from the vantage point of his mate. Two persons may look at the same relationship from different positions and get entirely different perspectives; often both are wrong in relation to true facts and meanings. If people really love each other, they do everything possible to empathize with each other’s thinking and feeling.
3. Accepting others as they are. All people differ in many ways, and part of loving is being able to accept these differences rather than condemn them or try to make them over. People who can do this are most likely to be helpful to others and have a positive influence on them.
One of my colleagues told me a beautiful illustration of how the power of acceptance worked a miracle for a patient who had been in a mental hospital for nearly fifteen years. One day in staff meeting the professional team decided to try an experiment. They authorized a social worker to spend about fifteen minutes a day with the patient. For the first several days little seemed to happen except for limited one-way conversation. Toward the end of two weeks, the social worker was about to leave when the patient arose and said, “Don’t go. I want to talk with you.”
They visited for several minutes, which opened communication between them. Within a few months the patient was discharged from the hospital and returned to his family. When asked what had happened, he commented, “I received love—not personal love, but warm acceptance. I couldn’t withstand it. It was like a magnet drawing me out of my shell.”
4. Giving of lime and self. Persons who love others give of their time and effort for them because being with someone is a part of loving. The husband who never spends time with his wife or children because he is “too busy” may be saying that other things are more important. Most people can give priority to do that which they really want to do. The teacher who loves her students takes time to be with them, not only in class but at other places and occasions, both individually and in groups.
Some family members and I were hiking on Mt. Timpanogos a few years ago when a girl fell on the glacier. Other hikers obtained a stretcher from the cabin at Emerald Lake, and together we brought her off the glacier; then we sent for help. At ten that night, eight volunteers started up the long trail. They arrived at the cabin by 2:00 A.M., put the girl on a stretcher, and carried her off the mountain, arriving at the parking lot about 6:45 A.M., exhausted but happy. Why was it worth it to the rescuers to spend the whole night on such a mission? Because they were concerned enough about the injured girl, even though a stranger to them, that they were willing to sacrifice for her.
5. Talking with others. People who love people talk with them—not to them or at them. Talking with a person means not only speaking and hearing but listening for what is being said and meant, since a person may say one thing and mean another. Talking with a person is not preaching, scolding, or condemning, but showing genuine concern and open receptiveness of the message being sent, not just the words being said.
A seminary student recently wrote: “Nothing makes me more angry than telling an anecdote or giving an opinion or just simply saying something and then finding that my parents haven’t listened to a word I have said. My parents have not often failed to listen to me, but I have heard my classmates say that their parents almost never listen to what they have to say.”
In Peace of Mind, Joshua Liebman illustrates the power of talking with a person. He uses the analogy of the stove with a closed kettle over a hot flame. If the flame is kept burning, sooner or later there will be an explosion. On the other hand, “let the powerful vapors escape and the kettle sings.” He explains that people are not so different, and if they have a chance to share some of their inner feelings, hopes, frustrations, and concerns, often the problems disappear and relief is in sight. (Peace of Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.)
People who really love each other are ready and available to talk with each other whenever needed.
6. Sacrificing for others. Part of loving a person is doing things for and with that person, which sometimes requires sacrificing for that person, giving up the things you want to provide for the needs of another. A husband may attend a particular movie or concert, not because he wants to, but because his wife desires to go. A youth may forego a water-skiing trip to tend his brothers and sisters so his parents can participate in a special activity.
My major professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose wife was bedridden with a stroke, arranged his schedule to start work at 4:00 A.M. so he could finish his preparation, research, and teaching responsibilities early and be with his wife each afternoon and evening. When asked why he did this, he replied, “I do it because I love her. If the roles were reversed, she would do the same for me.”
Another example is that of my father-in-law, who was sitting one day on a chair on the front porch of our home, where he lived in a basement apartment. It was a cool spring morning, even though the sun was shining on him. I asked him why he didn’t turn up the thermostat for the furnace in the house. He replied, “I didn’t want the noise of the furnace starting up to wake the family.”
7. Showing appreciation. Every person has assets as well as limitations. If we look for the good in a person, we find it; if we concentrate on the negative, we usually find that, too. People who love look for the good in others and show their appreciation for it.
A prime example of appreciation is shown by our Heavenly Father. Note his use of the term “beloved” both when appearing to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove and when showing his approval of Christ’s baptism. (See JS—H 1:17; Matt. 3:17.) God loved his Son enough to call him “beloved,” even when speaking of him to others.
Loving can warm the heart and nourish the spirit. Loving is not only a state of mind, but a set of actions that we share with others. By adhering to loving-type behaviors, we can really discover what is most important in life and enrich our personal relationships with those we love.