For the past several years, scriptures which speak of God’s love have had special meaning for me. Because their truths are expressed in beautiful language, they touch me on many levels of thought and feeling. But most importantly, I am drawn to these scriptures because they are associated with important spiritual events in my life.
One such experience occurred late one evening during a busy holiday season. I was hurriedly searching for a scripture to strengthen my sacrament meeting talk the following Sunday. My mind was crowded with concerns about arriving relatives, unfinished holiday preparations, and the chaotic state of my house. I wondered why I had ever said yes to the bishop at such a hectic time. After a long, fruitless search, at last I came upon the eleventh chapter of 1 Nephi, which details Nephi’s remarkable vision of the Savior’s birth and earthly mission. Somehow the full impact of this vision had escaped me in earlier readings, but tonight the meaning of those words struck me forcefully. Nephi wrote joyfully:
“And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
“And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
“And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Ne. 11:21–23; italics added.)
The words seemed like a newly discovered treasure. For the first time, the meaning of Lehi’s white-fruited tree was entirely clear. The fruit which tasted so exquisitely sweet represented the irresistibly sweet love of God. I had found the theme for my talk—and the strength to get through the next demanding days, as well. Pressures could mount and cash registers jingle; no matter. My heart had once again been warmed and strengthened by God’s love.
Yet the most lasting impact of that frantic late-evening search was the awakening of a precious memory: my own personal discovery of God’s love.
As a young single woman in my late twenties, I had been reviewing the direction of my life and considering some major changes. An unwelcome birthday had left me feeling older than I wanted to be; and, like many single members of the Church, I felt I had failed to reach some important personal goals. It seemed that I needed some specific direction from the Lord. So, for the first time in my life, I asked my priesthood leader to give me a blessing. This good man prepared himself by fasting, and suggested that I do the same. We met early one radiant Sunday morning.
As he spoke the words of the blessing, I listened intently for answers and solutions. But in that I was disappointed; the Lord had wisely left me to find my own way. Instead, he blessed me with what I really needed: an undeniable personal witness of his love for me. The blessing spoke of God’s specific awareness of my life and my problems. As examples of his constant influence were called to my mind, the Spirit confirmed the truthfulness of each. My heart overflowed with love and gratitude, springing from some untouched place deep within me. For the first time I had really experienced God’s love, and I could respond to him not only with my loyalty, but with my own love in return.
I have often pondered the effects of that experience. How could a knowledge of God’s love for me endow my life with such permanent strength? To me, the wonder of it was that God was so near, that he was completely aware of my most secret sorrows and fears—even my troubled midnight thoughts. I was not alone! His was a love that enabled me to “let go,” and to realize that even though my goals had not been achieved exactly as I felt they should be, God’s plan, whatever it was, would be better than my own.
Shortly after that experience my bishop asked me to speak in sacrament meeting. I responded willingly, and by the day before the meeting I had constructed a well-prepared sermon—logical, intelligent, and carefully bolstered with just the right scriptural and intellectual support.
On Saturday evening my bishop, who seemed guided by the Spirit in even the smallest matters, called.
“When you speak tomorrow, don’t give a prepared talk. Speak from your heart.”
“But I have spent a long time preparing a really wonderful talk.”
He spoke firmly. “I want you to speak from your heart.”
It wasn’t easy to abandon my carefully-worded discourse. But, as I tried to listen to the promptings of the Spirit, at last the obvious occurred to me: I should speak of my newly-acquired testimony of God’s love. Sharing such a personal, sacred experience before a large group would not be easy.
Although I was an experienced teacher, I approached the pulpit that Sunday with my heart pounding. I began by sharing my awakening to God’s love. As I described the warmth and trust which followed, I turned to scriptural images of safety and comfort:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings.” (Luke 13:34.) For me, that image conveys more beautifully than any other the wise yet tender nature of God’s love.
I chose another appealing scripture which details the accessibility of his love: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (D&C 88:63.)
Difficult as that talk was, its impact on me and others was far greater than many I have since given. Never have those scriptures seemed as beautiful or meaningful; never before have I had such a strong conviction that I was speaking truth from the pulpit.
Only recently I was delighted to discover in the Book of Mormon another powerful poetic image of God’s love:
“O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.” (Jacob 3:2.) I was immediately struck by the richness of the word “feast.” With this single word, Jacob conveyed the extraordinary bounty of God’s love.
Reading this scripture from Jacob is a far more profound experience for me today than it might have been twenty years ago. In those intervening years, experience and personal revelation have taught me much about the nature of God’s love. I have learned that his love is abundant and never in short supply. I have learned, too, that without hungering for that love and seeking it, we may never know it. But I also know, in all certainty, that if our minds are “firm” in the gospel, we may feast upon the love of God forever.