To Love Is to Understand


Late one night, we sat with our family doctor in constant vigil over our little boy who lay silently struggling for breath. The hours were long, but rewarding. Not only did the professional assistance of this great individual help to save the life of a precious child, but from him, we came to recognize the kind of human understanding that causes one to give his life in selfless service to others.

It was my wife who broke the silence by asking: “Tell us, Doctor, why is it that you have never sent a bill for any of the help you have given to our family?”

It was evident, by the contemplative pause, that his mind was returning to earlier days. Then, as a tender sadness came over his face, he told the following story:

“Before I was born, my parents migrated from Germany to America. Life was challenging and they had to work hard to provide for us little ones as we came along

“During a diphtheria epidemic, my little sister and I both became very ill. The doctor who came told my parents that he had only enough medicine for one, and that a decision would have to be made.

“For some reason, I received the medication and lived. A couple of days later, my little sister died.

“I still remember my father placing her in the little wooden coffin. The neighbors could only come and look through the window, because we were quarantined and everyone was terribly afraid of the contagion.

“I was so small that father had to lift me up to see over that crude little coffin and look upon the face of my childhood playmate for the last time in this mortal existence. Then father went out, got up on the wagon seat, tenderly lifted the coffin onto his lap, and rode away, all alone, to the nearby cemetery.

“Years later, after completing my first month of medical practice, my nurse prepared bills for all my patients. As I saw them sitting there on the desk, that childhood memory passed before me. I remembered also how my parents had later paid the doctor with potatoes and other produce. I asked myself, as I had often asked before: ‘Why was my life preserved instead of hers?’ With that question still on my lips, I swept the stack of bills into the wastebasket and told my nurse that we would keep good records on the books and if people wished to pay me, they would do so; but we would not follow the usual practice of billing patients.”

When the doctor had finished, there was silence as we pondered. How refreshing it was to be in the presence of one who had truly succeeded in placing service ahead of self!

The Savior was willing, not only to lay down his life for his friends, but also to give himself in service to them while he lived. We sat that night with one who served even as the Master. We were healed physically. Spiritually, we were loved, understood, taught, encouraged, and fed by this wonderful teacher and friend.

Students Need to Be Understood

Just as a doctor must understand needs of the patient as well as capabilities of the medicine, so must a teacher understand the student as well as the gospel. (See chart, “Teaching/Learning Relationships” published in the first article of this series. May 1977, p.)

Our students might say to us: “We don’t care how much you know, until we know how much you care.” A teacher who cares is a teacher who honestly wants to help; and he knows that he cannot help unless he has genuine unfeigned love and understanding for each student, no matter what that student’s needs may be.

Characteristics of Love

A teacher’s relationship with students in the classroom, home, or wherever, should be characterized by feelings and approaches such as those identified by the Lord in the following scripture:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

“That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (D&C 121:41–44.)

Comparing our own feelings and approaches with the counsel given above, helps us to determine the quality of our love for those whom we teach.

The Power of Love

President Joseph F. Smith made a powerful statement regarding this valuable quality:

“You will observe that the most potent influence over the mind of a child to persuade it to learn, to progress, or to accomplish anything is the influence of love. More can be accomplished for good by unfeigned love, in bringing up a child, than by any other influence that can be brought to bear upon it. A child that cannot be conquered by the lash, or subdued by violence, may be controlled in an instant by unfeigned affection and sympathy. I know this is true; and this principle prevails in every condition of life.” (Conference Report, October 1902, p. 92.) In Gospel Doctrine, Mel. Pd. Study Guide 1971–72 Lesson b, Subheading No. 4.

In the same conference, Henry Peterson, a member of the Sunday School General Board, added the following:

“President Smith in his remarks spoke of one great qualification that every teacher should possess, namely, the spirit of love for the pupils. A teacher who has that one great qualification will probably acquire all others necessary to the successful doing of his work. Love inspires him with a desire to benefit those placed under his watchcare. He studies their needs and prepares himself to supply his class with the necessary spiritual food.

“A teacher filled with love for his students learns to love the gospel as the means by which he can lead them into the right kind of spiritual life and draw them nearer to the Master. He enjoys searching the scriptures and leads others into that same enjoyment. He carries a life into the class that is felt by all present and inspires them to attend regularly.

“A teacher who loves his pupils will seek unto the Lord for assistance that he may be helpful to them …

“If the hearts of all who are called to teach were filled with love, it would not be necessary for others to plan for them. That feeling would prompt them to make the necessary outside preparation, and the Spirit of God would use them as instruments and guide them into natural and wholesome methods of work. Instead of cramming the minds of pupils mechanically with disconnected religious and historical facts, they would give them the daily bread of spiritual life.” (Conference Report, October 1902, p. 94.)

Understanding Self

How does a teacher go about the task of developing love and understanding? In his book, Teach Ye Diligently, Elder Boyd K. Packer says: “If you want to know about students, learn as much as you can about yourself” (page 85.)

Developing Love

In the Book of Mormon, Enos describes how he came to a condition of great understanding and love for all mankind.

Consider the following events:

First, Enos developed a deep desire in his own heart. He says, “My soul hungered.” (Enos 1:4.) This deep hunger led him to his knees in great concern for his own soul.

“I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for my own soul; and all the day long, did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came, I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” (Enos 1:4.)

The Lord answered Enos’ prayer, told him his sins were forgiven, and said to him, “go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Enos 1:8.)

Now, Enos’ attitude and feelings toward others became prominent. He says: “It came to pass that when I had heard these words, I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites, wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.” (Enos 1:9, italics added.)

Again, the Lord answered, and Enos’ love and concern increased even more.

“And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.” (Enos 1:11 emphasis added.)

So genuine and consistent was this spiritual development in Enos, that his love and concern reaches out even to those who were then his enemies. He concludes:

“After I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.” (Enos 1:12.)

What a powerful example for us to follow!

Let us start with ourselves, by laboring diligently until we are whole. Let us “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that (we) may be filled with this love.” (Moro. 7:48.) We will then experience a deep growing love and understanding for our students, who are also hungering after righteousness.

Finally, if we continue, we will develop compassion, understanding, and unfeigned love for students, who have become rebellious and difficult to reach. Underneath, these students too, are hungry, and thirsty, strangers, and naked, and sick, and in prison (see Matt. 25:35, 36)—and they need our understanding, our love and our help. The Savior has reminded us that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.) He also said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12.)