Love Is Life

By Barbara B. Smith

Former Relief Society General President

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    Excerpts of an address delivered at Brigham Young University on February 14, 1984.

    “Love,” wrote poet Emily Dickinson, “is life, and life hath immortality” We all recognize that this thought is true. Life without love is not real life at all. It has a quality of resignation and stagnation about it. But love makes life lively. Love is contagious, spreading like wildfire from heart to heart. Where love is, life begets life and love begets love. And in all its compounding there is born a quality of immortality.

    A Love Story

    Let me share with you one of my favorite and true love stories. I learned about the story very late in its development. One night I went with my husband to a company dinner party. I sat next to an older man who was there with his wife. She had suffered a stroke, so he would lean over to cut her meat and help her with her food. His manner was very tender and caring. As he finished the meal, I said to him, “You are so good to your wife.”

    His reply: “Why shouldn’t I be? I love her.” Then he told me about their courtship and their life together. “The first time I saw her,” he said, “was at a party in Canada. She was giving a reading. She had long golden curls and wore a beautiful white eyelet dress with a pretty blue satin sash. I was so impressed by her that I told my mother that that was the woman I was going to marry. Mother laughingly indulged me. I went on my mission, and when I came home she was engaged to another. I was asked to take a special assignment by the bishop, and when I protested he told me that if I would always put the work of the Lord first I would find that the Lord would always take care of me. I made the long trek to Salt Lake City. When I came home, she had broken her engagement. We started to date, and then we married.”

    His wife rarely accompanied him in public after that dinner. It wasn’t long until her condition worsened, and she was completely bedridden and virtually unable to speak. He was a General Authority and went out on his regular conference assignments to visit and counsel the Saints. He would always come home and tell her all about the conference. One day as he finished, he teased, “If you are not going to speak back to me, then I am not going to tell about my experiences. You must not love me anymore.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and with great effort she found enough strength to form the words, “I do love you.” It was difficult and extremely slow, but with great effort she got the words out. He decided he would never again treat their love lightly, for their love went beyond even her crippling physical impairment.

    At the funeral of this special woman, Zina Card Brown, every speaker commented on her love both for her sweetheart, President Hugh B. Brown. President Marion G. Romney said, “Wherever she was she was a loving lady.” President N. Eldon Tanner declared that President Brown was so successful because of her love. President Kimball said that the love of President and Sister Brown was such that they would soon be together again everlastingly. Her love pulled them toward immortality—a beginning of eternity.

    The Greatest Commandment

    It is this love of which the scriptures speak. It is the eternal life-giving force that permeates the universe and governs the heavens and the earth. It makes the weak strong and lifts us over the great difficulties that fall in our paths from time to time.

    During the last week of his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ was approached for the third time by the Pharisees in an attempt to confound him. One of them, a lawyer, asked:

    “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

    “Jesus said unto him, 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.

    “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:36–40).

    This is the same teaching that has been given in each dispensation. Over and over again in every period of time the Lord has repeated this core instruction to his children. Sometimes he says that if you do not have love then it doesn’t matter what else you know or do. At other times he says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.) But always, he stresses that the very heart of the gospel is to love God and man. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35.)

    The task of really loving people hasn’t been tried very often in the world of international relations, and it’s rare even in the world of national affairs. But at least one very notable experience comes to mind.

    Mahatma Gandhi was the man who led India to independence. Gandhi began to realize that turning the other cheek and doing good for hateful deeds would unloose great powers for his people. One Moslem man came to him, very upset. His son had been killed by the Hindus; in retaliation he had taken the life of a small Hindu boy. Heavy-hearted, he sought relief from Gandhi. And Gandhi told him he could find comfort if he would find an orphaned Hindu boy and raise him as his own—only he was to raise him as a Hindu, not as a Moslem.

    There is a sacrificing in love, a sacrificing that brings immortality. Gandhi suffered a great deal, but ultimately millions of people were granted more freedom. Only the assassin’s bullet cut his life short. One wonders what he might have contributed further to the development of the new nation had he lived.

    The Example of President Kimball

    We saw much love in the life of our recent and beloved prophet Spencer W. Kimball. Love was part of his life long before he became the President of the Church.

    A stake president in Logan, Utah, kept a guest book, and after he passed away that book was given to his son. When the son thumbed through the pages, he was impressed with the signatures that were there. Most of the General Authorities had signed the book. One entry he saw was:

    • Name: Elder Spencer W. Kimball

    • Date: 1954

    • Position or title: Apostle

    • Hobby: “I love people.”

    He thumbed through many more pages, and then he saw an almost identical entry ten years later:

    • Name: Elder Spencer W. Kimball

    • Date: 1964

    • Position or title: Apostle

    • Hobby: “I love people.”

    We all knew President Spencer W. Kimball as a man of love. He thought of love as a way to overcome even unknown offenses. Such an incident occurred with one of his neighbors. This neighbor would go out and talk to President Kimball whenever he saw him in the yard, until one day the neighbor’s wife said, “You mustn’t do that. The only time President Kimball is alone is when he is in the yard, and then you go over and impose yourself upon him.” After that, the neighbor stayed in and just watched President Kimball through the window.

    A few weeks passed before President Kimball rang the neighbor’s doorbell and handed him a casserole. “What’s this for?” the neighbor asked. “I don’t know,” replied President Kimball. “I’ve come to make amends for whatever I’ve done to offend you. You never come and talk to me anymore, so I decided I must have done something wrong.”

    It was President Kimball who has so lovingly explained to us that the Lord whispers to our hearts to go and do and in this way he answers the fervent prayers of others. President Kimball said the Lord has chosen this method of answering prayers because he knows it is the way we will learn most effectively to give love.

    I recently learned of two visiting teachers who did all of the grocery shopping for an invalid sister for over a year. Then when she needed to have her blood pressure taken daily, they assumed that responsibility willingly.

    In another ward, the Relief Society sisters organized to help an ill woman while her husband was out of the home. She was a native of Thailand whose English language skills were limited. She had a disease that attacked every organ of her body. The sisters learned to operate the respirator. They bathed her, combed her hair, brushed her teeth, cleaned her house, and prepared meals as well. I heard this woman cry words of gratitude for the love and patience of those who served her.

    The love that makes the world have life is the love that Jesus taught us. It creates life in marriages; life in families; life in neighborhoods, communities, nations, and in the world. We must love the Lord, trust in his word, love and trust in immortality.

    Corrie ten Boom

    Perhaps you will remember the story of Corrie ten Boom, a 50-year old spinster who became a militant heroine of the anti-Nazi underground during World War II. I would like to share with you two examples of how love worked in her life to help her do good when she had been extremely ill used.

    The first time was when she was a young woman in Holland. She was very much in love and had thought her love was returned. But then one day the young man came to her door with another young woman. He wanted to introduce Corrie to his fiancée. The family rallied around to help her face this crisis. After the young couple left, Corrie fled to her bedroom, where she lay sobbing. She writes: “Later, I heard Father’s footsteps coming up the stairs. For a moment I was a little girl again waiting for him to tuck the blankets tight. But this was a hurt that no blanket could shut out, and suddenly I was afraid of what Father would say. … Of course he did not say the false, idle words.

    “‘Corrie,’ he began instead, ‘do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.

    “‘There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. … Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.’”

    Later, after the terrifying experience of a wartime Nazi concentration camp, she found herself face to face with one of the S.S. guards.

    “It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, [her sister] Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

    “He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’

    “His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

    “Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

    “I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

    “As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

    “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself” (Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place, New York: Bantam Books, 1971, pp. 44–45, 238).

    Love is the life-giving force that renews the spirit of men and women and brings a new life to the world, a life that brings a longing for immortality.

    May each of us think of love as the great and powerful force that it is. May we take teachings about love literally and work at mastering the skill of giving and receiving love. Love is the force by which we can renew the world. “Love is life, and life hath immortality.”

    Illustrated by Robert Barrett