How Do I Love Thee?


Jeffrey R. Holland
Adapted from a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on 15 February 2000.
Do you want capability, safety, and security in dating and romance? Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-day Saint.

How Do I Love Thee?

You know, winning Sister Holland was not an easy thing to do. I worked at it until I finally had the courage to ask for her hand. In a romantic setting I said as meekly and humbly as I could, “Pat, will you marry me?”

To which she said, “Oh, dearest darling, dearest loved one, yes. Yes, yes, yes. When shall we set the date? Oh, we have got to reserve the temple. I know exactly what colors I want for the bridesmaids. Should we have the reception indoors or out? And someone must be at the guest book. And I can just see in my mind the cake that we want. …”

Then she stopped mid-sentence and said, “Oh, darling. You are so overcome you are speechless. Here I have just gone on and on. Wouldn’t you like to say something on this night of nights?”

To which I replied, “I think I have said too much already.”

She counters that story by reminding me that when I arrived for our first date, her little brother shouted to her, “Hey, dreamboat, your barnacle is here!”

Actually neither of those stories is true, but who knows? Maybe you can use them someday when you have to speak about love and marriage.

Do let me now be serious. What I have learned of romantic love and the beauty of marriage I have learned from Sister Holland. As I once said of her, paraphrasing what Mark Twain’s Adam said of his Eve, “Wherever she was, there was paradise.”

The Pure Love of Christ

I wish to speak to you about Christlike love and what I think it can and should mean in your friendships, in your dating, in serious courtship, and, ultimately, in your marriage.

After a long, wonderful discourse by Mormon on the subject of charity, the seventh chapter of Moroni tells us that this highest of Christian virtues is more accurately labeled “the pure love of Christ.”

“And it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him [and her].

“Wherefore, … pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons [and daughters] of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; … that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moro. 7:47–48).

True charity, the absolutely pure, perfect love of Christ, has really been known only once in this world—in the form of Christ Himself, the living Son of the living God. As in everything, Christ is the only one who got it all right, did it all perfectly, loved the way we are all to try to love. But even though we fall short, that divine standard is there for us. It is a goal toward which we are to keep reaching, keep striving—and, certainly, a goal to keep appreciating.

Mormon explicitly taught that this love, this ability we all so want, is a gift. It is “bestowed.” It doesn’t come without effort, and it doesn’t come without patience, but, like salvation itself, in the end it is a gift, given by God to the “true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

The solutions to life’s problems are always gospel solutions. Not only are answers found in Christ, but so is the power, the gift, the bestowal, the miracle of giving and receiving those answers. In this matter of love, no doctrine could be more encouraging to us than that.

Kindness

The first element of divine love—pure love—taught by both Paul and Mormon is its kindness, its selfless quality, its lack of ego and vanity and consuming self-centeredness. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind, [charity] envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own” (Moro. 7:45).

There are many qualities you will want to look for in a friend or a serious date—to say nothing of a spouse and eternal companion—but surely among the first and most basic of those qualities will be those of care and sensitivity toward others, a minimum of self-centeredness that allows compassion and courtesy to be evident. There are lots of limitations in all of us that we hope our sweethearts will overlook. I suppose no one is as handsome or as beautiful as he or she wishes, or as brilliant in school or as witty in speech or as wealthy as we would like, but in a world of varied talents and fortunes that we can’t always command, I think that makes even more attractive the qualities we can command—such qualities as thoughtfulness, patience, a kind word, and true delight in the accomplishment of another. These cost us nothing, and they can mean everything to the one who receives them.

Christ Is the Great Example

I like Mormon and Paul’s language that says one who truly loves is not “puffed up.” Puffed up! Isn’t that a great image? True love blooms when we care more about another person than we care about ourselves. That is Christ’s great atoning example for us, and it ought to be more evident in the kindness we show, the respect we give, and the selflessness and courtesy we employ in our personal relationships.

In all that Christ was, He was not ever envious or inflated, never consumed with His own needs. He did not once, not ever, seek His own advantage at the expense of someone else. He delighted in the happiness of others, the happiness He could bring them. He was forever kind.

In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.

If you are just going for pizza or to play a set of tennis, go with anyone who will provide good, clean fun. But if you are serious, or planning to be serious, please find someone who brings out the best in you and is not envious of your success. Find someone who suffers when you suffer and who finds his or her happiness in your own.

Think the Best

The second segment of this scriptural sermon on love in Moroni 7:45 [Moro. 7:45] says that true charity—real love—“is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity.”

Think of how many arguments could be avoided, how many hurt feelings could be spared, and, in a worst-case scenario, how many breakups and divorces could be avoided if we were not so easily provoked, if we thought no evil of one another, and if we not only did not rejoice in iniquity but didn’t rejoice even in little mistakes.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad.

Endure to the End

Third and last, the prophets tell us that true love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moro. 7:45). Once again that is ultimately a description of Christ’s love—He is the great example of One who bore and believed and hoped and endured. We are invited to do the same in our courtship and in our marriage to the best of our ability. Bear up and be strong. Be hopeful and believing. Some things in life we have little or no control over. These have to be endured. These are not things anyone wants in life, but sometimes they come. And when they come, we have to bear them; we have to believe; we have to hope for an end to such sorrows and difficulty; we have to endure until things come right in the end.

Want Dating Security?

In Mormon’s and Paul’s final witnesses, they declare that “charity [pure love] never faileth” (Moro. 7:46; 1 Cor. 13:8). It is there through thick and thin. It endures through sunshine and shadow, through darkest sorrow and on into the light. It never fails. So Christ loved us, and that is how He hoped we would love each other.

In a final command to all His disciples for all time, He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34; emphasis added). Of course such Christlike staying power requires more than any of us really have. It requires something more, an endowment from heaven. Remember Mormon’s promise: that such love—the love we each yearn for and cling to—is “bestowed” upon “true followers of Christ.”

Do you want capability, safety, and security in dating and romance, in married life and eternity? Be a true disciple of Jesus. Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-day Saint. Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. You separate dating from discipleship at your peril. Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the only lamp by which you can successfully see the path of love and happiness. How should I love thee? As He does, for that way “never faileth.”

[photos] Photography by Christina Smith