I wonder if, when Paul penned the immortal words, “charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8) he had any idea it would be the mantra and motto for millions and millions of women nearly 2,000 years later. Probably not. Yet is it. It’s the theme of Relief Society. It is the greatest commandment. Mormon taught that charity, “is the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). That sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? But he also said that without it, we are nothing (See Moroni 7:46).
So, basically, we need to love like Jesus did or else we are nothing? No pressure.
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That kind of thinking—that pressure—can cause us to feel guilty when we don’t love fully and completely. I mean, we are supposed to, right? We are commanded to be like Jesus and to love like He did. How does that work when I’m assigned to minister to a sister I don’t know, or maybe even like? How am I supposed to love them completely and unconditionally, like Jesus does? What about people in general. What if I don’t even like some of them, let alone love them? Am I doomed?
We cannot love exactly the way the Savior did because we are not perfect beings. But, there are facets and facts about charity that are real and beautiful and ours to have if we want. Here are a few.
Expressions of charity.
We could also call this one "acts of love." These are things we can do out of feelings of righteous desire, like, and love. These expressions of charity are our gifts of thought, time, and service. About expressions of charity, Spencer W. Kimball said, "[The Savior’s] gifts were rare ones: eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, the legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were . . . forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing. His friends gave him shelter, food, and love. He gave them of himself, his love, his service, his life . . . We should strive to give as he gave” (Kimball, 1978).
In our own way, we can give gifts of love to those we’ve been asked to serve. I don’t mean the goodies we have dropped off on the last day of the month (though, if born from a place of love, it could qualify as an expression of charity). I’m speaking of the purposeful things we think and do to show love to our sisters. A text, a call, an email, a handwritten note, a personal visit, a small gift, a card, a lunch date, a helping hand. Though we may not love our sisters perfectly, we can offer expressions of charity any time.
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Charity is a gift we are given.
When I realized this truth, it was liberating and exhilarating. I can be given love for someone else. The more I thought and studied and prayed about this, the more I began to see moments in my life when I was literally filled with charity. I could remember moments I looked at my children and feeling an overwhelming sense of love. Or when I talk with someone I don’t know very well and I feel love for them. Or when I stand in front of a group of people to speak and I’m filled with love for them (haven’t we heard that over the pulpit at sacrament meeting before? “I don’t know all of you, but I love you.”) These are gifts of charity—moments when God’s perfect love is given to us to feel and experience. It’s strong and very real.
I like to think of us as conduits—funnels if you will. When we are “filled with charity” (Moroni 8:17) we can feel the love that God has for others flow from Him above and through us to them. It is more than the love we have, for it doesn’t originate from us. It is His love, given to us for a moment, sometimes longer. This gift of charity allows us to feel a glimpse of what God feels for His children. His love is full and rich and perfect. It fills every part of us. And though it can’t always last, here is the beautiful thing. I believe some if it stays with us, like brilliant residue on the shape of our souls. After we are given the gift of charity, it becomes easier for us to love in our own imperfect way.
And how do we qualify for this gift? It available to us, through the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ. We simply need to want it. Henry B. Eyring explained, “By His Atonement He made it possible for us to plead for and receive the gift of charity” (Eyring, 2009). Isn’t that wonderful? It takes away the pressure one might have of feeling “forced” to love someone else and allows God into our visiting teaching companionships to help us feel His love for them.
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Peter penned these beautiful words: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves” (1 Peter 4:8). I love the term “fervent charity.” It means eager, enthusiastic—excited! The gift of charity is meant to be sought after and celebrated. There is no place for guilt in charity. Peter continued, “As every man that received the gift (of charity), even so, minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). As we receive love, we are able to serve our sisters with love. This is what makes us good stewards.
And stewards of what? The manifold grace of God.
Manifold means many, diverse, or assorted. The grace of God isn’t one-dimensional. It spreads across time and space, touching every person and covering every person’s needs. Everyone needs the grace of the Atonement. And we as ministers have testimonies of Jesus Christ and His Atonement and have been asked to minster to each other, serve each other, and teach each other, so we can all have greater access to the manifold grace of God.
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Of the three purposes of Relief Society—increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement; strengthen individuals, families, and home through ordinances and covenants; and work in unity to help those in need—coming closer to our God and our Savior is the first and greatest purpose. And having charity for our sisters and loving them the best we can is the best way to do that.