I have known my friend Kimberly for over 20 years—we grew up together, my mom was her teacher, her mom babysat me. Kim was a bridesmaid at my wedding and my sister's wedding—she is essentially an adopted part of our family. She is 3 years older than me and has taught me some of the most profound and sacred lessons of my life. My whole family would agree that she is one of the most incredible people we've had the privilege to know in this life.
Kimberly also has Down Syndrome. She can only read a few words and will never live on her own. Yet, she has never held a grudge, she doesn't pass judgment, and she makes you feel like the most important person in the room.
Dancing with Zach at our wedding. Image retrieved from elyse-george.com.
In the teacher training class a few weeks ago, we discussed “learning to love those you teach.” The topic kind of threw me off. Why do we have to learn to love someone?
Why was this room full of highly educated adults discussing how to learn to do something that comes so easily and simply to Kim?
We all struggle with different weaknesses. But universally, if there is one commandment nearly every human struggles with, it is to “Love One Another.” Why is this so hard for us?
At this point, some of you are thinking “Okay, ‘Love One Another.' I get it, kumbaya moment, etc. I am going to tune out now because I already know I'm supposed to love others.” And that's the exact thing I don't want to happen. We all know we are supposed to love each other—we aren't failing because we are ignorant. We often fail because we push this aside; loving others can require us to do some uncomfortable self-inventory.
While this is not an exhaustive list, I believe these are the largest obstacles that keep us from loving others:
1. Selfishness: Someone is in my way or inconveniencing me. “How dare they drive so slow?!” “I can't believe they brought all their kids to the grocery store and are running around me—how inconsiderate!” It is all about me. Therefore, I hold a colored opinion of them and I don't want to deal with them. They are beneath me and my needs.
2. Insecurity: Someone is smarter, prettier, thinner, richer, etc than me. I am insecure about this area of my life and upset they have what I don't. I cannot like, much less love, them. I will gossip about them or criticize them needlessly.
3. Discomfort: This person challenges my upbringing, my beliefs, or my culture. I don't like that they are making choices that I would not make. They are not as smart or spiritual or inspired as I am. I am uncomfortable trying to understand their choices and beliefs, because it is impossible that I could ever be wrong.
4. Trust: This person has hurt me in the past. I cannot forgive them and love them because they need to continue to be punished for how they impacted me.
Do you sense an underlying theme? All of these reasons center around the most pernicious of sins: Pride. Pride and love, much like light & dark and faith & doubt, cannot exist together. You cannot elevate yourself above another and truly love them at the same time. True love occurs when you see another as your equal.
This is the difference between Kim and us. Kimberly is not prideful or puffed up in herself. She has no reason to soothe her insecurities and tear others down. She is not puffed up in her own intellect and does not need to feed her ego. She doesn't see her needs as more important than anyone else’s. She truly sees others as people, not objects or inferiors.
Pride is what incites angry internet arguments. Pride is what keeps leaders from compromising and putting the greater good first. Pride is concerned with “who” is right and love is concerned with “what” is right. If you are uncomfortable with being wrong, it will always be difficult to make the right choice in loving others. There is literally no benefit to withholding love from others except to feed your own pride.
Taking this self-inventory and understanding how our pride is holding us back is a super uncomfortable thing to do. It is so much easier for us to busy ourselves with the “lesser” and checklist commandments and pat ourselves on the back. Paid tithing, did home teaching, spent an hour a week indexing records for family history, went to the temple once a month, and on and on. While these commandments and activities are incredibly important—we use them to obscure and busy us from really digging in and peeling off some internal layers. This will not result in true Christlike transformation and love.
A perfect home teaching record or doing X number of temples ordinances before you die will be an interesting fact about your life . . . but will not be your ticket to the celestial kingdom. Home teaching, the temple, helping the needy, etc.—why has Heavenly Father has asked us to do those things? To cast off pride and develop love for our fellow man—what better way to develop Christlike attributes and love? This why we are taught that love of God and fellow men “hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40) If you fail to develop love and charity along the way in life, have you truly kept your second estate?
Christ commanded His apostles, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:16–17) The same charge has been given to us. How are we feeding His sheep? Did He say “feed my sheep but like I totally understand if you think they're annoying/needy/faithless/sinful” or “feed my sheep, but it's ok if you don't want to help the homeless, LGBT, minorities?" When you visit your neighbors, go home teaching, when you drop off cookies at a doorstep or help with yard work, what is in your mind and heart?
“Maybe once we visit her, she won't be so needy and leave us alone for a little bit.”
“I wish he would just get it together and be a real adult like the rest of us.”
“She is so dramatic and too outspoken but I have to just get it done.”
I am good at a lot of things. And if I can pinpoint one thing that I am almost flawless at, it is holding a grudge, passing judgment, and withholding forgiveness. I struggle constantly to love others around me . . . especially during Black Friday shopping.
The best way I've learned to cast off the natural man and pride is to meet people where they are. I had the unfortunate experience to stumble across an intense argument on Facebook a few weeks ago. Two church members had a significant difference of opinion. One, a lifelong member and the other, a convert of a few years. Vastly different life backgrounds and experiences. At one point in the argument, the lifelong member said, “As a member of the church, I find your views on this subject very puzzling . . . I'm not surprised just sad.” Others jumped in as well, called this young woman an apostate, called her to repent and questioned her faith. They did not dare to try to “meet her where she was” and try to understand her point of view and love her the way the Savior does. Instead, they chose harsh words and essentially tried to spiritually intimidate her into agreeing with them.
When has spiritual bullying even brought someone to Jesus? (Side note: when was the last time arguing on Facebook ever changed someone’s mind??)
Love is the only way to do that—the Savior truly meets all of us wherever we are at in this life and perfectly understands our choices and reasons. Having no pride Himself, coupled with this understanding of our hearts, allows Him to love us perfectly.
I grew up in an abusive environment, where unconditional love was an alien concept. As a result, I have struggled with serious anxiety, depression, and suicidal desires since childhood. Until I met Zach, I was convinced I was born fundamentally unlovable, and I could give you a long list of my flaws. While I am so so so happily married, I still constantly worry what others think of me. Even today, I spend a lot of my day in deep self-hatred. I constantly second guess myself, worrying if others will like or accept me. Ironically, knowing how hard it is to be accepted and loved, I was sick with anxiety last night about this topic—Zach was up with me until after 2 a.m. while my mind spun round and round. I was refusing to finish this and share these thoughts. This is how potent love or lack of love can be—I'm 28 and still trying to fix my destructive thinking from years ago. Everyone has an inherent need to be accepted. We are well aware of our individual flaws, which is why it is so important that we feel loved and valued and included by others.
Love is not gossiping about someone but then saying “bless her heart” as if that makes it ok.
Love is not hiding behind culture to judge others choices.
Love is not looking down on others for their education, income, sins, skirt length, family composition.
Love is not elevating yourself above others and finding incredibly flawed reasons to justify it.
Love is self-reflection to examine personal biases and weakness.
Love is meeting someone where they're at.
Love is praying for a true understanding of others’ humanity, motivations, etc.
Love is looking beyond the sin, as if invisible, and just upon the person.
Love is lasting forgiveness.
Love is acknowledging another's personhood and agency.
Love is seeing others as true equals.
I know I genuinely love someone when I sincerely want to be with them in heaven, no caveats, and I am willing to do whatever I need to help them get there.
If you are up to the challenge, I ask you to look at your lives, find a really challenging person to love, and create a better relationship with them. Maybe this is someone who you politically disagree with. Maybe it's an old friend or relative that hurt you. Maybe it's the homeless guy who is always standing at the freeway off-ramp. Really examine your relationship and understand why you struggle to love them. Try to understand what makes them tick, what they need, how they are similar to you. You may not become best friends, but any kind of improved relationship will bring you that much closer to our Savior.
No matter how you feel about someone or why, everyone needs Jesus Christ. There is no question about that. The world needs Jesus Christ collectively, and we all need Him individually. And the only way to bring others to the Savior, or bring them back to the Savior, is through love. No checklists, no arguments, no public shaming of their faith, no detached acts of service. Real genuine love, without guile or pride, inspires and forges that indelible connection between God and His children.
Lead image from Getty Images.
Elyse George is an LDS convert who joined the Church as a neuroscience undergrad at Dartmouth College. She has struggled with depression, anxiety, not fitting in at church, and insecurities galore. She writes about her joys, mistakes, trials, and the inspiration that keeps her going on her blog at elyse-george.com.