Jesus loves you.
Three little words that you’ve probably heard a thousand times in your life. Maybe so much that it’s lost some meaning for you. Or maybe you hear it and wonder how He can love you and the billions of other people on the planet when you have a hard time loving your own sibling. Or perhaps you don’t feel like you deserve His love.
None of these things change the fact that Jesus loves you.
When I was in my younger years, this was something I knew but didn’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to say you “know” something you don’t understand. And I was one of those people that did wonder how He could love everyone in the world at the same time. I mean, how could He see little me and love me? How does that even work?
I’ve spent hours and years of research, study, and prayer to find that answer. And this is what I’ve come up with: I have no idea. No one does.
I know, I was disappointed in that answer too. I like to know how things work. But in my years of searching, I’ve come to understand four important things.
1. Jesus Really Loves Me (and YOU)
Whether I understand it fully or not, Jesus does really love me. I believe this because I’ve learned about Him and followed His example. I believe this because I’ve asked in prayer and received a witness through the Holy Ghost. I believe this because I choose to believe it.
So, even if you might not understand how He does, that doesn’t change the fact the He loves you. Heavenly Father loves you too. They always have. In fact, in the Bible, the apostle John says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, emphasis added). They can’t help but love us.
We don’t have to qualify for Their love. President Thomas S. Monson explained that they love each of us with a love that never changes. No matter what we look like, how much money or possessions we have, what talents or abilities we possess, or whether we are happy or sad, Their love is always there. It’s there “for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.” There is nothing you could do that would make Them stop loving you. They just do. And they do it perfectly.
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2. It's Okay to Not Understand Everything
I love Nephi in the Book of Mormon. Nephi was always searching for truth and knowledge. He studied the brass plates, listened to his dad, and sought answers directly from the Lord. He wanted to know for himself and believed that many answers could be found by those who seek diligently (see 1 Nephi 10:19), but along his path of discipleship, there were things he didn’t know. And there was a lot he didn’t know.
In fact, after Lehi shares his dream with Nephi and his other children, Nephi went to the Lord to receive a confirmation for himself of what his father saw. The Spirit of the Lord appeared to him and talked with him like two people having a conversation (see 1 Nephi 11:11). How cool would that be? As they were talking, the Spirit asked Nephi if he understood the condescension of God. I love the answer Nephi gave the angel, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17).
Nephi didn’t know everything, and he was okay with that. Why? Because he knew that the Lord loved him. It didn’t matter to Nephi that he knew the what or how of everything in the gospel because he knew the who. Because he knew God loved him, Nephi trusted Him in all things, even things he didn’t understand.
I love this quote by Neil A. Maxwell: “Of course we cannot fully comprehend all this right now! Of course, we cannot know the meaning of all things right now. But we can know, right now, that God knows us and loves us individually!” He loves us! He loves you.
In our lives, there will be a lot of things we won’t understand. Some answers will come through study and others through personal revelation as we diligently see them. But, we will have some questions that we simply won’t be able to understand the answers to in this life—not with our finite, mortal minds. And that’s okay. It’s okay because we know the most important thing: that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us. We can choose to believe that the things they ask of us, and the things we learn are all born out of a pure love and intent for our greatest joy and happiness.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want to believe in an eternal God that my finite mind can completely understand. I want the heavens and eternity to be grander than my mortal brain can comprehend. So, yeah, I’m okay not knowing how Jesus loves us all. It’s good enough for me to know that He does. And He really does.
3. It's Up to Us to Receive Their Love
Though Their love is unconditional and always extended, it’s up to us to receive it—we have to take it in.
The Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi, had a vision shortly after leaving Jerusalem, the only home and life he’d ever known. In it, he saw a tree with what looked like delicious fruit. As he ate the fruit it filled his soul with joy (see 1 Nephi 8:12). This fruit was the love of God which is “most desirable above all things . . . and most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23). It’s important to note here that Lehi felt this joy after he ate the fruit. He had to receive and take it in before he could taste it and feel it, and it is the same with each of us.
Lehi worried about his oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel. They were a whiny and rebellious pair. In this vision, after he’d tasted the fruit (love of God) he invited them to do the same (see 1 Nephi 8:15). But they refused, much to their father’s dismay (see 1 Nephi 8:18). In the vision, they were close enough to see the tree and hear their father, but that wasn’t enough. They needed to be close enough to pick the fruit and eat it. But they didn’t. They didn’t receive what was offered to them. They wouldn’t even get close to the tree. How can you eat fruit if you’re not close enough to even pick it? Dennis Gaunt says it’s the difference between watching a good cooking show on TV and hearing the host tell you the food they made is delicious and cooking that meal for yourself and actually eating it.
Why is this a big deal? Because over and over Laman and Lemuel waited for things to be handed to them while keeping their arms crossed, unwilling to receive them (see 1 Nephi 15:9). They never accepted the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Because of that, they complained, grew angry, and eventually were separated from their brother Nephi and other righteous family members (see 1 Nephi 2:4, 16:37-38, 18:8-9, 2 Nephi 5:1-5). Oh yeah, and they created a legacy of false doctrine and hate that would span thousands of years.
Not wanting to feel God’s love was, I think, their missing link. Have you ever wondered how they could see an angel and still doubt (see 1 Nephi 3:29-31)? It’s because they saw with their eyes but hadn’t felt with their souls. Spiritual things are learned by spiritual means. The love of God and the Savior is a spiritual thing. We receive Their love through the Holy Spirit. We can see miracles in the lives of others and even in our own, but until we feel and accept heavenly love, they will quickly lose meaning in our lives.
Receiving love makes all the difference. I don’t know why Laman and Lemuel didn’t receive God’s love. Maybe they were too angry. Maybe they struggled with self-doubt. Maybe they simply didn’t care. But whatever the reason, they never made a sustained effort to reach for and taste the fruit—God’s love. In fact, at times they actively refused it. Nephi, on the other hand, fully accepted and received God’s love. And because he did, he developed a strong relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. In fact, at the end of his life, Nephi referred to the Savior as “my Jesus” (2 Nephi 33:6, emphasis added) because of the love he had for Him.
There have been times in my life where I’ve struggled to receive Their love too, times when I’ve felt unworthy of love, or times when I’ve felt too angry to feel love. In those times, I can see now that God’s love still shined down on me, and the only reason I didn’t feel it was because I slipped under the cover of self-doubt or anger. I moved away from Them. I decided They couldn’t love me, wouldn’t love me. But, I was wrong. So wrong.
The fact that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us no matter what might be the most important and foundational piece of knowledge we can cling to. When we believe They love us, we can trust more and depend on Them more. When we accept Their love, we open ourselves to the power of the Atonement to change us. We can become like Them.
And when we realize how much they love us, it makes loving them easier. The apostle John talked a lot about love. He said, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When I think of the great love the Savior has for me, it is hard not to feel love for Him in return. Love is like that. It grows. It multiplies.
When I know they love me and I love them, I have the desire to do all I can to feel and show that love. I want to do what I can to stay by the tree.
4. The Savior Wants to Give Us Everything He Has
I realized something awesome. It’s not only love that Heavenly Father and the Savior want to give us. It’s Heavenly Father’s intention that we can have everything He has. This is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But what does that mean?
In the Bible, Paul teaches us that we, being children of God, are “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). To illustrate what this means to my seminary class years ago, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. (Because who doesn’t love cookies?) I had a student stand in front of the class holding a large bag filled with “his” cookies while I quoted Paul. Then I asked the students if the student in front of the class represented Jesus, and the cookies were symbolic of what He was an heir to, what would it look like if we were joint-heirs?
The students were united in their answer: He would open the bag and share his cookies with the class. While I replied that it would be awfully nice for him to share what He has, Heavenly Father actually has something better in mind for us all. Then the student went into the hall and came back with a rolling cart piled high with bags of cookies.
As he handed an entire bag just like his to each student (who received them with wide eyes and watering mouths), I explained that to be joint-heirs with Christ doesn’t mean we get a part of what the Savior will receive, but that we will get the same thing that He will receive. We will ALL get eternal life. President Dallin H. Oaks has said that “if we come to the Father we are to ‘inherit all things’ (Revelation 21:7)—all that He has—a concept our mortal minds can hardly grasp. But at least we can understand that achieving this ultimate destiny in eternity is possible only if we follow our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
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This is how much They love us. Heavenly Father’s entire plan—His entire work and glory (see Moses 1:39) is to give us the chance to love and be loved perfectly. This is the entire purpose of Jesus Christ’s life (see Mosiah 3:9). We are their entire purpose. And the only way for us to receive all that Heavenly Father has planned and Jesus Christ offers is through obedience, a trade of our will for theirs.
In the words of the Savior Himself, when we keep the commandments, “[He] will encircle [us] in the arms of [his] love” (D&C 6:20). Of course, Jesus loves us no matter what we do. But, when we keep the commandments, we draw closer to Him. So close that He can take us into His arms and love us up close. Isn’t that a wonderful image?
I hope you can feel His love and He can feel yours, that you’ll be close enough to Him to be “clasped in the arms of Jesus” (Mormon 5:11). I don’t know how He does it, but I do know that Jesus loves you. He knows all your strengths and weaknesses, your thoughts and intentions, your struggles and triumphs. He knows and loves you as an individual. Jesus loves you. I hope you choose to believe it.