written by Andrea Bowers
As I evolve as a person, I am learning more about life and love and how love touches every aspect of life, if you let it. I like to think that I’m an amateur at this whole understanding life and love stuff and that every day is another chance to practice at becoming a little more proficient in all the areas of my life, especially learning how to love more completely. This causes me to be an adventurer, a discoverer, an explorer seeking truth and light. This is fun for me and this perspective helps me be open to learning new ways and new things and helps me feel excited about what other people have learned on different subjects. I like to think of myself as an ever-ready student. I can learn from their example and from their ideas.
Some of my teachers surprise me, for example, two of my teachers about love are my two sons. One of them teaches me by example. My older son has a gentle spirit. Sometimes I feel like a whirling tornado in late August standing next to his calm sunny June day. When I want to show love by physical acts, he teaches me to be more thoughtful, a better listener, a better receiver and to slow down and ask the Lord how to love. He’s taught me that love can mean the simple act of being with people as they’re frustrated or sad instead of trying to make them feel better or trying to get to the bottom of it so we can resolve it. If you know him, you know that his spirit animal is a lamb (don’t tell him I said that, he’d probably rather be something a little more masculine). He is a great teacher of love because his warmth and harmony and gentleness ooze out of him and he doesn’t even know it. Well, when he tears up at great music or books or testimony, I suppose he knows it’s oozing out of him. He’s just tender, always has been and always will be. It’s beautiful to me and to me, conveys his love for life.
I’ve learned from my second son that even when I try to show love in all of the ways I know how, from all of the years of practice I have so far, that there’s still more for me to learn about love. To him, love is fairness, love is attention and time, love is patience and acceptance, and most of all, love is noticing the work and effort and love he’s put into something. These lessons have been hard fought for me as I explore love in it’s many forms, but the quest I’m on is for eternity, and the work is worth it to me. As I’ve discovered how to love him better, I’ve found more people who feel loved as he does which allows me to relate to them as well. He’s taught me not to take people’s efforts for granted and that just because I feel like I’m being loving, doesn’t mean that the other person is receiving that love. I know I can’t make people feel the love I’m giving, I have learned though, that using my loving energy wisely generates better results. For example, if I spend time and energy showing love by packing his lunch for him (something that totally rocks my husband’s world), in my relationship with him, I’ve wasted some energy for myself, because to him, that’s not that big of a deal and he’d rather do it himself. If however, he comes to me with a piece of art he’s created and I’m in the middle of something, I’ve learned that if I put everything down and move away from what I’m doing, and thoroughly look at what he’s done and take the time to dote on him and recognize his effort and praise him for his ability to cultivate his talents, he feels loved and adored all day. Conversely, if I barely look up and give him a vague complement, he feels like his time has been wasted and more often than not calls his artwork trash and a waste of time. Of course, there’s a balance, right, I can’t always be 100% for him and he is in charge of managing his own feelings, but I’ve learned that to him, this little thing makes a world of difference.
Yep, every day I am learning a little bit about how people give and receive love and I think that’s cool, that my mind can expand on anything I focus on, even learning to love better, don’t you?
I’ve also studied love in good books, the scriptures, from teachers, and from stories. One thing that’s been really interesting for me to learn is that we only have the capacity to love others as much as we love ourselves. I’ve learned that I can’t love you in your bad habits if I can’t love me in mine. I can’t love you for your successes and triumphs in this life if I don’t love myself and where I am in my journey. If I’m unloving with myself, I won’t be able to love you completely. If I haven’t forgiven myself, I won’t be able to forgive you. If I want more for myself than I give to myself than I’ll have a lot of trouble watching you get what you want and loving you for it. I believe this is why Jesus stated the commandment this way…
27 Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.Luke 10:27
I’ve also learned that we cannot come to love someone we don’t know and that as we come to know people and understand them, our love grows for them. This includes ourselves. If we don’t know ourselves, we can’t love ourselves. The more we can learn to appreciate and accept our strengths and weaknesses, the more we can forgive ourselves and love ourselves. This might seem kind of obvious, but it’s so true.
I was reading in the Book of Mormon today about a man named Zeniff. He was a man who was living in about 280 AD. At the time there were two predominant groups of people where he lived, the Nephites and the Lamanites. At this time, the Nephites were being persecuted by the Lamanites because the Lamanites wanted the Nephite’s well-cultivated, highly productive, land. The Lord warned the Nephites to leave the land and move to another place and let the Lamanites occupy the land, so they did. A few years later, a large group of the Nephites decided that that wasn’t very fair and they wanted to go get their land back. One of the members of the group was named Zeniff. Zeniff was a Nephite, a well-educated man who had the job of being a spy for the Nephites, one of his main responsibilities was to watch the Lamanites and warn the Nephites of Lamanite invasion. Zeniff was not the leader of this group that wanted to go get the land back, but he was part of it. The leader of the group is described as austere and bloodthirsty and we find out later in the story that this leader and Zeniff have different ideas of how to get the land back.
Well, this large group left their newish home and made it just outside of “their land” and camped for a little while. During this time, Zeniff realized that the leader of his group wanted to go in and slaughter all of the Lamanite people and take the land back by force. Zeniff had a major problem with that after watching these people for so long. The time he’d spent watching them and getting to know them fostered a sense of love for their humanity and he tried to get the leader to rethink the way they were going to get the land back. The leader had not spent any time getting to know these people and didn’t have any love for them. To him, they were not really people but intruders getting in the way of what he wanted. He didn’t want to try to find another way, he wanted to kill them and get them out of the way. Well, this created a dispute among the people of this group and they ended up fighting a battle against each other, they didn’t end up entering the land they were trying to occupy on this trip. Many of them died and the rest went back to tell the family’s of the deceased about the skirmish and recruit more people to join them. (That would’ve been an interesting recruiting strategy. Half of us are dead, want to come on the next trip?) Hopefully, making clear that the plan wasn’t a killing spree but a peace treaty. So, they gather another adventurous group and go back, Zeniff being the leader this time. Zeniff manages to negotiate with the Lamanite king and he gives them some of their lands back, and as long as they watch their backs and pay tribute to the king, they’re able to live on that land for a while. Zeniff leads the people there, then his son, and then his grandson. After that, they end up leaving the lands again. Anyway…
I feel like this story really teaches that the more we come to know a people, even if we’re just watching them, the more we come to love them. I’ve seen this time and time again. I am in a book group and we have read a lot of World War 2 stories. One of the biggest tactics of the dark side was to separate the Jews or those they didn’t like from the rest of the people. They stripped away their identities one piece at a time, putting into the minds of the soldiers that these people were just large numbers of unnecessary creatures, like knats or flies. They separated them from their families to make them look small and insignificant, they wouldn’t let them gather in common places in order take away their influence, they removed them from their property so they wouldn’t be connected to anything, they became a symbol, then a number, then a skinny, bald, grey carcass in a grey suit.
It is horrendous to think that we, as reasoning, thinking people, can be led to such a state but it has happened so many times in the history of man. When we do not take the time to learn and act and use our reason, we lose our love for ourselves, God, humanity, and truth.
Scott Peck has an awesome definition of love. He says love is, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I love this definition because it’s so true. It takes extending yourself, putting forth effort to love. I must be an agent. I must put forth action in order to love someone, including myself. The purpose of this extending of ourselves is to nurture inside someone else, their spiritual growth. If you’ve studied scripture, you’ll understand that to God, all things are both temporal and spiritual. Scott Peck goes on to say that, “The opposite of love is not hatred but laziness. Love is work, so the refusal to love comes not from our passions (emotions/feelings) but from our lack of effort (work) – our unwillingness to put in the effort that love requires.”
That’s the crux of it right? Am I willing to put in the effort to love God, love myself, and then the people around me well? When we think about Jesus as love, with that definition, it makes so much sense. He was willing to extend himself completely for our spiritual growth.
So, if I truly love myself, I will take care of myself holistically, meaning spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. I’m not talking about the worldly idea of self-indulgent false love, almost a lusting of self or a puffing up of self, or an unhealthy idolization of self, but true self-love. Love where you care for yourself properly and put in the work to better your self in safe, intentional, sustainable, truthful, holy ways.
None of these areas of self will be loved passively or unconsciously. I must be purposeful and diligent if I’m to love myself. I must work. If I am not loving myself well, it is 99% of the time due to laziness.
Taking care of my spirit, scripture study, prayer, etc… if I don’t take the time for those, it’s not that I didn’t have the time, it’s that I didn’t make the time, I was being lazy about it.
What about physically? If I don’t eat well, why is that usually? Because it’s easier to not… laziness. If I don’t move my body with some form of exercise…laziness.
If I find myself emotionally bogged down? I have some proven strategies that help me overcome negative emotions, why don’t I do them? I don’t want to expend the energy, I don’t want to put forth the work required. I am not showing myself love in that way…laziness.
What about secular learning? If I don’t take the time to educate myself, I can make excuses like I don’t have time, but if I’m really honest with myself and evaluate how I spend my time, I could truthfully make the time to do so, with all of the resources available today. I choose not to, why? Laziness.
It’s a hard pill to swallow and there is grace in all of this for us so don’t get to beat up about it. Jesus said, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” So trust in God and learn to love him, yourself, your fellow man, and truth.
The more time you spend with people, the more you come to love them, so let that love grow. God made each one of us and he doesn’t make mistakes.
I’d like to open this up to discussion. Share what you’ve learned about love in the comments below or in an email to me. We’re all students in this big experiment of life.
Who have your teachers been? What kind of impact have they made on you? What are some of the findings you’ve made about love? Have you seen any of these principles in your life? Have you found any other cool definitions for love? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve said? How can this definition be applied to loving God, he doesn’t need us to extend ourselves for his spiritual growth? How have you learned to love and accept yourself?
- Luke 10:27
- Omni 1:27-29, Mosiah 9
- The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck
- John 3:17