loving others and living with differences

This post is slightly modified from a talk I gave in church recently based on Elder Oaks’ talk from October 2014 General Conference.

I have agonized over and pondered this topic perhaps more than any other gospel principle. Loving others the way Christ would while living up to the covenants we’ve made and not compromising our standards is an incredibly difficult balance–at least for me. Situations arise on a nearly daily basis where these two doctrines can come into conflict.

The world we live in allows us greater connection and interaction with people we would otherwise never encounter. This is an incredible blessing, but also one of our greatest struggles. We encounter the loudspoken opinions of others without the context of their character and actions. We are expected to have an opinion on everything and everyone. If our opinion does not correspond to what society expects and allows, there is no forgiveness. We hunt for feet of clay in order to discredit those we disagree with.

“People who spend their time searching for feet of clay will miss not only the heavens wherein God moves in His majesty and power, but God’s majesty as He improves and shapes a soul.” Neal A. Maxwell

When we focus on the mistakes and weaknesses of others, we diminish and neglect the power of God and the sacrifice of His Son which can change any soul and accomplish any work. 

How do we rise above these tendencies to fault-find and focus on the negative in others? How do we live in the world without being of it?

Despite the differences we have with those near us, those in different parts of the world, and those we come in contact with on the internet, we will always have one thing–the most important thing–in common: We are children of God, and He loves each one of us. We all have the potential to become like Him. It is with this perspective and understanding that we must interact with those around us. This knowledge changes how we act.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.” C.S. Lewis

So how do we strike that balance between loving all as children of God while living and defending our beliefs? I believe it will only get more difficult as time goes on. As I’ve contemplated this over the years and, in particular, during these past couple of weeks, I have come to understand that is is only possible with humility and by the Spirit.

When pride drives our interactions, when we set out to prove others wrong rather than with the intent to seek common understanding through the Spirit, we do far more harm than good–to ourselves and to others.

Shakespeare said, “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.” When we are unkind, we hurt ourselves just as much as we hurt others. Our intent in our interactions is pivotal.

“The Spirit has a near impossible task to get through to a heart that is filled with hate or anger or vengeance or self-pity. Those are all antithetical to the Spirit of the Lord. On the other hand, the Spirit finds instant access to a heart striving to be charitable and forgiving, long-suffering, and kind—principles of true discipleship.” Jeffery R. Holland

We cannot control the state of someone else’s heart, but the state of our own heart has an undeniable influence on the direction and outcome of the interaction. 

As Elder Maxwell said, “Sufficient unto most every circumstance are the counterbalancing egos thereof; force tends to produce counterforce.” It is impossible to argue alone.

We have taken upon ourselves the name of Christ in our baptismal covenant. We are all His representatives and missionaries in the work of salvation.

I love these wise words from President Benson that appear in Preach My Gospel:

“The Spirit is the most important single element in this work. With the Spirit magnifying your call, you can do miracles for the Lord in the mission field. Without the Spirit, you will never succeed regardless of your talent and ability.”

No matter our powers of reason, our speaking abilities, our debating skill, or even how right we are, we will never reach the hearts of others or play a part in their conversion to Christ without the Spirit. No one in the history of this earth has been truly converted by anything but the Spirit of God. Not a single person.

Elder Oaks mentioned the following example of how we can love others “while not compromising or diluting our commitment to truth.”

“The Savior showed the way when His adversaries confronted Him with the woman who had been ‘taken in adultery, in the very act’ (John 8:4). When shamed with their own hypocrisy, the accusers withdrew and left Jesus alone with the woman. He treated her with kindness by declining to condemn her at that time. But He also firmly directed her to ‘sin no more’ (John 8:11). Loving-kindness is required, but a follower of Christ—just like the Master—will be firm in the truth.”

I love that the Joseph Smith Translation gives us more information about this woman and the result of this interaction: “And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.” That should be the goal of our interactions–to bring others closer to Christ.

As we live our lives, we must remember that our loyalty is always to God first. When Christ was asked what the greatest commandment was, He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”  

The second commandment, He said, is to “love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When we mix up the order of these commandments, we deny the wisdom, love, and omnipotence of our Father in Heaven. He knows how to do His work; He knows how to reach His children, and so He has given us commandments and an example to follow. Denying those commandments or even putting compassion for others above our love of God–the reason we obey His commandments–is to disregard the greatest commandment.

C.S. Lewis has really helped me to understand what loving others as I love myself means:

“You are told to love your neighbour as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character….However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I [go] on loving myself. There [has] never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I [hate] these things [is] that I love the man. Just because I love myself, I [am] sorry to find that I [am] the sort of man who [does] those things….  In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to go to the Police and own up and be hanged. Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

The world will not understand us; it will not understand our approach–of that we can be sure. The things of God are only understood by the Spirit, we are told. We may be persecuted, mocked, and belittled for our loyalty to God. That is hard. I have felt it. I’m sure we all have. If you haven’t felt this, glancing at some comment boards or discussion posts on the internet will quickly set that to rights. It is easy to want to react in kind when I see the unjust and unkind comments on the internet. But I’ve come to understand a couple of things.

  1. Trying to communicate sacred truths on an anonymous forum is nearly impossible.

  1. The better we know someone- I mean really have exerted effort and time in getting to know them–the better position we are in to have uplifting, intimate discussions about sacred topics and to find common ground, despite lingering differences of opinion and belief. Those are powerful interactions and most often happen one-on-one.

  1. Being mocked and persecuted is part of being a disciple of Christ

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Rejoice when this happens, He says. I admit that rejoicing is often the very opposite of the feelings I generally have when that happens. I suppose, though, that being persecuted and reviled against can be a measure of whether we are living our lives the way we are supposed to.

“How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’” Neal Maxwell

If we are to be representatives of Christ and to share in His joy, we can expect to be treated with similar disbelief and mockery. How we react to that is the true test of our discipleship, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” as James said.

I have been so touched by the example set by the families of those killed a few days ago in the Charleston shooting as they sat in a Bible discussion group. Without delay, they forgave the man that acted with such violence and hatred toward the people most dear to them. Such forgiveness is only possible in hearts truly filled with Christ and His love. What a beautiful example of Christianity. That is what our world needs, and I think it’s what Christ meant when he spoke of His kingdom being like leaven–raising the whole mass by its influence. If these brothers and sisters of ours can forgive so much so swiftly, surely I can be more loving and forgiving of those I come in contact with?

After all, as Jesus said

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

I don’t want to miss the beauty in my fellow men because I am busy searching for their faults. I don’t want to miss Him shaping a soul because I am busy focusing on past mistakes of others. I don’t want to miss His miracles because I am busy looking down on others. 

I want to see Him moving in His majesty and power.

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