Love is the most powerful force in the world. It is the binding force in family relationships and in the relationship with our Heavenly Father. While we often think of love in terms of Valentine’s Day and roses, true love is a deeper devotion that is manifest in all that we do. And when what we do is out of love, it changes hearts and lives. For example, many years ago I started a tradition for Valentine’s Day where I got each of my four children gifts, such as a little stuffed animal and some candy hearts with sweet sayings on them. Every year, even into high school, my kids looked forward to this tradition. I’m sure they liked the candy, but more importantly, they felt loved.
The Savior taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all of our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (See Matthew 22:36-40.) President Thomas S. Monson said,
We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. … Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar.
The Savior set the example for us in all things, including expressions of love. Everything that He did, including His atoning sacrifice, was out of love for us and for Heavenly Father. Thus, love is, truly, the essence of the gospel. Let me explain by outlining 5 ways:
1. Love Leads to Trust
With four kids, I have heard the question “why do I have to do that?” more times than I care to count. Sometimes I can explain things to their satisfaction, but not always. However, when they understand that what I’m asking them to do—or to not do—is out of love for them, more often than not they are receptive to my counsel. It is the same with our Heavenly Father. When we understand who we are and His plan for us, we are more open to Him and His teachings. Elder L. Tom Perry taught,
“There are two purposes for life in mortality. The first is that we might gain experiences that we could not obtain in any other way. The second is to obtain tabernacles of flesh and bones. Both of these purposes are vital to the existence of man. We are now being tried and tested to see if we will do all the things the Lord has commanded us to do. These commandments are the principles and ordinances of the gospel, and they constitute the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every principle and ordinance has a bearing upon the whole purpose of our testing, which is to prepare us to return to our Heavenly Father and become more like Him.”
Heavenly Father’s plan for us is a manifestation of His love for us—His children. When we understand who we are and His love for us, we trust that our loving Heavenly Father knows what we need.
2. Love is Obedience
Trusting our Heavenly Father and His plan for us leads us to obedience to His laws. The Savior taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He taught not only by word but also through His example. After He was baptized, Jesus Christ fasted and prayed in the wilderness for 40 days in preparation for His mortal ministry. At this end of the fast, Satan came to tempt the Savior. But the Savior resisted and remained faithful to the commandments. Jesus Christ remained faithful throughout His life, including in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgotha. Elder Robert E. Hales explained,
… He could have called upon legions of angels to take Him down from the cross, but He made His own choice to obediently endure to the end and complete His atoning sacrifice, even though it meant great suffering, even death.
Through His obedience, the Savior overcame the world and made it possible for us to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father if we will repent and keep the commandments.
3. Love is Teaching Righteousness
One of my greatest responsibilities as a parent is to teach my children to walk in the paths of righteousness. My husband and I take this responsibility very seriously. We teach them the principles of the gospel not to control them but because we know that this is the path that leads to happiness. Our job is to teach them correct principles so they can govern themselves, as the prophet Joseph Smith once said. We teach our children by daily family scripture study and prayer, regularly attending all of our church meetings and attending the temple as often as possible. We do this not only out of duty to our children but also out of love for them.
4. Love is Service
Some of our fondest family memories are when we were serving others. Many years ago, we started a tradition with several other families of doing service on Christmas morning before we open our own presents. The first year we cleaned the home of a couple who were returning from their mission. Other years we delivered cinnamon rolls or other treats to families in the ward. Each Christmas we strengthened the bond we shared with other families. Two different Christmases, we got to share this tradition with my siblings while we were visiting for the holidays. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught,
The love the Savior described is an active love. It is not manifested through large and heroic deeds but rather through simple acts of kindness and service.
Our service to others need not be big and costly. Sometimes it’s just taking time out to reach out to others. Or helping a child with homework. Or even playing games as a family. As the scriptures teach, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
5. Love is Forgiveness
Love is neither true nor sincere if it comes with conditions. Thus, for us to truly love others, we must forgive them. The Savior taught this higher law,
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. (See Matthew 5:43-45.)
We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. But each of us will make mistakes. Sometimes over and over again. The gospel teaches us that we can repent and be made clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We can, and should, strive to do better each day. But we also must give others the opportunity to do the same. As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught,
The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.
The Essence of the Gospel
The only true path to happiness is found as we love God and our neighbor. True love, of which the Savior spoke, can change behavior and leads to true happiness. Which is why it’s the essence of His gospel. As President Monson said,
May we begin now, this very day, to express love to all of God’s children, whether they be our family members, our friends, mere acquaintances, or total strangers. As we arise each morning, let us determine to respond with love and kindness to whatever might come our way.