As a youngster, I can remember wondering what this “love” thing was that was always talked about it church. Quite frankly, it was weird. To be so enamored with a person that I could say that I loved them was a foreign concept to me. It was just something you said; “I love you mom” being the mainstay. As I grew older, my attitude evolved into categorizing people into acquaintances and enemies. That’s it.
It wasn’t until I was past my mission and dating that I began to feel “love.” I put it in quotes because it’s not the love that really does anyone any good. At best, an acknowledgement that I liked you.
Then I got married to a wonderful lady whom I did love. At least I had a strong attraction to. Hindsight is always 20/20 so what I saw as “love” was something else that was a complicated set of emotions and analysis that, in my mind, I equated as love (lust being a large part of it). I know, that last sentence made no sense, but neither did my thinking process.
Then my excommunication and the start of my own self-analysis which had to include how I felt about other people. One thing became clear; I had very little empathy towards others. I actually had to practice having empathy by forcing myself to mentally turn and look at what I did/doing/said/saying from the other persons point of view. It was the same as seeing the world in an abstract way, that is to consider the characteristic of what I was saying or doing, separate from me. This was an exercise I consistently worked on for years. I had to go about acquiring empathy as a skill, the same as someone would practice the piano.
I could see where it would get frustrating for some people who would try to converse with me as I paused all the time to make sure I didn’t say or do anything that would be offensive or obnoxious, which I horribly failed at. However, with time I started getting better at it until it became almost second nature. But it still didn’t mean I knew what to think or what to say. I had the first piece, which is to look at myself from another person’s point of view. What I was now missing was the other piece, to know how to talk to someone so I wouldn’t be forward and brash as to shut down or scare the bejeebers out of them. I even corrected a Stake President after a fireside because he got something wrong (looking back, it wasn’t so wrong after all).
And then I began to attend the church’s ARP meeting. I thought I was doing ok, but I was still a very angry person so I was not above (or below) correcting anyone, from fellow participants to the group leaders. But the group leader was extremely patient with me. He had figured me out and tried to gently guide me along to being a less judgmental participant. I tried but then came that one night that I ripped someone apart right there in group. I felt justified, that was until I was pulled into another room where this group leader very gently but sharply chastised me. I have never, nor do I believe I will ever be ripped a new one in such a nice, loving, caring way. But after the chastisement, he taught me the second piece; how to talk to people. With that in place, I started to practice. The first step was to apologize to the person I ripped apart.
I could feel myself getting better at communicating with the folks in my group. I was also getting better at considering their feelings. I should point out that at the end of each group meeting, I sat down with the group leader and asked him what I did wrong and how to improve. What this forced me to do is change my attitude so that I could not be offended, accept his critiques and do my best to follow his instructions. With his help, I was getting much, much better to where others were actually listening to me and even asking me questions.
A couple of years later, I accepted an assignment to be a facilitator. Part of my responsibilities is to minister to the new people who’ve come into the group. This, at times, can be very delicate. I had to above all, be accepting and non-threatening, a feat I’m still trying to master. But there was one meeting where it hit me. In that meeting, I looked out at all these men who were there trying to overcome an addiction that had overwhelmed them and I felt an overwhelming feeling of love for each and every one of them. I don’t know if anyone saw me, but when that feeling hit me, I had to sit back and gather my thoughts. My mind took me back to when I started and how mean and angry I was and returned to that moment when all I had was a feeling of love and compassion. This was a wonderful, startling spiritual moment for me. And thus years of preparation brought me to be open enough where I was given, what I consider, a surprise gift.
I believe that for the most part, children come to this earth with the traits that they had in the pre-existence. That it is life’s experiences that changes and molds them to the adults they are. But we are commanded to overcome the worlds influence and get back to the loving, kind people that we were before our earthly sojourn. This is only done by faith and obedience. What I believed happened to me is that at that moment, in that meeting, I was given back my gift of love and compassion; a gift that would not have been returned until I went through the crucible of working for it. I unknowingly did as Paul admonished which is to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor 12:31). The “best gift” I needed was the gift of love and compassion. And I finally have that cherished gift.
So if you are a person on your journey to better yourself, be patient. More specifically, be patient with yourself and with God. It takes work and honest self-analysis. But we are promised that we will receive that which we desire so long as it is righteous. Life is not checking off a list so that we can turn in our resume in the end. Life is about acquiring the attitude of constantly striving to be obedient all the while repenting along the way as well as seeking after all that is good. Whether it is knowledge, gifts, or even a good disposition, it is all within our reach. Not because if I can do it you can to, but because this is the promise of God to his children. And I am excited to have discovered it.