I was thinking about this scripture (and the song we sing about it.) Someone once told me that to love one another as Christ loves us, we’ve got to consider a each person’s potential and love them for that, and they will change. The implication: if you can love someone’s potential enough, they’ll eventually grow into your expectations and be worthy of the love you give them.
Hmm. I don’t know about you, but MY love is not powerful enough to change anyone. Even Heavenly Father with his perfect love won’t force change on anyone. Real change is a very individual process.
What’s more, if people really believe that divine love for us is conditional on whether or not we’ll meet the potential He gave us — they no doubt spend a lot of time feeling quite unloved.
My understanding is that that He simply loves us for who we are. He knows better than anyone the full truth about us, and loves us anyhow. It’s not about anything we can give Him, or His expectations of us and whether or not we can fulfill them. He has expectations… but His love for us doesn’t hinge on them. Certain blessings, however, do. If we want the blessings of keeping the commandments, for example, well… we need to keep them!
And when (not “if”) we don’t keep the commandments, we need to repent. He always allows us to repent because He loves us, so much that He even gave His own Son to make our eventual perfection possible in spite of the mistakes we make along the way. So while we can’t go back in time to pick up whatever opportunities those blessings could have afforded us had we consistently done the right thing, we will be forgiven, and we can move forward.
So. We know this, right? If that’s how He loves us, can we learn to love those around us in the same way? It would require truly getting to know and accept each other for who we really are, to see the good without pretending to see perfection. To love each other, warts and all, unconditionally — and to treat each other accordingly.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have expectations of each other. As a rather formal example, look at the relationship between an employer and employee. An employee is expected to help the company, and the employer is expected to pay the employee, according to their contract. Marriage is built on a contract between two people and their covenants to God. Citizens follow the laws of the land, and friendships thrive on mutual respect.
But if God loves us enough to be willing to forgive us, can we do the same with others? A good friend pointed out the other day in the story of the Prodigal Son, that the father sees his son returning and while he’s yet a long way off, runs to meet him. Heavenly Father is more than willing to forgive us when we turn back to Him, and like the father in this parable, consistently goes beyond meeting us halfway. He helps us and blesses us even when we’re a long way off, not because we deserve it, but because He loves us. Could we love others that way, too?
(I’d published this privately, previously, but when President Monson talked about loving each other for who we are at Women’s Conference in September 2010, I remembered this and thought I’d clean it up and share it.)