Showing posts with label Love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Love. Show all posts

God's Love IS Unconditional

Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In my younger years, I attempted to excuse myself from fully buying into the notion that God truly intended me to love all people. Surely he didn't mean for me to love people I have good reason not to trust, those who show animosity towards me and would do me harm if they got the chance. And certainly there was no obligation for me to love the people who had already intentionally and maliciously hurt me. 

A God who truly cared about me wouldn't put me in that position... right?

This was part of a prolonged, circuitous effort to justify myself in refusing to forgive several of the most abusive people in my past. I could "forgive" them in a way that was effectively meaningless, as long as I didn't have to love them. It was a rationale that came from a deeply hurt and fearful place.

As I continued to heal and reached a place where I was ready to handle the answers to these questions, the truth slowly coalesced in my own mind through the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus said love everyone...

To love my neighbor is a commandment that Jesus Christ teaches consistently throughout the New Testament, through just about every imaginable lens.

And in one of my favorite sermons in all of scripture, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that I am to love my enemies.

So between loving my neighbor and my enemies... who is left?

There is no one else left. Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Parents who sent him, never intended to leave us any room to make exceptions. The love they intend to teach us is universal, meaning without limits or exceptions.

It's through this same logical progression that I want to discuss why I believe, with every inch of my soul, that divine love is truly unconditional. I will also discuss why I'm deeply mistrustful of anyone who presents any vision of divine love that isn't unconditional.

One of the scriptures that has been in my life the longest as a disciple is Romans 8:38-39. It's probably the one I've reached for more than any other in my seventeen years of church membership, including now:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don't have to be a Biblical literalist to understand that these verses are describing a love that is infinite and eternal in nature. It does not end. It never changes. The love of God transcends all human weakness to encompass the entire human race. And to someone who is determined to make this a description of universal love again, they just stop there.

Read it again.

When it says that nothing and no one, including "any other creature," can separate us from the love of God, that includes ourselves. The literal meaning of these words is that nothing we will ever do will remove the love of God from us. By the time God's love is universal in all the ways that the scriptures describe, it's impossible for that love not to also be unconditional.

And treat them kindly too.

Why is this important? Because it's impossible to fully appreciate the motivation of Jesus Christ during his atonement in Gethsemane without it.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

That's what Jesus Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. That was the reason he bled from every pore. It wasn't to set some impossibly high standard of righteousness he knew no one else would ever be able live up to. It wasn't to position himself as a superior to the rest of the human race. It was to make sure that no mistake any person would ever make would prevent them from re-entering the presence of our Heavenly Parents. His sacrifice does not exist as the ultimate condemnation of sin. It's the unconditional love he showed to all of humanity, including to those who would never choose to believe in him. It was the ultimate act of unconditional love.

The prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon taught that when Jesus Christ was making that sacrifice, he saw his seed. I've heard some go so far as to suggest that he saw each and every person individually for whom he was making that sacrifice. I'm inclined to agree with that interpretation. (See Mosiah 15:10)

Abinadi then goes on to define exactly who the seed of Jesus Christ is. And as it turns out, it's not those who obey the laws of God with exactness. It's not the whole who need no physician. It's those who look forward to a remission of their sins, who are fully aware they are imperfect human beings who require grace to be made whole. As always, it's the harlots and publicans, the strangers and outsiders who go into heaven before those who find themselves thinking, "the world would be a better place if everyone in it were more like me and approached God exactly like I do." (See Matthew 9:12-13, 12:42, and 21:28-31. See also Jacob 3:5 and Helaman 7:24)

As I recall, that was the sin that got Lucifer cast out of the presence of God. He attempted to put himself between us and our Heavenly Parents with a plan that never would've allowed us to experience that divine love ever again. He, not Jesus Christ, is the one who wanted to make divine love conditional upon his own standard, which he intended to implement by force. He sought to make himself, not God, the object of our worship, the receiver of our love. (See Moses 4:1-4)

Why am I mistrusting of anyone who rejects divine love as being unconditional? Because my soul has been rejecting that plan since the very beginning. I don't trust anyone who views it as their right to stand between our Heavenly Parents and their children, interrupting the loving exchange between us and them. My Savior died so that no one would ever be in a position to do that. I reject the idea that any other intermediary belongs there, deciding how much divine love anyone else is entitled to experience.

When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.

Why would someone put themselves in that position? The same reason I did all those years ago, in my own very human way: to justify myself in withholding my love from someone I didn't want to acknowledge was deserving of it. I wanted to abandon the second great commandment to love my neighbor, when I already knew there was no way for me to do that without utterly breaking the first. That is, to love God.

If you don't believe me, you don't have to take my word for it. 1 John 4:20-21 says the same exact thing:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

This is as true for God as it is for us. Our Heavenly Parents have set no standard for us that they are not equally bound to follow. They have taught us to have universal, unconditional love for each other because it's how they live. It's the only way we can truly become like them.

And while we (and they) are fully aware that we will stumble along the way, I believe they would rather watch us stumble along the path of loving unconditionally than being perfect at withholding our love from those who just don't deserve it. Especially if we're going to point to them as a justification.

Nightmares in the Time of Climate Change

You know that scene in Harry Potter where the boggart would change into the thing you're most afraid of? That's what PTSD nightmares are like. Apparently, what I'm most afraid of has shifted because my boggart changed.

Last night, I was being pulled backwards through time to before my husband knew who I was. He couldn't recognize my voice on the phone.
Tonight, the planet was in total climate collapse. There were shuttles leaving for God knows where. There was only enough money for one of us to get on board. He was nowhere to be found, but the only name on the shuttle was mine. It was the only way he knew I couldn't argue.
I don't know if this is my brain making the connection between the death of American democracy and total climate collapse, but that's what it feels like. It feels like Manchin and Sinema just surrendered in the fight to save our planet and have killed us all in the process.
And faced with that moment of inescapable annhialation, this is the reality my brain wants me to prepare for. The one thing that would undo me from within, and is therefore the greatest threat to my continuing survival. And of course, this couldn't have happened over the weekend. It had to be right now. Three hours before my alarm goes off for a 10 hour work day at a brand new job.
But since my brain decided it needed to know, right now, how I would want to spend my final days on a dying planet. It's not fighting for survival on the last shuttle, especially if it means no one else I love will be there.
There's a Brazilian song all about the love you feel at the end of the world that is in my top 5 songs of all time. It was worth it to go to Brazil and learn Portuguese just to have this song.

"O mundo acaba hoje e estarei dançando com voçe."
Dançando, Pitty
The world ends today and I'll be dancing with you. 
That's how I would want to spend my last day on Earth. With my husband, together. Celebrating the most important thing I ever did right, which was to love him with every inch of my heart. That's what I would want to spend my last breath doing if I had the choice.
It might not be the most feminist thing to say that. I don't care. You know why? Because I was awake, afraid, and disoriented for only a minute before he instinctively reached out and held me in his sleep. When my body was shaking through sobs, he was already there.


 The future on this planet from here on out scares me. That much I know. 
But I also know I've created a tremendous amount of love that's worth celebrating in whatever time I have left. I did that right. I got that right.
If that's my legacy, I'm proud of that.



Happy Pride to All Those Who Celebrate🏳️‍🌈

My baby sister (who is a grown adult) came out as bisexual this week on Facebook. She announced it by showing off her Pride swag from Starbucks. 

I'm simultaneously proud of her and secretly contemplating re-entering the cesspool of Facebook to destroy anyone who even looks at her wrong. She told me to stop being so overbearingly maternal towards her. She's 27. I'm trying, but I can't help it. She'll always be the Rugrat I fed macaroni and cheese to because no one else was going to do it.

Part of why she feels safe enough to do this now is because she's in a stable environment, surrounded by people who love her unconditionally. That's what every person deserves. This is what any God worth worshiping expects us all to be.

You don't know how to respond when someone comes out to you, especially in your family? Love them first. Love them always. Love them forever.
You don't want to feel conflicted about choosing that reaction for the people who matter to you when they come out? Then don't. It's that simple. Don't let anyone else come between you and interfere with that choice. That's not their place. It will never be their place.
The Church's appropriate place in this situation is to teach me how to love her the way she needs me to right now, the way Jesus does. That's how they can be supportive of the families God has ordained. Not abuse, condemnation, criticism, or rejection.
Anyone telling you to reject or condemn the people you love because of sexual orientation is not your friend. They don't care about you. They care about themselves and what other people think of them. They'd turn on you for a Klondike bar. Mark my words.
Anyway. I had rainbows trapped inside of me and had to get them out, or I was gonna explode and get them everywhere. 
🌈Happy Pride!🏳️‍🌈

Holy Envy: Valarie Kaur and Revolutionary Love

Seeing a lot of white folks in the zeitgeist talking about people on the right calling for civility and forgiveness now that Trump has lost, and the visceral rejection of any possibility of forgiveness. We need to talk about this, because this is going to be a crucial turning point for us all.

I'm going to be quoting Valarie Kaur's interview with Baratunde Thurston on his podcast, How to Citizen. Valarie Kaur is a Sikh activist who has been in the long fight for racial justice since 9/11. She has a pedigree in activism that is truly remarkable. She knows what she's talking about when she says giving up on people isn't the way to real change. Her book, See No Stranger: a Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, is all about her work in reclaiming people from the other side of the political divide, and how to labor in a way that preserves her strength, moral clarity, and dignity.

The fact that so many of us just reached the end of four years of being occupied by a hostile administration and we're absolutely exhausted? She knows all about that. She had to recover from that herself. We're doing it wrong and she shares her wisdom in how to do it better.

If we, as white people, give up on collecting and reclaiming our own, that doesn't make the problem go away. It just outsources the problem to black and brown people, who are most in danger from making that attempt. Where we can make that labor, that's our role in this fight.

To be an effective agent of change, she says we all need three kinds of love: 

  1. Love for our opponents
  2. Love for ourselves
  3. Love for others

When we burn out, it's because we haven't achieved a balance between the three in our activism. "Loving just our opponents, that's self-loathing. Loving just ourselves, that's escapism. Loving just others, that's ineffective." That's what she has learned from the long labor of trying to make a difference in this country. This comes from a woman who has labored with white supremacists. I don't need to learn the hard way what she has already figured out.

"I choose to see [my opponent's] humanity in order to preserve my own. Laboring to love my opponents is also how I love myself." Why? Because hate comes at an enormous cost that we shouldn't be willing to pay.

She compares the labor to reclaim the United States as giving birth. The darkness we've been in for the past four years was a tomb. It's also the womb, the place where all new things are born. If we imagine giving birth to new change in this country without labor, we're imagining something that has never existed. The arduous labor of changing minds and hearts is the only place where change has ever come from.

So, in her words, "breathe and push."

From My Own Experience

I know what it is to be in toxic relationships, struggling with the entire act of forgiveness for someone I feel doesn't deserve it. That's has been my cross to bear my entire life. I am an expert on that.

Here's what I know.

Forgiveness doesn't need to be immediate or instantaneous. If you need time, take time. Don't try and accomplish the hardest thing you may ever do from a wounded, exhausted place. That's not Christianity. That's madness.

Also, don't go through this alone! Reach out. Get help. Have a support system as you do this work. Study those who have gone before you down these same roads. Learn from them.

Saving space in your mind and heart for a different future doesn't have to mean pretending everything is fine, or being in denial about where things stand right now. Set whatever boundaries you need. Maintain them and adjust them as things may change.

Hope for change is not a betrayal to what we've been through. Allowing for healing and change is the ultimately way to honor our pain—by valuing our lives, the survival we fought for, sufficiently to not allow hatred and bitterness to destroy it. That's what you deserve.

The most transformative experience I've had in my Christian life was when I read the verse AFTER D&C 64:10. You know, the one that says "of you it is required to forgive all men"? 

Read the next verse:

And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
If you don't want the corrosive, soul-destroying task of getting revenge and doling out punishment, God has already made you free from it. It's not your problem. If that's the best you can do for right now, that is enough! Refuse to believe in a God who cares more about reclaiming the injurer than rescuing the injured.

We will get through this together. Don't try to go through this alone. And if you're concerned about never being able to forgive out of agony of spirit, believe me. I've been there. It gets better. There is healing ahead for you. You can do this. I know you can.

Loving My Enemies

Jesus taught me to love my enemies.

He didn't say to throw out the recognition that when people are abusive to marginalized people, they are still my enemies.

All the injunctions that Christ gives to us to be loving, to show mercy, to have compassion, nowhere in those commandments is there a responsibility to be their friend, support their actions, or to affirm their worldview.

In what Christ taught, I would still tear down down the systems of inequality these people have built. I would reject and stand against that oppression in word and deed. 

What he taught is that hatred for my enemies, retaliation, hatred, and revenge, should never be a part of those efforts. 

The most loving thing I can do for white supremacists in the Church is to invite them to change, while refusing to be changed or swayed by them.

Because I Have Been Given Much

As I was waking up early this morning, I was thinking about Heavenly Father's relationship with me.

I thought about the endless expanses of eternity--from the largest to the very smallest. I thought about the billions of people who currently live on this earth. I thought about the intricate identities they all possess--beyond any beauty my mind can fathom.

How remarkable is human life.

I thought of the infinite complexities which make up my own life, my identity. Stillness allowed me to see myself for who I really am, and all I could do was marvel at the amazing detail which has gone into my birth. I was born because Heavenly Father wanted me to live, and have joy. He wants to love me not only for who I am striving to become, but exactly as I am right now. 

In the privacy of the morning before sunrise, I felt the amazing assurance that my life has purpose and meaning. It has mass and takes up space. I exist because I am needed. I exist to love, and to be loved. And in those realizations, I remembered again the answer to a question I once held tightly to my chest with a kind of desperation.

Why does God love me?

To me, the answer was a mystery. Dear friends and leaders tried to help me understand: Because you are His daughter... Because you are a good person... Because you love Him... Because you are important to Him... Because He has to...

In the process of trying to find an answer I could live with and understand, I had a conversation with a friend.  He caused me to consider what kind of life I would live if I knew for certain I would never get to heaven. I thought about it for some time, then realized that I wouldn't change anything about the way I live. I would still live a life pleasing to God, and return to Him the glory and praise He is due. I would live to honor Him, even if I could not return to live in His presence. I would do my best to live joyfully and happily according to the manner of happiness because it has already brought me such great joy. A lifetime of that peace is enough of a reward for the good I would try to do in living the way God wants me to live.

I don't know why, but it was only then that I understood the answer to my own question.

To be loved by God--there is no greater gift He can give us. And that gift is one He has already given completely to all of His children. Being obedient doesn't make God love me more--no more than anyone's disobedience makes God love them less. Obedience is important because it creates peace and clarity for me from my vantage point. The commandments of God make it so I can see Him, hear Him, and understand Him. It brings me to a place internally where I can love myself for who I am, and the goodness in my own heart.

Keeping all the rules--it's not about control, and never was. It's not about showing up, performing some labor, and collecting my share of God's blessings, like a wage. I express my love for the Lord through obedience because Christ has said that's what He desires. (John 14:15)

I can give Him that gift completely independent of the prosperity or peril I experience. But if it wasn't for the commandments of God, I'd be so tangled up in my own desires, my own selfishness, my own way, I would never be able to see and understand what God sees or know what God knows.

It would remain as a mystery, an unwrapped gift, to me.

In a season that emphasizes gifts as an expression of love, may we always remember the gift we received with life itself--the love of God in its incomparable magnificence. When we ponder on the essence of life, knowing and feeling the all-encompassing blessing love is in our lives, may we never forget that "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Merry Christmas to you and yours, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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