I had a dream last night. It was one of those dreams that seem, for some reason, to be more than just random – the result of my experiences, hopes and what I had to eat last night. I’ve had 3 of these dreams in the past, and they all turned out to be quite significant. In this dream, I found myself at a dinner with about 100 attendees, and the scheduled speaker had failed to show up. The organizer asked me just a few minutes ahead of time to give a 10 to 15 minute talk. Obviously, I was completely unprepared – or was I? The group was very eclectic – there may have been Mormons in the audience, but it was certainly not a Mormon group.
Oddly enough, I was not nervous. I knew I could pull this off, but even as I sat at the speaker’s table to begin eating, I had no idea what I was going to talk about. The dream ended as I spilled a drink while taking a bite of black beans. After I awoke, I lay there thinking about the challenge I had been facing before I woke up. What would I talk about in that situation? What wisdom would I share? What lessons that I had personally learned in my life would be meaningful to such a group, and could readily translate into “non-mormonese”?
I decided I would talk about love. Every speech should have a structure, and lists usually help people internalize what the talk was about. Thus, my “lexicon of love” – Love, Fear, Free Will, Gratitude, and Jealousy.
I feel like I have led two lives. In the first one, I worked really hard at avoiding life. I didn’t really love myself very much during this first life. I didn’t do good things for myself. In the second, I have focused on leaving the first behind, and on embracing life. The process is not complete, but it is progressing. Shortly after passing into life 2, I was given a definition of love that has withstood the test of the last 15 years of so: Love is that which “builds up” or makes something better. Love is, therefore, largely an act. I have since refined that original definition to say, “Love is any act or communication which helps another intelligence move toward fulfilling its potential”. (For the LDS audience – substitute “fulfill the measure of its creation”). By this definition, love includes a wide range of activities including acts of kindness, compassion, teaching (and learning), and nurturing. By this definition, “tough love”, if done in kindness, qualifies. By this definition, creation is an act of love. Building a house, restoring a vintage car, creating art, creating a universe…all can be acts of love.
There is another definition of love that I have come to understand. Love can also be defined as the appreciation of the love and/or potential goodness in someone or something else. I love my wife with a depth that I never knew was possible during my first life. My love for her derives largely from an appreciation of her goodness – of the many ways in which she loves others, including me. Her love for me helps me understand, in turn, that I am worthy of loving and being loved, and thus it helps me realize my potential. Her love for me also serves as an example which, because of my appreciation of her, encourages me to love others – again helping me realize my potential.
This definition of love, I think, accounts for the parents’ love of a child. Who can better appreciate the goodness (and potential) of a person than those who gave them life? How do we account, however, for those aberrant individuals who fail to “bond” with their children, or whose “love” for another turns into a desire for control or possession? That takes us to the next word in our Lexicon of Love.
Whether you believe the Bible to be “scripture” or not, I think most of us can agree that it contains many valuable and influential philosophies – philosophies that have shaped our western culture. Given that, please allow me to quote a scripture from the first epistle of John:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
I have often heard the phrase “fear is the opposite of love”. However, this particular phrase is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. That’s ok – I think this verse describes the relationship between fear and love quite nicely – especially “…because fear hath torment”. This relationship between love and fear is, in my mind, quite simple and easy to understand. It is that when one is consumed with fear – with torment – one cannot look outside themselves enough to act and communicate to the benefit of others. Neither can one appreciate the goodness in others. Fear turns one’s focus inward. Love can only be experienced by turning one’s focus outward. “What of self-love?” you might say. I would maintain that truly loving oneself – doing things that promote one’s own potential – requires realizing one’s potential for loving – for engaging in acts of kindness, compassion, teaching, nurturing and creating. This logic, of course, rests upon my personal belief that the reason for our existence is to learn to love – that it is in our nature to love. Thus fear, the other 4-letter “F” word, actually is the opposite of love because it focuses our energy inward and hinders the realization of our greatest nature, stymying our greatest potential – the potential to love.
Free Will (Agency)
Acts of love must be exercised without compulsion. If they are forced, they are not acts of love, they are acts of fear. No potential is realized through acts of fear – no matter how kind, compassionate or nurturing they might be on the surface. Potential is actually inhibited by acts of fear. Many times in life, the greatest love is exhibited when one recognizes that the actions of another are potentially or likely destructive, especially to themselves, but one does not intervene other than “… by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge…” (This passage is extracted from a letter written by the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith while he was incarcerated in the Liberty, Missouri jail in March, 1839, and is now canonized as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – D&C 121:41-42). Love, without free will, is fear.
Gratitude vs. Jealousy
Just as “love and fear” represent a dichotomy of opposites, so do “gratitude and jealousy”. Gratitude, being thankful for one’s lot in life, frees one to, once again, look outside themselves – enabling one to perceive beauty around them, to appreciate the goodness in others and in themselves – to be content. Jealousy, or covetousness, results from a lack of appreciation (a lack of love), and results in enmity between oneself and those who have what one is jealous of. This jealousy typically applies to possessions, experiences, relationships, personality or physical traits, and is driven by fear that one will be deprived of such possessions or that one is not as good as another – perhaps even that one will be subjected to another’s power. It is interesting, also, that this very fear is itself motivated by the desire to be free of fear. In other words, the jealous person believes that gaining additional possessions, or having more perfect relationships, or being more beautiful, strong, kind, compassionate and nurturing will result in their being free from fear. The irony, of course, is that such thoughts actually perpetuate the fear that they hope to be free of. Only through gratitude, being appreciative of oneself, of who one has become and who one can become, will bring peace. I’m sure there is some platitude, probably from an oriental religion, that expresses this much more eloquently than I have, but this illustrates the thought process by which I, personally, in my own search for truth, have been taught.
One must hope that these principles are true, we must believe that it is possible, and that our lives will be better for them, and we must have the faith to act on that belief. Without faith, nothing is possible.
When I was asked to address this group, I didn’t panic. I thought to myself, “I have been preparing my whole life for this moment – I will be fine”. I’ve lived part of my life in fear, and I have live part of my life seeking to conquer that fear by learning how to love. I’ve seen both sides of the coin, so I feel qualified to discuss it.
I believe in God. I have dedicated my life to knowing him. I believe that God is love – that love, as I have defined it, is His defining characteristic. I believe that we, if we are to fulfill our potential – if we are to fully realize our existence – must learn to love as He does. We must learn to overcome fear and jealousy, and learn how to love ourselves, other people and the world around us. If you do not believe in God, I hope you will at least believe in your own potential. I believe they are one and the same.
Finally, I would quote two scriptures that I think tie together nicely what I have shared with you today, and which illustrate the purpose for our lives. The first is from the Bible, John 17, verse 3. They represent the words of Jesus Christ:
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
The second is also attributed to Jesus Christ. It is from the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, section 67, verse 10:
And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
To know God, to see Him and know that he is, is to fulfill our potential. To do this, we must overcome our tendencies toward fear and jealousy, and truly learn to love without the need to protect ourselves. We must become like him. This is eternal life. Even those of us who do not believe in God the creator must admit that God exists – even if only in the hearts and minds of man. Even such a God, if imitated in the way I describe, is a beautiful God – a God worthy of our worship (reverence and regard) – if only because such reverence and regard bring out the finest in each of us, and ultimately in mankind.