Jesus’ great and defining commandment is to love one another as He loves us. Yet, as fallen humans, our tendency is to do something quite incompatible with that commandment. We dedicate our lives to correcting one another.
There is a bothersome quirk in human thinking. We all believe that we know what a sensible person would do. When we see people acting otherwise, we scowl. “Don’t you know better than that? What’s wrong with you?” Of course, a polite person does not say those things out loud. We just think them.
We naturally want to fix people who are not doing things the way they should—or the way we think they should. They are not following our rules! This is particularly true within family relationships—and it can be very damaging.
When we feel marital distress, we are likely to think, “If only my spouse were more ____________.” We inventory the failings and disappointments and form them into a diagnosis and prescription. Our spouses could amount to something if they would just follow our instructions.
Yet, research is clear. John Gottman, the great relationship researcher, found that strong relationships have five positives for every negative. For every negative interaction (maybe a complaint or correction), there are five positive interactions (fun, compliment, laughter, etc.) Happy couples keep concerns in a minor role while magnifying and multiplying their positive interactions.
The research of Sandra Murray is fascinating. She found that people in happy marriages see good qualities in each other that even their family and lifelong friends don’t see. She calls them “positive illusions.” My suspicion is that those qualities are not illusions. In happy relationships, we may hear whispers from the courts on high describing the fundamental goodness in our partners’ souls. We see more truly when we see the divine—and we only see it when we listen to heaven’s messages. Loving thoughts and actions come first in good marriages.
In my experience, most parenting books and programs focus on controlling our children. How can we get them to stop this and start that? Even when a program prominently places love in its title, it may still focus on control. It is the rare parenting book or program that teaches how to love children effectively.
This is perfectly backwards. Research clearly indicates that love (or “nurturance”) is the single most important thing parents can do for their children. Parents who love their children will be more effective in influencing and strengthening their children. Children respond best to people who love them.
We see the contrast between controlling and loving children when parents brought little ones to Jesus (Mark 10:13-16). The disciples saw the children as a distraction from important work. Jesus saw them as the most important blessing in the world. He loved them and held them up as precious examples of goodness.
But when Jesus saw [his disciples’ actions], he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:14-16)
Wow! What an example! Rather than see children as a distraction and interruption, He saw them as a gift and blessing—even an example for us to follow. And, despite their dirty hands and unruly behavior, He held them close. We might do the same with the children in our lives. We might worry less about their imperfections and enjoy their heavenly souls more.
Love One Another
These are simply applications of Jesus’ fundamental directive to love one another as He loves us. He sees our good intentions, our strivings and struggles, and our eternal nature. Elder Holland teaches us: “The first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life” (Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You, April 2016). Indeed, when we love the way He loves, we create happy and harmonious relationships.
There is certainly a place for teaching and wise correction of others, but the spirit we radiate as we teach and correct is key. We have no right to correct anyone if our words and actions aren’t grounded in love. God provided detailed instruction on proper influence in latter-day revelation (D&C 121:41-44). Below are the Lord’s directions along with some added commentary.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [spousehood, parenthood, callings, or leadership roles], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
Could it be said any more clearly? All influence is built on genuine, heartfelt love!
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
When we show proper love and kindness, we sidestep the universal human problem of trying to remove specks from others’ eyes while suffering from blindness ourselves. We avoid guile and hypocrisy only when our correction is clearly founded in genuine love.
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost;
We have no right to correct a family member or anyone unless we are filled with the Holy Ghost. And, ironically, when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, we are filled with love and are less likely to want to “fix” our spouse or control our child.
And then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
We must never undertake correction unless we are willing to lift the person with love so strong that our loving commitment is unquestioned. That is the heavenly standard. Offering gracious and consistent love is one of the hardest challenges of mortality. It is abundantly satisfying to the natural man or woman to correct other people; it is the work of heaven to lift, love, and encourage.
When we are feeling impatient, annoyed, or judgmental but want to feel loving, we can call on God for heavenly grace. We may even need to find a quiet place to beg heaven for a change of heart.
So, while our human tendency is to correct and criticize family members, God’s invitation is to love and lift first and foremost. As we focus our efforts on loving and seeing the good in those around us, many of the corrections we felt to make may begin to fall away or seem irrelevant. And those corrections that we still feel prompted to make will feel different because they will come from a place of meekness and love. While cynicism is the readiness to believe the worst about people, charity—God’s kind of love—is the determination to see the best. We only have the right to correct those we truly and conspicuously love.
In a time of great strife, the need for love and kindness has never been greater. As long as we let the natural man or woman guide us, we will judge and condemn each other endlessly. Satan will reign in our lives and families.
God’s counsel to put aside the natural person and love each other puts us on the sacred path. Good research can provide us practical steps to enact God’s counsel. Taken together, they encourage us to become loving people. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Recommendations: Books that can help us love effectively:
Thanks to Barbara Keil and Annie Foster for their wise input on this article.