A few nights ago our ward had one of those “Where’s Waldo” scavenger hunts where the youth dash through a shopping mall to find all of the “Waldos” hiding in plain sight. My husband and I each agreed to be a Waldo, and had a great time greeting various teams of smiling Young Men and Women.
But in between clusters of bright-eyed searchers, I noticed a tiny boy and his father coming out of one of those shops where you build your own teddy bear. The boy was clutching a bag that apparently contained all the secrets of the universe and all the blessings of the world. His face was the picture of utter, ecstatic joy, pride in ownership, and complete satisfaction. As they walked through the mall, the father glanced down at his son, obviously tickled that this gift was definitely a home run hit.
I imagine the little boy went to sleep that night holding his treasure, perhaps the greatest toy he will ever own. I imagine him being given other, grander toys down the road, but none being as thrilling as this.
Some time ago I saw a little girl, perhaps five, tenderly cradling another teddy bear. She poured all the love of her little soul into that bear, pulling it to her cheeks, closing her eyes, and simply loving it with all her heart.
There is a profound lesson to be learned from such adoring children. The object of their affection is cuddly and soft, but is not alive and cannot return their devotion. And it doesn’t matter. They are experiencing true altruism—the caring for another with absolutely no payback. There is no selfishness here, no personal benefit except the joy that comes from caring that much for another.
For years children become so attached to a teddy bear (or other stuffed animal) that they cannot leave home without it, they wrap it carefully for the night, and would even run into a burning building to rescue it. They imagine the bear counts on them as protector and companion. They are tasting the sort of selfless love that will forever make them kind, generous, and thoughtful people.
Too often the world gives us very opposite messages: Look out for Number One. Get Yours and Get Out. Hit First and Hit Hard. Don’t Tip Your Hand. What’s In It For Me? We are bathed in selfish messages. We’re taught to compete, dislike, and defeat. If we do good things, we measure the return on investment and decide we’d better get something in return. We equate our hard work with a salary, and while being fairly paid for a job well done is a good thing, it can lead to the notion that every good deed should be monetarily rewarded or it isn’t worth our trouble.
As we look to the Savior in all we do, consider what he “got back” from what he gave. His was a life filled with service and love, yet he was repaid with persecution, betrayal, even murder. At no point was he compensated for his selfless teaching nor for his atoning sacrifice. We read of occasional, beautiful gestures from his followers, but nothing that could begin to balance the scales.
And yet he continued—and continues– to love us. We show our love to him through our obedience, our compassion for one another, and our faith. We are astonished that someone so great could love us that much. We are so flawed, so sinful, so far from what we wish we could be. And yet he assures us that he wants us back. Everything he did was to make that possible.
Think of the people you love. We all have family members and friends we will love eternally. Most of the time they love us back. It’s easy to express affection for them, to help them when they’re in need, to give them our loyalty and devotion.
Now think of the people who don’t love you at all. How much harder is it to do good to them? Like teddy bears, these people don’t respond. They don’t hug or smile back, laugh at our jokes, call us to socialize, or even give us the time of day. Can we love them anyway? Can we overlook their lack of humanity, their silence, their disinterest? What if we treated these people like chosen treasures, people we will watch over, people we will protect?
This kind of altruism is actually inborn. Researchers have discovered it in babies. Yes, 100 babies just a year old! They found that, even when hungry, these toddlers will share food with a stranger in need. And they do it with no thought for personal gain or profit. They’re simply doing it because they’re children of God and they have inherited this fantastic trait.
We can reach into our own hearts and find this trait again. Society may have made some of us cynical, resentful, and simply hurt. But we can push through that to recapture the sweeping joy of simply giving without expectation. We can be sweet and innocent again, just as when we were children, if we can love others unconditionally. Exactly like we once loved our teddy bears.
In Matthew 18:3, and in many other scriptures, Christ told us to become like little children. I have to think this includes recapturing the generous impulse to help, to hold, and to heal those around us in need. Regardless of their religion, politics, or even their bristly personality. What if, instead of seeing them as people to avoid, we did the opposite, and saw them as teddy bears who need love? Think of people who’ve done this for you. Sometimes their just being there is exactly the love you needed.
John Wooden once said, “You can’t live a perfect day until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” Exactly like every young child, clutching that beloved teddy bear.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is not just for Christmas. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.