Love is Easy - Love is Hard
by Stephanie Allen Egbert
What a privilege it is to be with you today in this great building. There’s a lot of strength here because of who created this building, and the sacrifices that they made so that we can be here at this time. It’s pretty awesome that you get to come here every week and have a devotional. I’m really happy for you that way.
I want to tell you that I know a little bit about you—not a lot, but a little bit about you. For the past five years, working over in the Church Office Building, I have had the privilege of working with lots of your leaders, staff members, faculty members, and some of you students at LDS Business College. I have had the privilege of walking in your hallways, and riding your slow elevators—sorry—and climbing the stairs, because of your slow elevators, with many of you. And it’s been a great privilege to be on your campus and to feel your spirit. I’m hoping that they get an express one for you guys that have to go to the tenth floor a lot.
At any rate, let me tell you what I feel about you because of my experience being with you. I feel like you have a really deep intent to study and learn by faith. I know that you have strong testimonies of the Savior. I am aware that many of you have overcome significant challenges to be where you are, and that is impressive to me. I sense that you are striving to follow Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ with full intent of heart, and to stand for truth and right. I also sense that you are striving to be loving and kind and accepting of others. You have a really diverse student body, which is wonderful, and you mix together and meld in a beautiful way.
I respect you greatly for who you are and what you are. I respect you for the goodness that you bring into the world, and I thank you for the goodness that you radiate. It really is an honor to be with you today.
I want to start with this story, because we all love stories, and stories can teach us a lot. When I was young, I had a story book that was titled Love Is Easy; Love Is Hard. I read it over and over and over again. It was about a little girl who had a lot of people in her life—her six-year-old life. She had parents, she had grandparents, siblings, neighbors, teachers, kids at school—and she found that loving some of those people was really easy to do, because they were kind to her—like her grandparents and her friends, and her baby brother who would smile at her and like to be held.
She had other people in her life that were hard to love, like her brother who teased her, and the mean neighbor who scowled at her. And there was a kid at school who bullied her. For her, loving those people was hard. I guess I needed to learn that over and over again, because I read that book over and over again.
I think what was interesting for me, at that young age, and for this young girl, was that even if she didn’t like some of those people at the time, she needed to learn to love them, because that’s what Jesus wanted her to do.
That lesson is applicable to all of us, right? There are people in our lives that are easy to love, and sometimes there are people in our lives that are hard to love. Sometimes there are situations in our life that are hard to love in. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Some of us, like this young girl, have to learn over and over about this. I think the best advice that you can get is to go to the Savior’s words about loving people. That’s the best way to find counsel in how to love people. So, let’s just think about a few of the things He said on the subject of love.
In Matthew 22, you’ll remember that He teaches that the second great commandment is to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, He tells us to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Those are hard situations. And in John 15, He tells His disciples at the end of His life, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). As was the case of the young girl in this story, loving each other as Christ has taught us to love is hard. Sometimes, even as grown-ups, we have people who tease us or scowl at us, or bully us, because of who we are and what we believe. That is, unfortunately, a reality of life. We all encounter people who are unkind to us, who openly criticize us, or the Church, because of our beliefs. I want to show you a video about a young woman who is just about your age, where that very thing, that bullying thing, unexpectedly happened to her right in a political science classroom. Her name is Samantha. Let’s watch what happens.
Teacher: Who does get to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? Do you get to decide for me? I mean, you get to decide for yourself, sure, that’s our free society, right? But what do you get to decide for me or for some other group of people? Nicki?
Nicki: Okay. The right to love. So churches, especially the Mormon church, teach that if you are gay, you can’t marry. Well, who are they to say you can love that person, but you can’t love that person. You know what? Maybe we should ask Samantha. She’s a Mormon.
Teacher: Okay, Samantha. Is the Mormon church telling people who they can love or how they can love?
Samantha: Well, I don’t really represent the whole church.
Teacher: Represent yourself.
Nicki: Okay—your church doesn’t believe or allow gay marriage. Isn’t that discrimination?
Samantha: Well, we believe in families, and that starts with a man and a woman.
Nicki: Your church is bigoted. That makes you a bigot.
Samantha: I don’t think it’s fair to say that. I’m not trying to be hateful towards people just because we have a disagreement. I have my voice and you have your voice.
Nicki: Yeah, but, Samantha, you are trying to tell me what I should believe.
Samantha: And you are trying to tell me what mine are.
Teacher: Okay Nicki, listen. I don’t hear anything that is really discriminatory or intolerant about a religion practicing or worshipping the way they want to.
Nicki: She is deflecting the real issue, just like her church does.
Teacher: What is the real issue then?
Nicki: The Mormon church oversteps its bounds by trying to impose its beliefs on us, on me. I’m not a member of their church; I shouldn’t have to believe what they believe.
Samantha: Well, no one is forcing you to.
Nicki: Your church does more than just preaching. It tries to influence public policy.
Samantha: Yeah, and so are you, and so are a lot of groups. That’s democracy. That’s the process, right? We talk about our feelings; we vote on the issues. Churches have always influenced communities for the good.
Nicki: You seem like a really nice person, but you are incredibly naïve.
Wow. That was exciting. How would that be, for you to get caught in that situation? Have you ever found yourself in circumstances like Samantha’s? That’s a pretty rough situation. How do you like that, “You are incredibly naïve”? That’s what they say to us a lot.
Well, it’s understandable, given that situation, that you, like Samantha, might be a little frustrated or agitated. I sometimes find myself getting defensive when I am in similar situations. Maybe some of you have to. It is hard to love people when they act like Nicki.
After that experience, Samantha realizes that she didn’t handle the situation as well as she could have, and that she doesn’t have loving feelings toward Nicki, which she feels like she should. She prays to forgive Nicki, and just have kind feelings toward her. She reads the scriptures and she talks to Church leaders, and she reads talks from Church leaders about kindness and civility and charity. She makes sure she understands where the Church stands on some divisive issues, because she wants to be able to articulate her beliefs and the Church’s position on them, without getting flustered or upset.
She also talks to her bishop and asks for his advice. Let’s look at a part of that conversation between Samantha and her bishop. This takes place during a ward service activity
Samantha: So, tell me how I deal with people who attack my beliefs.
Bishop: Something happen at school?
Samantha: Yes. It was awful! This girl attacked me, and then I attacked her, and then, I don’t know. It just didn’t feel right.
Bishop: It sounds like she attacked—well, challenged—what you believe.
Samantha: Yeah. More like my right to even believe.
Bishop: How did that feel?
Samantha: It made me angry.
Bishop: Patience doesn’t come easy, does it?
Bishop: I think you will find that most people are sincere in what they believe. You need to give them room to live their way, while respectfully asking for space to worship the way you choose.
Bishop: You know the scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:4.)
Samantha: Yes. I know that.
Bishop: So, if you want to be the greatest, you have to humble yourself enough to listen to others.
Samantha: But I tried that.
Bishop: Do you know what she thinks, or what she believes?
Samantha: That I’m wrong. I don’t know.
Bishop: Be patient. Take a step back and ask yourself, why would she—this reasonable, intelligent person—think this way?
Samantha: But I tried that. At first. But I just wasn’t expecting the confrontation. I just felt myself getting angry.
Bishop: When the Savior said, “Agree with thine adversary” (Matthew 5:25), I think what He meant was to keep our anger in check, you know, and to also try to see things from their point of view.
In this conversation, Samantha’s bishop talks to her about some interesting things. He helps her see that most people are sincere in their beliefs, and that we should try to understand what those beliefs are and to respect them. That reminds me of the 11th Article of Faith, which states:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
That’s a safe way to behave, whenever we ask the right to hold our own beliefs and not be criticized for them. It also increases mutual understanding and respect for each other.
Some pretty good advice from a bishop. I like how he tells her to look outward and see what other people believe and find out what their beliefs are before trying to express your beliefs, so that you know where they are coming from. I think that is good advice for all of us.
Samantha continues to work on and toward forgiving and loving Nicki. She also practices being articulate about what she believes. And then she does a really brave thing. She goes back and approaches Nicki. Let’s see what happens.
Samantha: Hey. Do you mind if I sit?
Nicki: Are you sure it’s safe?
Samantha: I’m sure. Look, I just wanted to apologize for our argument. I shouldn’t have gotten so defensive. I’d really kind of like a do-over.
Nicki: Huh. I didn’t expect that at all. I guess we were both a little too heated.
Samantha: I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what got into me. I was just freaking out, and I apologize. I was just….
Nicki: That’s okay. Stop apologizing. What did you want to talk about—without getting too heated, first.
Samantha: Well, okay. I just—I want to understand where you’re coming from, what motivates you, what you believe in.
Nicki: Well, I don’t believe in religion, if that’s what you mean. I could never see myself living that way.
Samantha: But you believe in something.
Nicki: Yeah. I believe in a moral code, but one that benefits every member of society, one that we all can agree on. I believe in everybody’s right to choose for themselves, according to what they think is right or wrong, without being preached to or intimidated into believing or acting a certain way. Your turn.
Samantha: Well, I actually believe a lot of the same things you do, with the exception of a moral code. I believe that comes from God. But I still believe in the right to choose what we believe—our right to choose our friends, the right to choose the way we live, to agree, to disagree. And believe it or not, I actually want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly.
Nicki: But you want to force everyone to live by your rules.
Samantha: No. No, I really don’t. I think diverse societies are healthy. We can learn from each other. The civil laws are created for the good of everyone. It creates a safe base for all different kinds of beliefs to exist together.
Nicki: Well, what about bigoted beliefs?
Samantha: Okay, that word means hateful, and someone who isn’t willing to listen. And I’m not hateful, and neither is my church. I’m here, and I want to understand.
Nicki: But you would never stand up for gay rights.
Samantha: Of course I would. Okay, for example, I think that it’s wrong that someone gets turned down for a job or even is fired because they are gay. It isn’t fair that they can’t get an apartment because of a prejudiced landlord. I will stand up for you in those rights. All I’m asking is that you recognize the same rights you want for gays be granted to those who think differently than you.
What do you think about that last conversation? I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that Samantha and Nicki will never be bosom friends. However, did that conversation change their perceptions about each other and about their beliefs? I think that it did, and I also thing that was a really loving act on the part of Samantha.
All of us have people in our lives who are hard to love, and all of us have situations in our lives where it is difficult to love. I experienced one of those situations just earlier this year, when I was asked to give a keynote address at a professional conference. I was pretty excited—I mean, I’ve never been asked to give a keynote anywhere, and didn’t think that would happen in my lifetime. I was kind of nervous, but kind of excited. The day came, and there was my picture up on the internet, and there was my byline that said, “Stephanie Allen Egbert,” and the name of the Church underneath it, and gave a little bit of background about what I would be speaking about, which was helping kids around the world get education. And then suddenly, it wasn’t up anymore, and I was uninvited from the conference at all, and from being a keynote speaker. And that’s because a number of the people that were going to attend that conference had told the conference organizers that they wouldn’t participate in the conference—they wouldn’t come—because a representative of the Church was a key presenter.
So even though the presentation wasn’t at all about the Church, I was suddenly gone from an invited guest to a reject. And it hurt a little bit. I felt, Oh wow, I didn’t quite expect that coming. So I had to remind myself that those individuals don’t really understand the Church’s position on same-sex attraction, and that they don’t recognize that Heavenly Father has guided our Church leaders to remain firm in defending the doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman. Like Samantha, I had to work through my hurt feelings, and I had to come to a place where I could correctly articulate my beliefs in the Church’s position, and seek to understand the beliefs of those who had rejected my participation.
From that experience and from others like it, I can attest that it is hard to love when people misunderstand or openly reject our Church leaders or the commandments. It is also hard to love when people who once held the same beliefs as us now turn and criticize and say that we are out of touch and unenlightened. Some of you have probably had that experience as well.
Love really is hard sometimes. However, regardless of whether we get angry or we feel confused or we get embarrassed about how people who are hard to love treat us, it is important to trust and believe that the Savior’s teaching about loving others really is true. It is important to be able to state what we believe in a calm, measured manner, and also to ask others what they believe and to seek to find beliefs that we share and hold in common.
Love is what our Church leaders teach. That is what they are inspired to teach, because we belong to the Savior’s church, and that’s what He taught. And they are His servants. Even though sometimes Church policies are tough because they differ from mainstream society norms, love is the foundation behind those as well.
In every difficult situation, we can return to the Savior’s teachings to love your neighbors as yourself, to love your enemies, and to love one another as He has loved us. When we follow those teachings, we can develop a dialogue of civility that can lead to inclusive and common language among humans all over the world.
Of all people, we Latter-day Saints should choose to be loving in our interactions with others. We are reminded of that constantly by our Church leaders. For example, at a BYU—Idaho devotional last year, Elder Von G. Keetch said the following: “…No matter what the issue may be. Whenever there is heated controversy, the best way to proceed is with love, respect, and understanding, while never abandoning the conviction of truth that we hold in our hearts” (“An Example of the Believers”).
Elder Von G. Keetch also said, “There really is no tension between the two great gospel principles… of standing up for truth, while [at the same time] respecting and loving others. Our strong conviction of the truth should never cause us to act in a way that is disrespectful or resentful toward others. But at the same time, our desire to show kindness and love to everyone should never undermine our duty to stand for truth.” (“An Example of the Believers”).
These humble though admittedly imperfect servants of God do their best to lead the Savior’s church as He has directed, and especially to show love—to love all people. They love when it’s easy to love, and they love when it is hard to love. They seek to understand what people believe and why. They articulate what they and the Church believe in non-confrontational ways. They stand for eternal truths in a kind and loving way, and approach all with love and respect, just as the Savior did when He walked the earth.
My dear friends, sometimes love is easy, and sometimes love is hard. When we come to moments in our lives that love is hard, I pray that we too will stand for eternal truth in a kind and loving way, and will approach all with love and respect, just as the Savior did, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.