Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Love First

In the scriptures, the Lord frequently expresses his love for his children.  He also chastises and expresses his disappointment pretty regularly (always with abundant good reason, I might add).  In the 95th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation that was given specifically because his commandments were not being obeyed and his children were instead quarreling with one another, he begins by saying, "Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven. . .and I have loved you."

They were hurting each other and frustrating the Lord's work because of their quarreling. If the work--and their individual, personal progress--was going to move forward, they needed to change, and it didn't look like they were going to make those changes without some direct intervention.  A heavenly rebuke was in order to get them back on track.

But its significant that the Lord first expressed that he loved them, and that the chastisement came from a place of love.  Its important to remember that when we're raising our kids:  love first.  Kids need to explore and imagine, and they need space to make decisions--and, yes, mistakes--but they also need someone to set firm limits, to say "no" when necessary, and to point out the follies of behaviors or decisions that they can't see the consequences of.  And sometimes, they break rules and they need the grown up in their life to enforce consequences so that they can learn that they don't get to choose the consequences of those behaviors.  But discipline (let alone punishment) won't be effective very long if our kids don't trust us, if they don't believe that we love them.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet that we all know someone who went terribly off-track in adolescence or adulthood because they had a parent that was overly-strict without adequately expressing love, and so, instead of coming to understand the value of good rules and reasonable limits, they simply came to resent their parent and disregard everything that they said.  Children need parents who will direct them and teach them to master their passions and set reasonable boundaries for themselves, but they learn how to do that best when parents righteously start and end with love.

I think we ought to remember that in all of our relationships.  Sometimes the unenviable task of offering correction to another adult falls to us, be it because of our gospel stewardship or personal relationship.  We first need to be honest about whether or not such an action is warranted and does fall within our stewardship;  too often, we want to correct someone, just because we are annoyed at their behavior or think we know best, when in fact (however annoying or incorrect the behavior may be) it is not our place to offer the correction.  But sometimes, in order for individuals to progress or for relationships to be healthy, confrontation and perhaps correction are necessary.  If you find yourself in that position and you're wondering how to proceed, remember the Lord's way: love first.

Something I've tried to make a habit of in my own life is starting with expressing my love for the other person: telling them why I love them, reminding both myself and the individual in front of me what their good qualities are and why I want them in my life.  And, when appropriate, I'm also a big believer in starting with a hug, and then hugging again when the conversation gets a bit too tense.  Stop talking for a second, step away from the conversation and simply express some affection for each other.  If you're not a hugger, find some other way to do that.  The point is for both individuals to periodically remind themselves that the point of this conversation isn't to win, and the other person is not your enemy.  You are only having this conversation because you want the relationship to be open and healthy, and you may both have to face some uncomfortable truths about yourselves in order for that to happen.

Its never pleasant to realize that we've made a mistake, or been selfish or clueless.  But its nearly impossible to hear when its being spewed at us in angry malice.  When its discussed with patient, understanding love, it will likely still be difficult to hear, but if we are humble, the ultimate result will be greater happiness for both ourselves and for those around us.

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