I have a true friend who I can tell anything and know she will still love me. She feels the same about me. Today we had a talk about our discomfort with the behavior of people we love when they say or do something that seems to make the Spirit withdraw. We were talking about how our souls long to be where the Spirit is, where love is, and how we hate to be in that kind of situation.
She remembered the song “Where Love Is, There God is Also,” and we talked about how we both want to be where Christ-like love is. As the discussion progressed, we both realized that in these situations, the deciding factor of our discomfort is not the words or behaviors of the other person, even the fact that they may be behaving in an unloving manner, but that love has left our own hearts.
The minute I begin feeling unloving or critical toward someone who is unloving or critical, I am no longer on the Lord’s turf. I am uncomfortable because I’ve lost the spirit of love. Since God is love, I’ve lost His Spirit, and am left on my own until I turn back to Him.
The Fine Art of Finding Fault
Until a few years ago I thought the scripture, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly,” meant, “Keep your thoughts virtuous and clean.” However, I received a personal witness one day that this scripture also refers to keeping our minds focused on the virtues of others – their strengths, their good points, the ways in which they contribute good to others and to the world.
Let me tell you a story about this principle. One day I was sitting in Relief Society wondering why I felt distance between myself and some of the other sisters. My first thought was, “Why don’t they reach out to me?” For instance, Sister Johnson [name has been changed]. She seemed too, too focused on herself. Her hair and nails and clothes were always perfect, but not her ability to reach out to others. I felt no confidence in interacting with her and I felt like there were high walls separating us.
The lesson that day included a section warning against gossip and fault-finding. “Finding fault builds walls between us,” the teacher said. “We don’t have to say anything; simply focusing our minds on the faults of others builds invisible walls that separate us spiritually from them.”
Those words burned into my conscience. I had to admit that a portion of each Relief Society time was spent in such thoughts about somebody around me. Could I be building those walls I was feeling uncomfortable about just by my thoughts?
Later that day I was reading the scriptures and came across Doctrine and Covenants 121:45: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” The thought came to me that fault-finding thoughts were decidedly not virtuous.
And another thing: could it be that just as virtuous thoughts leads to confidence in the presence of God, do virtuous thoughts about another person lead to confidence in that person’s presence? Could it be that my lack of confidence in the presence of those I was thinking negatively about is directly connected to those thoughts?
I decided to try an “experiment on the word.” For the next few weeks I became very mindful of the difference in my feelings when I was focusing my thoughts on the strengths of others versus their weaknesses. My “scientific” findings were clear. I create much of the climate of my life by the quality of my thoughts and the level of my love.
When Truth Hurts
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” – but it first might make you miserable. I don’t always want to see the truth that my comfort level in any situation depends on the level of love in my own heart and the quality of my own thoughts much more than the behavior of the other person. It is so much more comfortable to blame others. Yet it should be a discovery that gives me cause for rejoicing, because my part is the only part of the problem I can do anything about.
Someone said that truth is the gentle removal of denial when you are ready – lifting the veils that have kept you in darkness. Sometimes removal of denial of our absolute accountability requires a cleansing process.
Cleaning out the Hedges of Our Lives
One spring not long ago Doug and I worked in the yard pruning roses, raking leaves, digging out from winter. We hadn’t thoroughly cleaned out the rose hedge for several years and it turned into a major project. With the pungent smell of dead leaves all around, I kept thinking of symbolisms – how the project resembled cleaning out my heart after the long winter of my soul – getting out all the debris, the dead leaves and dry twigs of old patterns, false beliefs, and traditions.
I removed clipped branches from previous prunings that had fallen into the hedge; they were dry, withered, brittle, and I thought of John 15:5 “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire.” Because I hadn’t finished the cleanup job when I originally clipped them, but had left them to be gathered up later, I thought of how much harder any job becomes when I’ve neglected it when it should have been done.
The hedge looked incredible when we finally finished. It was so clean, so open – like I want my heart to be. However, I can’t complete the cleansing of my heart by my own efforts. Christ, the “finisher of our faith” is also the finisher of the cleansing process. His grace completes the task through the Atonement “after all that I can do.” Many times I am like Alma the younger – when he was struck down and helpless, all he could do was call out to the Lord for his mercy and express belief in him. That calling out was with his heart – not his voice. Remember, he couldn’t even speak.
What a revelation it has been to me to realize that “all we can do” probably does not refer to our checklists and striving and accomplishments at all. Colleen Harrison said, “This course of ever-deepening humility, of a willingness to acknowledge that all wisdom and power and all glory for all good works belongs to the Father and the Son, is, in truth and reality “all that we can do” (Alma 24:11). And it will “bring forth the grace of Christ” (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, p. 100).
In Alma 24:11 “It was all we could do to repent sufficiently.” So many times “all we can do” is repent. So many times, “All we can do” is to take our weaknesses to him (Ether 12:27). Sometimes “all we can do” is plead to feel His love for us.
Coming Home to Love
And so we come full circle to the thought I began this article with. We want to be where love is. We want to feel love, know love, give love.
Author Kay Arthur said:
When a family member walks through your front door, does he know that someone is glad to see him? Are there arms that reach out? A face that lights up? Ears ready to listen to the events of the day? A shoulder to cry on? A voice to speak a kind word of encouragement?
Reason with me for a moment. Imagine dying, being absent from the body and present with the Lord. Imagine entering into heaven and finding no one “home” to greet you. Imaging walking through the portals of Paradise, crying out, “Hello! Hello! Anybody home? I’m here! I’m here!” Not likely, is it?
Can you imagine entering the doorway to eternity and hearing a rather gruff or wearied voice shout back words like these: “Is that you? So you finally came home! Where in the world have you been? Hang up that coat – then get in here and help me for a change.” Instead, heaven is a place of safety and security … a place of love, joy, peace, and total acceptance.
When I feel any taste of that love, when I am given the mercy of His merits, the grace of His love, my cup runneth over. Only then do I have what I need to give to bless others – and I bless them with His gifts, not mine. He is the only answer to life great dilemmas. He is the only power in heaven or earth whereby man can be saved. He is the way, the truth, and the life, the only hope of the world. He is Love. And “Where love is, there God is also.”