A few weeks ago, the youth of our ward hosted a ‘sweethearts’ dinner for the empty nester couples in our ward (couples aged 55+ or whose children have all left the home). This dinner was held the week of Valentine’s day, so naturally the theme was love. I was asked by the organizer to say a few words following the dinner (as part of the actual program), which may or may not have been wise (depending on who you ask) on the topic of love. So, I thought about the target audience (young men and young women aged 12-18, and seniors over 55 who – based on life experience – have very different ideas about what love is), and debated on what I could say to the primary audience – people who have been married longer than I have been alive – about love, since they all know more about it than I do.
I wasn’t really coming up with much on my own. But, then I had the best idea ever – to call my grandpa. He’s 84, very wise, and has given me many lessons about love whether he meant to at the time or not. He has also been married1 for longer than I’ve been alive – much longer. I just knew he would know exactly what to say to this audience.
Prior to calling him, I thought about the millions of times my brothers and I were at his house doing yard work at my grandmothers rather unique bidding. She was very particular, opinionated, a bit feisty, and she always got exactly what she wanted. These traits appeared to my 16-year-old yard worker eyes to be torture (suffering) since I failed to see any rationale or sound reasoning for most of it. There are many lessons that were shared by my grandfather’s extraordinary patience, calm words, and loving example, most of which I have yet to fully understand.2 But, when I was 16, It just seemed like non-stop torture because I didn’t quite understand what was happening and how someone could change their mind so many times and still be right every single time. In all this thinking – I forgot (code for failed) to actually call my grandpa and ask him for his thoughts.
So, my speaking engagement arrived, and I was standing in front of this senior crowd, the first thing out of my mouth went something like this: “Those of you who have been married for a long time, will likely understand what I’m about to say much better I do, and certainly much better than the youth that are here eating dinner with you, but I am going to quote a scripture – one of the most famous scriptures – on pure love. Please pay attention to the very first word used to describe the characteristics of this pure love…… ‘And charity suffereth long……’” Then I paused, and then highlighted the fact that of all the words to describe love, the first one we get is that it ‘suffereth long’.3
While that got a chuckle out of the crowd, because I imagine they are all a bit like my grandpa, in the sense that the youth (who don’t understand quite yet what love really is) think that the longer you are married, the longer you suffer – especially if one of the partners tends to be a bit particular and/or vocal, feisty, or needy about a few things (which youth perceive as ‘torture’ or ‘suffering’) – and most of us can at least relate jokingly to that idea.
But, what comes next in that scripture is the most important – the word and (and is such an overlooked word – probably because of how often it is used), is very important – especially in this verse (Moroni 7:45) because of how it expands on the phrase and our understanding of ‘suffereth long’ and those other qualities that follow it. Charity suffereth long and is kind. We all know plenty of people who ‘suffer’ (for any length of time) and immediately get crotchety and mean, but how many people who suffer can be kind to everyone else while they are suffering? The fact is that most of us turn into raging maniacs just because we haven’t eaten in a few hours (basically as soon as we start to ‘suffer’ we cease to be kind).
When we are squeezed (tempted, tried, tested, etc.) or made to ‘suffer’ or even ‘suffer long’ are we kind (meaning at the same time)? We should be. Yet, Moroni and Paul didn’t just stop there (with kindness). They both taught that in order to have real love, we need to be kind, and envy not, and be not puffed up, and4 seek not our own, and be not easily provoked, and think no evil, and rejoice not in iniquity (wickedness in the world, or other people’s failures), but (rather) rejoice in the truth, and bear all things, and believe all things, and hope all things, and endure all things – all simultaneously while suffering long (in good times and in bad). That is love. J-Biebs never sings about those things does he….
When you make cookies, if you forget to add flour, your cookies are not going to be cookies. They might sort of look like cookies, but they won’t taste like cookies. They might taste like love without kindness or love with a dash of envy – just a bit off (maybe a mirage of a cookie). The same is true if you forget salt, baking soda, sugar, eggs, or any other of the necessary ingredients. The recipe calls for all of the individual ingredients to work together to create a cookie – not just a ball of butter and sugar with a chocolate chip or two disguised as a cookie. The closer you get to adding all of the ingredients in the dough, the closer you get to a real cookie.
Recently, our little community (ward/stake) was heartbroken over the tragic and sudden death of a young mother of 5 children that we all knew and loved. AND, it presented an opportunity for pure love to be shown. Her husband (a bishop, and someone who is filled to overflowing with this pure love), and his 5 kids began to suffer (and will continue to suffer ‘long’ because of their new and very different life without her) beyond what most of us will ever need to endure, AND they were kind. And he (the husband) didn’t envy. And he thinks no evil. And he is bearing all things. In responding to our thoughts, prayers, words, and love following her passing, he was only worried about us, our family, and how we were doing. He is a Christ-like cookie – possessing all of the necessary ingredients for love. Their oldest son (age 15) spent the first few minutes of his talk during the funeral thanking other people who had showed him support and love and kindess during the past few days, and in coming to the funeral to show love for his mother. He was a spitting image of his father, and a very tangible fruit of his parents’ love and intentional effort in parenting with love.
So, the next time we read a list of attributes or a list of ingredients for gospel living (the scriptures are full of them), let us notice the use of ‘and’ (or commas) and remember that the requirement is not to choose only the best or first item on the list, but to somehow multi-task and incorporate all of the items on the list. Or the next time you feel like you are ‘suffering’ remember that part of the reason mortality is stuffed full of difficult circumstances, challenges, and hard times is so that we can learn to suffer and be kind – just like Jesus.
1 My grandmother passed away 4 years ago, but they are very much still married.
2 I probably won’t even understand until I am 84 just how amazing my grandfather really is, and what true love really is. By then, the memories of what he taught me at such a young age, will finally dawn on me.
3 See Moroni 7:45, and to be sure we understand, the exact same phrase was used (first again) in 1 Cor. 13:4
4 Although a comma is used in this phrase (and others that follow) in the context of separating similar adjectives, the meaning of ‘and’ is implied in the use of those commas.