What My Kids Taught Me about Loving Anybody

    March 7, 2016
    At the store this week my sister asked me if my 2-year-old knew the lady he was waving to in the checkout line. She thought they were old friends because the lady had a huge smile on her face and was enthusiastically waving back and talking to him.
    “No,” I replied. “He doesn’t know her. He waves to everyone.”
    The experience got me thinking about my 2-year-old and 4-year-old and how beautifully pure their love is. They don’t have any qualms about strangers until we paint them out to be scary, bad people who could hurt them. They don’t notice that someone’s skin color is different from their own. They don’t care what people wear, what they look like, where they go to church, or where they live. To my young kids, a person is a person—worthy of a smile, a wave, a conversation, and, when needed, a hug.
    In contrast, my 7-year-old and 10-year-old are a little more skeptical of people. They pay attention to what someone looks like. They pay attention to what they do—if what they’re doing is something they’ve been taught is good or bad. And more and more, they are paying attention to choices and consequences. Their responses to people are different from my boys because as they’ve grown older, we’ve taught them to be different.
    I believe children are born with an innate ability to trust and to love. In the New Testament, it was Jesus Christ who taught us to look to children as an example.
    “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3–4).
    As I reflected on my desire to raise good kids—kids who are kind, kids who don’t judge, kids who love people despite what they look like, what they believe in, and what they choose—I came to the realization that hate is learned. Love is natural. If I’m going to “not mess up my kids” when it comes to love, I need to learn from their example and then incorporate that into how I lead by example. These are three simple but poignant lessons my kids have taught me about learning to love anybody.

    We’re One Big Family

    My 7-year-old daughter is the sweetest, most lovable girl you’ll ever meet. She’s the type of girl who will stand up for the underdog and sit by the kid who is sitting alone.
    I asked her why it’s important to reach out and love others, especially those who are different, and she wisely responded, “Because we all live on this earth and we’re all brothers and sisters.”
    She’s right. We are all children of God. It’s as simple as that. That makes us one big, eternal family. And if we’re all brothers and sisters, whether we know someone personally or not, whether we agree with their choices or not, they’re family and we should love them.
    We know love is important to our Heavenly Father because He said that the first and great commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. …
    “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).
    As my daughter said, a neighbor in this case is anyone who lives on this earth. And as my little boys teach me every day, that means every person is worthy of a smile, a hello, a conversation, and, when needed, meaningful acts of love and service.

    Everyone Deserves Love

    The heart and soul of the gospel of Jesus Christ is love—love of God and love of mankind.
    The message of the Messiah was a message of love and inclusion. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
    If we truly love like Him, no one should ever feel left out, lonely, unappreciated, or unloved.
    As Latter-day Saints, sometimes in our earnestness to teach our children the importance of choosing the right, we inadvertently teach them to only choose the Church. We tell them to have good friends and date people with high standards. And while that is absolutely important, it doesn’t mean that relationships should be exclusionary.
    God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). This statement is the essence of the gospel we preach and ought to live. The teachings and blessings of Christ are not limited to certain groups or nationalities. Neither is His love.
    Naturally, kids play with anybody. We teach them prejudices and preferences. If we are true disciples of Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t do that, for “he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

    Everyone Believes Differently

    It’s relatively easy to love those who love us and are like us. But the commandment to love one another didn’t come with the limitation to “love those who love us.”
    When I asked my kids if it’s hard to love those who believe differently than we do, my 7-year-old looked at me puzzled and said, “No, because we all believe differently. None of us thinks the same.”
    I thought about what she said. We all have our own life experiences that make us unique. And even if we belong to the same faith, those experiences make it so that we interpret things differently. None of us truly believes 100 percent the same.
    It’s why I believe there has been such a wide range of reactions on the Church’s handbook changes affecting same-sex marriages, even among the strongest of members.
    In a commentary posted on MormonNewsroom.org following the changes, the author wrote, “There is a strong tendency today for many to talk of Jesus Christ as if His teaching on love were somehow inconsistent with His teaching on divine commandments. Of course the Savior’s love was never withheld from anyone, and His words on the cross exemplify that. But He also expressed love by teaching clear doctrine and standing firmly against sin with sometimes tough lessons for which people rejected Him.”
    I appreciated reading that explanation. It’s been an important part of how I’ve talked to my kids about how sometimes we can’t embrace the choices a loved one makes, but it never stops us from embracing that person. God’s laws are clear and we cannot compromise them. But we can always respond with love, especially if we strive to see people the way that God sees them.
    Like Elder David B. Haight said, “God does not love us because we are lovable, have a pleasing personality or a good sense of humor, or at rare times show exceptional kindness. In spite of who we are and what we have done, God wants to pour out His love on us, for the unlovable are also precious unto Him.”
    God loves us, even though we’re imperfect. So we too should love everyone, despite imperfections, beliefs, and choices. Like my daughter said, everyone believes differently. We love them anyway. Like Jesus taught, everyone deserves love. We are one big family. And from my experience, even the littlest ones in our family can teach us a thing or two about what it really means to love.
    Irinna Danielson is a Florida native and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in print journalism. She is a wife and mother to four beautiful children and embraces all of the craziness that comes with that.