Like most moms in my childhood era, my mom had dinnertime rules, which was – finish everything on your plate. There are starving children in Africa, so be grateful for your food and empty your plate. My mom was a decent cook, but every now and again she’d add in some things that made cleaning the plate impossible. Things like: Brussels sprouts. Seriously? They are like methane on a plate! But mom was not concerned with what we kids liked or disliked. The rule at mealtime was: Eat everything on your plate!
But that was not the rule at the cafeteria. When I was a kid, I loved buffets. Oh, to take a tray and gaze at the endless food selection. The choices were intoxicating. Yes to the garlic bread, no to the chicken livers. Yes to the berry pie, and a big no to Brussels sprouts. When I was a kid, I loved cafeteria selections.
Author, Max Lucado posed a great question, “Wouldn’t it be nice if love were like a cafeteria line?” Yes. Yes it would! “To look at your family and select things that you like and pass on what you don’t?”
“I’ll have a large plate of good moods and high praise, but I’ll pass on the job transfers and inlaws.” Or, “Please give me a double portion of good health and support, but mood swings, sharp tongues, and housework are not in my diet, thank you.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if love were like a cafeteria line? It would be easier. It would be painless. It would be convenient. But, you know something? It wouldn’t be love. Love doesn’t just pick and choose some things, says Lucado. Love is willing to accept all things.
Charity [which is love]…beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7
I love how the Apostle Paul crafted this sentence. Check it out in its original Greek form: Panta stegei, Panta pisteuei, Panta elpizei, Panta upomenei. Notice the repeated appearance of Panta? Versions of this word appear in our English Dictionary.
Panentheism – Belief that God is greater than all things
Pandects – Books containing law of all things
Panoptic – View of all things
Panacea – Cure for all things
Panta means “all things.”
When we love someone, we take the entire package. No picking and choosing. No large helping of the good and passing on the bad. Love is a package deal. Just ask Sohna and Mohna Singh.
Sohna and Mohna Singh
Sohna and Mohna Singh were born in Amritsar, India in 2003. Since their birth, they have shared many things: the same room, same meals, and same toys. But the bond between these brothers goes even further. They share the same set of legs. They are conjoined twins. Their bodies are fused together from the rib cage down. Though they have separate upper bodies and distinct personalities, they are sustained by the same set of internal organs. Neither could survive without the other.
Since separation is not an option, cooperation between the two becomes the focus.
They’ve learned to work together. Take walking, for example. Each boy has control over one leg: Sohna, the left, Mohna, the right. When they want to get anywhere, they simply coordinate rhythmic movement of their leg with the other.
Doctor’s and orphanage care providers are surprised by how well the boys cope with their condition. One body controlled by two brains and two hearts. The boys think independently. Get tired at different times. When one is disciplined, the other has to suffer the consequences as well. The innocent party doesn’t complain. Both learned early that they are stuck together for the good and bad, which is just one of the many lessons these optimistic brothers can teach those of us who live with family.
Since separation is not an option, cooperation becomes the focus. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures.
President Gordon B. Hinckley:
“I lift a warning voice to our people. We have moved toward the mainstream of society in [the] matter [of love and families]. Now, of course, there are good families. There are good families everywhere. But there are too many who are in trouble. This is a malady with a cure. The prescription is simple and wonderfully effective. It is love. It is plain, simple, everyday love and respect.”
(Ensign, November 1997)
“The cure,” President Hinckley says, “the plain, simple,” effective prescription for families – and any relationship for that matter – is LOVE. No complicated definitions. No moving boundaries. No moody contingencies. No fine-print restrictions. Just love.
Oh, I can hear some of you now. “But Julie,” you say, “what about those who are difficult to love? What about individuals who seem to thrive on causing grief? That’s a good question. Are you stuck? Do you run? What should your course of action and re-action be?
That all depends on your focus. I think you’d agree with the fact that priorities/desires govern behavior. What you choose to focus on (good or bad) has a direct connection with how you act and react to people. Let me give you an example of an experience I had a few years back.
The Toyota Driver
One Saturday afternoon, my daughter Ashley and I were in the car taking care of several errands before we needed to get to a Young Women’s General Broadcast. The day was packed, we were in a rush, and on our last errand, we stopped to get Togo sandwiches: dinner for the rest of the family. The line was long and slow. Time was tight. Finally, with sandwiches in hand, we had just enough time to drop them off at home and make it to the broadcast.
Then, we got stuck behind the white Toyota. We were second in a line of cars trying to exit the parking lot, making a right turn onto the busy street. And there we sat. Despite the many gaps in traffic, this white toyota was not moving. There were larger openings with NO cars – and he still didn’t move. I looked to see if he was paying attention. Maybe he was distracted. No, he was clearly paying attention. He just wasn’t motivated to move. Ergh!
So, I started getting miffed. There were no less than eight cars backed up behind me, waiting for this guy to move. So I gave the horn a little toot, and said aloud in my car (as if he could hear me), Come on. Go already! This time, however, he not only did not move, he turned around, flipped me the finger, and glared at me instead of the road. And there were NO cars passing on the street! None! So I began getting animated (I’m Italian. It’s in my blood). My arms were waving. I was talking out loud. Come on! There are no cars! What are you doing!? Go already! My hands were gesturing (no, all five fingers were up) – and he’s sitting there smirking at me!!
By this time, both Ashley and I were really agitated. I began to feel fume coming out of my ears. And, just as I’m allowing this anger to build inside of me, I gazed up into my rearview mirror and see….the Stake President in the car directly behind me. Busted!
Immediately, I began laughing. Ashley began laughing. We laughed all the way to the broadcast, to which we weren’t very late.
This experience became a dramatic lesson for me of the impact our desires have on our behavior. My initial desire was to get my daughter to the Broadcast on time. This white Toyota was interfering; therefore, I chose to get angry with that driver’s behavior. But once President John Hodgman drove into the picture – because I worked with him in the stake – my relationship with him and his healthy opinion of me became my priority.
That change of priority (or focus) changed my behavior suddenly and thoroughly.
What would a change of priority (or focus) do for your relationships?
Steven Covey related the following experience:
“At one seminar, after I’d spoken on the importance of demonstrating character within the family, a man came up and said, ‘I like what you’re saying, but my wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other that we used to. I guess we don’t love each other anymore. What can I do?’
“‘Love her,’ I replied.
“He looked puzzled. ‘How do you love when you don’t feel love?’
“‘My friend,’ I responded, ‘love is a verb. The feeling of love is the fruit of the love. So love your wife. You did it once, you can do it again. Listen. Empathize. Appreciate. It’s your choice. Are you willing to do that?’
“Of course, I was asking this man if he was willing to search within himself for the character required to make his marriage work. All our relationships follow the contours of life; they have ups and downs. This is why our families provide a critical measure of our character – and the opportunity, again and again to nurture it.”
(“Why Character Counts,” Reader’s Digest, January 1999, 135)
When the Apostle Paul spoke of Love to the Corinth church, he wasn’t describing an expression of feeling, he was giving them a matter of focus: Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures. This is a plan of action to lead you and your relationships closer to Christ, for it is His love that “never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8). On this path, even the most unlovable person becomes a valued child of God.
Love is not a cafeteria line. We cannot select what we want and pass on what we don’t because then it wouldn’t be love. Because love is as much a verb as it is a noun, loving those around us is much more a promise of behavior and commitment than it is an expression of feeling.
True Love: An Ever Fixed Mark
If people are willing to apply the scriptural definition of love to their relationships, even a stale relationship or romance can be revived…and survive anything. I think Shakespeare had this in mind when he wrote Sonnet 116.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove;
O, no! It is an ever fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
Sources: John Edmiston, Max Lucado, National Geographic Channel, dailymail.co.uk/news
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