Relating To God and All People
One of the most often-quoted scriptures in the Church is Moses 1:39, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” We use this scripture to understand the character of God and to know what his purposes are. Often we see the goals of God — immortality and eternal life — as simply the ability to live forever. They are much more than that. Lds.org defines eternal life as, “the quality of life that our Eternal Father lives.” So it is not only quantity of life — immortality — but also the quality of life that is God’s goal for us.
God tells us, “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27) We are told that to return to God, to be in His kingdom, we must be in relationships. The obvious relationship, the one we talk about most as a qualification for eternal life, is celestial marriage. I believe that God is not only talking about the marriage relationship as a qualification to be His. We are taught that all of mankind is a family; we remind ourselves of this when we call each other Brother and Sister. I think that to have eternal life we need to have developed the ability to have healthy relationships with anyone who crosses our path — all of our brothers and sisters — even if that relationship is as brief as buying a gallon of milk. (Is this one purpose of missionary work? To encourage us to create relationships?)
In the past I’ve mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: our most basic bodily needs must be met before we are concerned about such things as relationships. There is another theory which proposes that humans’ first need is for relationships, even before the necessities of life. An example given to prove this point is that an abused spouse will stay with the abuser even when threatened with death because the relationship means more than life itself. Another example is the research of Dr. Harry Harlow, in which baby monkeys were deprived of human contact for long periods of time.
No monkey has died during isolation. When initially removed from total social isolation, however, they usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by … autistic self-clutching and rocking. One of six monkeys isolated for 3 months refused to eat after release and died 5 days later. The autopsy report attributed death to emotional anorexia.
Often our interactions with others are motivated by this innate desire for relationships, although this is not always how we label it. Instead we may say we feel like no one listens to us, or that our efforts don’t matter, or that we are lonely. All of these are expressions of our desire for healthy relationships.
A relationship is not something that we can provide for ourselves; it takes two people to have a relationship. As I thought about this obvious fact of relationships it occurred to me that it echoes the pattern of the priesthood. A man cannot give himself a blessing, neither is it usual recourse for him to bless the sacrament and pass it to himself (I’ve heard of this happening in times of extreme hardship such as when a man is a POW). As the priesthood is the power of God on the earth it is informative to realize that to use that power a relationship of some type must exist, a connection between two people. It illuminates the words, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20) Doesn’t this line alone show us how much relationships mean to our Heavenly Father? And not only our relationship with the members of the godhead, but also our relationships with each other, familial or stranger.
I think of a time my husband was asked to go to the hospital to give a stranger a blessing. What kind of relationship could exist in that situation, you might wonder? My husband eventually provided great service for that person after promptings he received while administering a blessing and providing reassurance. That experience continues to influence his perspective on service, so I would say that brief and important relationship led to great things even though it was with a stranger.
I believe that one of the most instructive relationships we have in this life is the parent child relationship. Not only relating parent to child, but also child to parent. I’m in that place in life where I have an adult daughter and my parents are still living, a generational sandwich. In this situation I view myself as a child relating to my parents, as well as a parent relating to her child. It powerfully demonstrates to me the learning which takes place in families. I believe this is one of the reasons that God’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth remains in effect, because there are lessons to be learned that are best learned in a familial setting. Maybe they can only be learned in a family setting.
A relationship isn’t loving a person no matter what they do, even God has boundaries. He says that we are all welcome in His heaven, but we must first repent and obey. In the same way we can tell our children, “I want you to be with me but to do so you must meet the requirements of our relationship.” This is not cruel; it is teaching them from the beginning, in their first relationship, how to love appropriately in a way that promotes growth and happiness. Disciplining our children could seem lacking in love but we are teaching them the habits and behaviors that are conducive to healthy relationships. Discipline protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love. We send a message to the child that for them to get what they want (love and relationship) there is a responsibility associated with it.
It is necessary to be wise in our instruction and discipline.
Good parenting isn’t emotionally bludgeoning the child into some clone or ideal of the perfect child. It’s being a partner in helping young ones discover what God intended for them to be and helping them reach that goal. *
If God’s goal for us is eternal life — enjoying relationships forever — I can’t think of a better thing to help our children aspire to than healthy, productive relationships.
All blessings are predicated upon obedience, so if we are blessed with loving relationships it means that we were obedient to the laws which govern relationships. So it makes sense that if we want our children to receive the blessing of healthy relationships we need to teach them to be obedient to the laws which govern relationships. The laws that govern relationships are the commandments.
God gives us commandments because he wants to have a relationship with us. In fact his paramount commandment is to have a relationship with him, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart might mind and strength.” The same process I described above, which we should do for our children, is what God does for us. By teaching us truth and commandments he is instructing us in relationships. The second commandment is to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Both found in Matt 22)
God is asking us to first be in a relationship with him so we can learn how, and then he asks us to be in relationships with others. Commandments all seem to point to relationships, to meaningful connections between people.
The obvious commandment to promote family relationships is to honor father and mother. What about the commandment to not covet? Coveting is a sin of jealousy, which pits one person against another, the destruction of a potential relationship. Not lying is necessary for the trust that is essential for any relationship. The Word of Wisdom is a commandment that enables us to have full use and control of our bodies, which is necessary for relationships. If we are under the influence of unhealthy substances, or in ill health it is difficult if not impossible to fully function in a healthy relationship. Things (substances) become our focus instead of relationships.
It would be an interesting endeavor to think about the commandments that you have the most difficult time with and consider how they apply to relationships. Do you see the cause and effect between the difficult commandment and the state of your relationships? Sometimes it is difficult for us to see that connection because we are too close to it, or have been stuck in it so long. It is my belief that for every relationship problem we have, there is a corresponding commandment which we are violating, possibly in ignorance.
A useful way to think about the commandments is they are loving counsel from a wise, all-knowing Heavenly Father. His goal is our eternal happiness, and His commandments are the road map He has given us to return to Him, which is the only way we will be eternally happy. How significant are the home and the family to our eternal happiness? On page 141 of my little brown book, it states, “Indeed our heaven is little more than a projection of our homes into eternity.” Elder L. Tom Perry
As Mother’s Day approaches I think about what mothering really means. It is an extension of God’s commandment to love my neighbor. (You can’t get much more neighborly than pregnancy.) Often I think of mothering as a to do list: make dinner, fold laundry, grocery shop, pick up children from school. Instead I realize that mothering is all about relationships: my individual relationship with each one of my children and with their father, my husband. If I think of myself as a mother to all who enter my life and home then I see not just errands to run or places to go, but people to meet and a world full of potential relationships. This is the pattern God has shown me by His example and by commandment. He first loved me and so I also love, catching a glimpse of eternity.
* Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend, 1992; much of this essay was inspired by this book.