If you’ve ever felt alone, lonely, scared, hopeless, unworthy, sad, or unloved; and if you’ve been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then this message may just be for you.
The first commandment is to love God. But why is the most important commandment to love God? President Russell M. Nelson answers this question as follows:
“The godly power available to all who love and follow Jesus Christ is the power to heal us, strengthen us, cleanse us from sin, and magnify us to do things we could never do on our own” (Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God” [Brigham Young University devotional, September 17, 2019],speeches.byu.edu).
Finding God’s love is personal
May I share a personal experience about the first time I felt God’s love? I was raised in a good family. However, we never discussed politics or religion. So, I spent my childhood never knowing about religious matters. I had questions about the existence of God and who was this Jesus that people talked about; but I had no resources for answers.
When I turned 16, I immediately got my driver’s license. The new freedom was glorious. That year of my life didn’t turn me into a bad kid, but I was a knucklehead and was making a lot of bad choices. Within my social circle, drugs and alcohol were rampant. Promiscuity was commonplace, and my best friend was in juvenile detention. On the outside, it may have looked like I was having the time of my life. However, my life was full of turmoil and anxiety that I didn't know how to fix.
After about a year of so-called having fun, I found myself depressed and in trouble. Who could I turn to? I wasn't about to get help from the adults in my life, because that would mean telling them all the bad things I'd been doing. I couldn’t talk to my friends, because their lives were just as chaotic as mine. I was lost.
Just about the only good thing I did when I was 16 was driving a neighbourhood girl home from school. She was nice and we were friends. One day at school someone invited me to a stake dance. I probably responded rudely, but my curiosity was piqued. On the drive home, I asked my friend what a stake dance was. You see, I was comfortable asking her because I knew she was a Mormon and I trusted her.
We ended up sitting in her driveway for over an hour and a half, me asking questions. Finally, she told me that she didn't have all the answers, but she had two friends who did. A few nights later, in her home, also with her parents, I met the missionaries.
Try to imagine how much love she had for God. She risked a lot inviting me to meet the missionaries. However, it worked out that two months later I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite my family and friends being very opposed.
For the first time in my life, I knew that God was real and that He loved me. God’s love helped to heal me from thoughts of suicide. His love gave me the strength to talk to my mother about my life. His love helped me feel cleansed from sin as I was baptized. And two years later, His love magnified me enough to serve a mission. I have a testimony of President Nelson’s statement about the power of God’s love for each of us.
Making and keeping sacred covenants
President Nelson has also referred to the covenantal love that God has for anyone who has made a covenant with Him, whether a baptismal covenant, a priesthood or temple covenant, to name a few. He has taught that “all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy” (Russell M. Nelson, “The Everlasting Covenant,” Liahona, October 2022). Admittedly, as a new member, I didn’t have a profound understanding of the complexity of God’s love let alone covenantal love. I didn’t know that because I’d made baptismal and priesthood covenants or that I’d made covenants in the Lord’s temple I was entitled to an even greater type of love.
That was until about 18 months into my missionary service.
It was a beautiful autumn day in Southern Michigan. I was assigned to drive into the city to drop off my previous companion and pick up my new one. So, we all met at the stake center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There I met up with Elder Gordon, my new companion. Elders Gordon and Gorda! We were ‘gonna’ set the world on fire. Then I had to drop off another elder.
That’s where my memory ends. The rest is secondhand information that was shared with me.
Shortly after getting onto the Interstate, we drove through a flash rainstorm. The car I was driving hydroplaned into the back of a parked semi. I was the only one who sustained major injuries. The other two missionaries were in shock, but were able to flag down some drivers. Collectively they checked on me, but determined that I was dead. I was unconscious, my head was cracked open, my arm was torn up, there was blood everywhere, and I didn’t appear to be breathing.
A good Samaritan drove those two missionaries to the nearest hospital.
Eventually, an ambulance responded to the scene and determined that I wasn’t dead after all. During the three days of being unconscious in a Kalamazoo hospital, the doctors didn’t know if I’d live, have brain damage, or ever walk again. Only a couple of hours before my mother landed in Michigan, I woke up. This is where my memory resumes.
The first real memory I have is the memory of pleading with God to allow me to stay on my mission, even with a fractured skull, a shattered left-orbital bone, a blinded left eye, a separated left shoulder, some knee, forearm, and spinal injuries; and much more. I didn’t want to go home.
I spent the next several weeks laying in a hospital bed talking with God. Not face to face, but speaking to Him for long periods of time and I felt His overwhelming love for me. It allowed me to come to know my Heavenly Father more fully.
By the prayers and fasting of many members and the miraculous healing power of God’s love, six weeks to the day I was back in my missionary apartment with Elder Gordon and was able to complete my mission. I’ve felt that covenantal love that our Heavenly Father has for those who’ve made covenants with Him.
Experiencing the love of God can forever change you
In the New Testament we read, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Part of making a covenant with Heavenly Father is accepting that we will leave behind certain behaviors and ways of thinking. When I chose to be baptized, there were paths that I needed to forsake, not to earn God’s love, but to demonstrate a broken heart, a contrite spirit, a willingness to repent, and my love for Him.
We are commanded to love the Lord and our neighbour, but is that all whom we should love? The second commandment says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39; emphasis added).
As someone who once knew what it’s like to not even like, let alone love, himself, I can tell you that there is a way to find that love for yourself. You won’t find it through your friends, or worldly success, or through your phone. You’ll find it when you’re ready to humbly ask your Heavenly Father for His help. It may also include making some difficult changes in your life. He will help you. Then with faith and obedience, you will come to know the indescribable feeling of God’s covenantal love for you.