I'm reminded of one of my all-time favorite quotes:
"The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity" (Margaret d. Nadauld, The Joy of Womanhood, October 2000 General Conference).
In my mind a discussion about expressing love dovetails nicely with these sentiments. In our homes, families, and with our friends we have enough nagging. We give enough reminders and lectures. There is enough joking, sarcasm, chiding, teasing, and banter. But what about expressing love? Sometimes when I pray I review the people who fall under my "mantel" of responsibility. My husband, children, parents, and siblings. My friends, neighbors, ward members, and those I interact with through my church calling. These are the people I feel responsible for and I'll admit it's often an overwhelming list. The "his, hers, and ours" of my parents marriage and remarriages total fourteen children. Adding in Jeremy's family and spouses, the list of those whom I feel responsible to reach out to and love feels impossible. The limitations of time, energy, money, and distance can make us strangers to each others lives. Not to mention the emotional capacity it takes to look beyond your own immediate family. Some days the circus happening in my family room takes everything from me, and then some. What remains are good intentions never delivered.
I've come to appreciate that our responsibility to express love necessarily exists on a hierarchical scale. You can love all the people on your "list", but when it comes to expressing that love you need to start at the top and work your way down. There will be times when you struggle to make it beyond the first tier. There will be times when you feel the first tier, your own immediate family, isn't even receiving what you wish you could give. It's a fact of life and a certainty of motherhood that some days the tap will run dry. Those are the days when the dvd player runs for hours and everyone eats popcorn for dinner. Those are the days when you go to bed early and pray that the sun will come out tomorrow.
It sounds too hard to say that we ought to move through our lives tossing love off the truck and into the hungry crowd. I know a few people who seem to possess endless supplies of love and charity for others. But for most of us it's harder than that. It even feels like work. Expressing love means holding our tongue. Or helping when we're too tired to help, or getting up a thousand times in the night to clean puke off the floor. We hold little bodies in our arms when we're already hot and sticky. We ignore our spouse's weaknesses, even when they affect us, and selectively focus on their strengths instead. We climb in bed at night exhausted, not from the work of life, but from the work of showing love.
Maybe this topic feels personal to me right now because I've recently felt the love of other people settling over my life, like opening the blinds to let light into a room. My husband hugged me when he had every right to yell. After a particularly naughty day my children filed into my bedroom and said in meek voices, "We're sorry mom. We'll do better." Every morning my two year old daughter puts her fat arms around my neck and runs her hand along my ponytail. How strange we humans are in the things that feel loving. Of all the words exchanged in a given day, it's a toddler's hand on my ponytail that stands out as a distinct act of love. I gather these moments into me, making them a part of me. It's like a recycling system, really. We fill ourselves up on the love and kindness of others, and then with those materials we create something else. Different words, kindnesses, and forbearance. It doesn't really matter what you say or how you love others, but the impact it has can be a game changer. Of all the worthy items on my To Be list, the one that might matter most is to Be More Loving.