A news article a few years ago shared the story of a high school football player who made a simple mistake that cost his team the victory and state championship. All he had to do when he caught the football was kneel down. But in his excitement, he threw the ball on the ground and began celebrating. The opposing team took the opportunity to pick up the ball, run for a touchdown and won the championship.
When Sister Melinda Ashton, the wife of newly inaugurated BYU–Pathway Worldwide President Brian K. Ashton, read this article, she felt sympathy for this player, imagining his devastation and embarrassment for his mistake.
Then she turned to the comments on the article and “was horrified that they were full of insulting and critical remarks toward this poor player,” she said. “At a time when he was heartbroken and needed compassion and support, hundreds of strangers chose instead to insult and demean him.”
Online and in public, across many countries and cultures, this kind of behavior has grown more common, even among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said in a BYU–Pathway Worldwide devotional address published online on Tuesday, March 29.
This insulting and demeaning behavior is contrary to what the Savior taught in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
The Savior also taught in Matthew 22:37-39: “Jesus said … Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Read more: Ensure God’s 1st great commandment always comes 1st, Elder D. Todd Christofferson challenges BYU students
“The Savior did not say, ‘Love those that share your beliefs or that are like you,’” Sister Ashton said. To love someone, one doesn’t have to agree with everything they believe. "We can 'cast out fear' (1 John 4:18) as we listen to differing opinions and experiences which will increase our understanding of others and the world around us,” she said.
Love is so important because it changes almost everything, she said. “As we seek to love those around us, it softens our hearts and increases our desire to serve and lift others. We are blessed with an increased ability to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees them.”
At times it might be difficult to love others, but disciples of Christ must work to overcome those difficulties. Sister Ashton gave several suggestions for ways to feel and show more love, such as praying to be blessed with charity, serving those one is struggling to love, and remembering that since everyone is a beloved child of God, each person is a spiritual brother or sister.
Sister Ashton said that her father taught her a principle that has blessed her life. With one’s limited understanding, never judge another person because it’s impossible to know all they have experienced or how one would react if he or she had gone through the same experiences. “We are all in the process of learning how to become like our Heavenly Father, and each of us has more to learn,” she said.
“How much more effective is it to walk with those around us, encouraging and learning from each other, rather than trying to push others out of the way because they are different than we are.”
Had those who commented on the football player’s mistake offered encouragement and understanding instead, he still would have had the burden of his mistake costing his team his championship, but without the added load of diminished self-worth. “What’s more, it would have been easier for him to recognize that this one mistake was not life-defining or really that important,” Sister Ashton said.
“It is my testimony that as we seek to love those around us, our lives will improve — we will be happier, we will come to know God better and we will bless the lives of those we love. As we strive to be Christlike and treat others with loving kindness, they will feel God’s love, experience more hope in Jesus Christ and have a greater desire to understand and fulfill their divine potential.”