Our family cottage was a retreat from the commitments of everyday life. There was no television or internet. For many years there was not even a telephone. Surrounded by the peace of nature and the beauty of the lake, it was a haven for our family. My mother and her sister and their spouses endeavored to maintain an atmosphere of harmony there, and as Christian Scientists, they would naturally include everyone in the family in their prayers.
One evening, that harmony was tested during a visit by a relative whom we did not often see. Quickly, the conversation moved to politics, as she took center stage in the living room and in a loud voice made some incendiary remarks. She was known to be controversial, and she seemed to enjoy stirring things up and instructing people in her point of view.
Through Christ Jesus’ teachings we begin to understand what it means to truly love God and our neighbor.
But her rhetoric did not start any fires. You might say the room was fireproof. Why? Because it was filled with love. Love broke the temptation to be magnetically drawn into a disagreement. Love defused the verbal bomb. As a result, the potentially divisive atmosphere was self-extinguished, and the conversation soon returned to stories about children and grandchildren.
As I look back on that moment, I think about how the love my family expressed toward our relative was rooted in the spiritual love Christ Jesus commended when he 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” (Matthew 22:37–39).
Through Christ Jesus’ teachings and example we begin to understand what it means to truly love God, and to love our neighbor as well—even those who at times seem difficult to love. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, explains that Jesus expressed this love for others by seeing them for what they truly were—the perfect, spiritual creation of perfect God, Spirit—rather than what they appeared to be. She wrote: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 476–477). This transformative view of man (everyone) as God’s child, a spiritual idea without sin or flaw, and not a fallible mortal, fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect and prevents divisions from erupting in human relationships, as was the case with our family.
I think that rather than giving in to the temptation to react, everyone was, each in their own way, silently acknowledging our relative’s identity as God’s likeness, whose spiritual individuality is always peaceable. By endeavoring to see her true nature as loving and loved, and therefore innocent of aggressive or combative behavior, we were in fact opening our hearts to see her as God does.
Truly loving God means being concerned only about listening for the healing thoughts God gives us.
This spiritual perception laid the groundwork for appreciating our relative’s inherent goodness and humanity. There was so much about her that was admirable. She was a good wife and devoted mother. She had a good sense of humor and unselfishly helped others. The family was genuinely grateful she had come for a visit, and the visit proved to be a building block in strengthening our relationship with her.
As national and world politics become more polarized, cherished relationships can fray, and ordinary conversations with friends or coworkers can quickly deteriorate into hot political debates. How do we respond when someone crosses the boundaries of mutual respect and civil discourse?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). What wisdom this beatitude embraces! I have been guided by it so many times in the last few years. Again and again I have seen how genuine peacemaking begins by letting our thoughts, words, and deeds be guided by the two great commandments to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourself. If we are truly loving God, we are less concerned about defending our own opinions than we are about listening for the healing thoughts He gives us. And this blesses not only our literal neighbor but all humanity as well.