Savior, May I Love My Brother

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Madison U. Sowell

SAVIOR, MAY I LOVE MY BROTHER....

Savior, may I learn to love thee, 
Walk the path that thou hast shown, 
Pause to help and lift another, 
Finding strength beyond my own. 
Savior, may I learn to love thee-- 
Lord, I would follow thee.

Who am I to judge another 
When I walk imperfectly? 
In the quiet heart is hidden 
Sorrow that the eye can't see. 
Who am I to judge another? 
Lord, I would follow thee.

I would be my brother's keeper; 
I would learn the healer's art. 
To the wounded and the weary 
I would show a gentle heart. 
I would be my brother's keeper-- 
Lord, I would follow thee.

Savior, may I love my brother 
As I know thou lovest me, 
Find in thee my strength, my beacon, 
For thy servant I would be. 
Savior, may I love my brother-- 
Lord, I would follow thee.

["Lord, I Would Follow Thee," Hymns, 1985, no. 220] 
 

"Savior, may I love my brother--as I know thou lovest me." This was a hard lesson for me to learn.

Twenty-five years ago I completed my freshman year at BYU. At that time I never dreamed that I would one day address the faculty and student body in a Marriott Center devotional. For one thing, the Marriott Center didn't even exist! For another, I was a Latter-day Saint convert of less than two years and didn't feel overly confident in my ability to expound on Church doctrine.  But I did feel prompted to embark on a full-time mission. I had baptized my best friend--also a BYU student--earlier in the year, and I was anxious to share the restored gospel with others.

Before I could serve, however, I had to submit to the rite of passage familiar to all who would serve missions.  I had to have interviews with my bishop and stake president, fill out several forms, undergo medical and dental examinations, make financial arrangements, and attend to a variety of academic concerns.  In preparation for my mission, I read or reread LeGrand Richards' A Marvelous Work and a Wonder and James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ. 

I also tackled Talmage's "The Articles of Faith." With the zeal of a convert I had previously read Joseph Fielding Smith's three-volume work Doctrines of Salvation and much of Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine.  I had a vivid dream in which I saw myself called to Italy, where centuries before Paul had journeyed to preach to the Romans. When the call came, I was thrilled. The opening sentence of the letter read: "You are hereby called to be a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to labor in the Italy North Mission. My dream had come true."

Because I came from a non-LDS family, I could not rely on them for financial support.  I elected to pay for my mission with funds I had previously set aside for my college education. I looked forward to my mission as one long spiritual feast. Mine was to be the ideal missionary experience. I would love my companions, I would teach the gospel daily by word and deed, and I would baptize regularly.

After I had been in Italy for only four months, I was called as a senior companion to a brand-new elder, a "greenie" whom I'll call Elder Brown. Proud of the linguistic skills that allowed me to enjoy a senior position after so few months in a foreign land, I looked forward to remaking Elder Brown in my own image--never minding that he was more handsome and more personable than I. 

Unfortunately, things didn't work out exactly as I had planned. Elder Brown came from LDS pioneer stock and from a much more well-to-do family. His grandfather invariably included a twenty-dollar bill in his letters; I resented the perks that such extra cash allowed, even though my companion invariably shared his bounty with me.

Elder Brown had belonged to a social fraternity during his freshman year--the type that never would have accepted a nerd such as I--and, unfortunately, his fraternity brothers had exposed him to a number of undesirable things, including risqué magazines.

Then it happened. One afternoon during scripture study time in our apartment I caught him "reading" (if that's the right word) an unapproved magazine--you know, the kind with a centerfold. It was an Italian edition of Playboy. He had purchased it while on splits with another elder, and I was furious.

I felt that Elder Brown had ruined my ideal mission. I seethed in righteous indignation, but, rather than rebuking my companion and then showing forth an increase in love, I chose to become an expert on his every fault, which I cataloged and reviewed with some regularity in my mind. After a few challenging months together, my junior companion was transferred, and it was at that point that I began my revenge in earnest.

I have always been fond of telling stories (in case you haven't noticed), and I soon captivated not only later missionary companions but entire districts with embroidered tales of my greenie's sinful ways. Even after I returned from my mission, I continued to recount his problems. The one thing that I couldn't understand, however, was the report that I had received from more than one source that Elder Brown, in contrast to me, had become one of the top baptizing elders of our mission and had been called to key leadership positions that had mysteriously eluded me.

A few years passed. Then one day Elder Brown appeared on my doorstep. He asked to come in. We spoke alone in my living room for over an hour. I asked what he was doing and learned that he was happily married and an extremely successful businessman and entrepreneur. Because of the way I had stereotyped him, I wondered about his activity in the Church.

I was surprised to learn that he was not an elder (as was I) but a high priest and serving on a high council. He then stunned me by relating how his favorite high council talk was to share what he had learned from me while we were mission companions. He loved to tell young people preparing for missions how much better prepared doctrinally I--the convert--had been than he--the lifelong member--and how my example of gospel scholarship had inspired him to overcome his own shortcomings.

I began to feel pretty rotten about all the stories I had told about him. I prayed that he didn't know what I had done, but somehow I sensed that he did know. He then acknowledged that at a family reunion one of his cousins, whom I had known in graduate school, had told him how I had recounted in her presence and in vivid detail an episode Elder Brown had long ago repented of.

My former companion did not berate me; instead he asked if I could ever forgive him for his youthful mistakes. I knew then that it was I who needed to ask him for forgiveness. In the pride of my heart I had sinned, and I had sinned in multiple ways--in judging unmercifully, in harboring resentment, in planning and executing revenge, and, perhaps most of all, in not allowing the possibility that a brother could change, improve, and repent.

"Savior, may I love my brother--As I know thou lovest me." I could not see the mote in my brother's eye because of the beam in my own. I had chosen to ignore the fundamental law of repentance, taught by the Lord and modern-day prophets. 

(Excerpt from a BYU Devotional given by Madison U. Sowell, on Oct. 22, 1996)