I want to categorically correct something you have said. You DO have the ability to love your enemies. So let’s talk about that a bit.
The idea that one cannot help who they love is strictly contrary to the idea of agency. To love one another is a commandment. God will not give commandment unto the children of men save He shall prepare a way that they may accomplish the thing commanded (1 Nephi 3:7). He also commanded us to love our enemies. So a claim that we cannot is simply false. The Lord will prepare a way if we are only willing to do as He asks.
So let’s talk about obedience a bit.
Before getting into that, I want to let you know that I have struggled with similar issues you are bringing up here. Often we are taught in church to love our neighbors, and I think to myself, “How?” Sometimes our neighbors are not very lovable. Sometimes the guy next door is our actual enemy.
But then I recall what my mother taught me in my youth. “If you want to love someone,” she said, “Serve them.”
A lot of times when we’re taught to love, it is from the perspective that if we do we will serve better. “Love your neighbors so you will do your hometeaching.” I cannot help but wonder if that is not somewhat backwards. Maybe it should be, “Do your home teaching, so you will love your neighbors.” But, really, I think it’s both.
Love is a choice.
What? You mean I can choose whether to love someone or not?
The world would have us believe it is not a choice. We cannot help who we love, they preach. We either do or do not, and there is no choice about it at all. They would imply there is no agency. Does that sound like anyone else you can think of? Someone who wanted to destroy our agency?
Satan’s plan was to destroy agency—to take away our choice, or to make our choices not matter. And the world at large is chanting his theme song. But we know better. We can choose.
Does that mean that we can force feelings that aren’t there? Well, as you have well pointed out, no…not directly in every case. But that is not really what love is. Not entirely. Obviously feelings of tenderness and compassion are part of it. But tenderness and compassion follow action and decision as much as the other way around. And loving someone is a matter of how we choose to interact with them and how we choose to treat them as much as how we really “feel”.
Take a parent, for example. Their child comes in and does something horrible, messy, annoying, or otherwise childish. Is the parent always going to respond by thinking, “how sweet.” No. Does that mean they don’t love their child? The automatic response will be frustration, disgust, anger, or other negative emotions, in many cases. We are all human, after all. And yet, the love of a good parent leads him/her to put aside the negative, replaced with responses that are patient, long-suffering, kind, tender, and loving. This is in spite of the natural man. How silly it would be to feel frustrated at one’s own petulant child and determine that it means we do not love them. Keep in mind, the fact that we love them does not mean that we do not punish them either.
By a parent choosing to act lovingly in spite of natural emotional reactions, the bond of love between the child and the parent grows. The parent loves the child more, the child loves the parent more, and both are increased and made better.
So it is with our neighbors, and even with our enemies. The fact that our neighbors annoy us sometimes is natural. The fact that evil men doing evil things angers us is natural. But, as we know, the natural man is an enemy to God. (Mosiah 3:19). Just as when our child does something wrong, we must put aside our natural tendencies and instead respond with characteristics of someone who loves. By so doing, we learn to love. We actually love them more. We practice love. And we show love for our Father in Heaven. (Mosiah 2:17)
But remember also that we learn line upon line:
2 Nephi 28:30
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”
Learning to love is a lifelong process. We cannot expect that today we do not love, and tomorrow, by simply choosing to do so, that our love will be perfect. Nor can we expect that our love will be perfect in this life.
We only get a taste of God’s perfect love in this life. We sample it by doing a small part of what is His work and His glory. But our imperfect, mortal frames are not capable of the fullness of His love. That is why God gave to us obedience.
Love is the what.
Eternal life is the why.
Obedience is the how.
The Savior set an example of obedience for us.
2 Nephi 31:7
“But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.”
Thomas S. Monson also taught:
“The Savior demonstrated genuine love of God by living the perfect life, by honoring the sacred mission that was His. Never was He haughty. Never was He puffed up with pride. Never was He disloyal. Ever was He humble. Ever was He sincere. Ever was He obedient.”
We learn in the Book of Abraham 3:24-25
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;”
Prove us how? If we will do what we are commanded. In other words, will we obey?
So why is this the standard whereby we are proved. Why doesn’t this scripture say, “We will prove them herewith to see if they will love God and each other”?
Think on it.
Here’s an idea:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (emphasis mine)
We see these ideas consistently throughout the scriptures. For example, Mosiah 2:41
“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”
Thomas S. Monson also said:
“An attitude of love characterized the mission of the Master. He gave sight to the blind, legs to the lame, and life to the dead. Perhaps when we [face] our Maker, we will not be asked, ‘How many positions did you hold?’ but rather, ‘How many people did you help?’ In reality, you can never love the Lord until you serve Him by serving His people.”
I’m going to restate that last line, this time bolded:
“You can never love the Lord until you serve Him by serving His people.”
After quoting President Monson in the above link, Elder Oaks then taught, “Those who are caught up in trying to save their lives by seeking the praise of the world are actually rejecting the Savior’s teaching that the only way to save our eternal life is to love one another and lose our lives in service.” (emphasis mine)
And M. Russell Ballard taught:
“The love the Savior described is an active love. It is not manifested through large and heroic deeds but rather through simple acts of kindness and service.” (emphasis mine)
President Monson also taught us that “Spiritual strength frequently comes through selfless service.”
Are you beginning to see a pattern to these teaching? In which manner do we obey so that we may learn love?
I wonder how the politics of the world might change if our nation’s leaders began their approach with this philosophy.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
Herein is the key. The greatest commandment is to love God. And we do so by keeping His commandments.
We read in Mosiah 2:17
“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
Therein is the answer to your question. “How do I love my enemies?”
The answer is simple. You serve them.