My toddler doesn’t know how to say “I love you,” but he doesn’t have to. When I walk in the door, he says it all by giving me a hero’s welcome—smiling, lighting up, and exclaiming “Mama!”
If that were the only thing he did, it would still be enough to convince me of his love.
Am I as good as my toddler at giving people a hero’s welcome when they walk in the door?
In Matthew 5:46-47, Jesus Christ said “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?” In other words, if you’re only friendly to the people who are friendly to you, you’re no better than those you look down upon. In the next verse, Christ phrased the same questions a different way: “If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?” In the first of these verses, Christ charges us to love all men, regardless of whether they love us first. But since love is so subjective and difficult for mortals to quantify, Christ wisely included his second question as well—regarding how we “salute” or greet people. No doubt, Christ knew that there is a strong correlation between how we greet people and how actively we love them. When I look back over my actions of the day, it’s difficult to identify how much I loved the people I encountered, but it’s easy to identify how I greeted people.
When I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was always paired up with another missionary, and sometimes I became jealous of how my companion seemed to be everyone’s “favorite” missionary. With one particular companion, I was amazed at how every member of our ward congregation seemed to interact with her as though they were best friends. I couldn’t figure out what my companion’s secret was, so one day I asked her about it. “It’s easy,” she replied. “All you have to do is act super excited whenever you see someone.”
After that conversation, I watched my companion’s interactions with new eyes, and I felt silly for not noticing that the art of winning friends really was as simple as she made it sound. As people entered the church building, my companion gave them a hero’s welcome, and you can’t help but love someone who makes you feel like a hero.
For a while, I forgot about this powerful lesson from my mission companion, but I was reminded of it a few weeks ago when I was pushing my son’s stroller down the street. As we passed by a certain apartment building, I was startled as someone on the second story suddenly threw open their window, waved wildly, and joyfully shouted “Good morning!” as though they were so excited to see me that they just couldn’t contain themselves. I said “Good morning” in reply, but I continued walking, as I was caught off guard and didn’t immediately recognize the person. Later, it came to me that this person was a member of our church congregation whom I had briefly talked to once or twice. But after that incident, whenever I encountered this person and their spouse, I automatically felt a wave of excitement, validation, and trust—almost identical to what I would experience if I ran into a best-friend from high school.
As I’ve pondered how to better follow the examples of my mission companion and this couple from my ward, I’ve noted there are two groups of people with whom it is difficult or unnatural to give a “hero’s welcome.” The first is people we barely know and the second is people we know too well.
Regarding the first group, when my companion said to “act” excited, she didn’t mean be fake. In this case, I like to think of “act” as short for “activate.” Within each of us is a greater capacity to love others than we realize, but that love is just dormant or disconnected. Therefore, “acting” excited when we see someone helps us discover that our love for them is even stronger than we thought. Greeting people is an act of faith that allows us to tap into God’s love for those same people—a love which is infinite.
Regarding the second group, it’s natural for us to get lazy with our greetings. Sometimes we see people so much—namely close family members—that we don’t bother to react when they come in the door, even though these close family members are often people whom we love the most. However, if we can get into the mentality that every family member deserves a hero’s welcome every time, this will keep our love active and growing rather than stagnant.
Additionally, a third group could be people that we know but don’t like. Regarding this group, I would refer back to Matthew 5:46-47 where Christ mentions “publicans” (the hated tax collectors). When we don’t love or greet others, we are as bad or worse than the publicans, or people we don’t like. Even if someone doesn’t “deserve” a hero’s welcome, giving them one anyway will tune our eyes to notice their good qualities.
When I think of a “hero’s welcome,” what comes to mind is the song “Daddy’s Homecoming” from the Children’s Songbook of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
I’m so glad when daddy comes home,
Glad as I can be; Clap my hands, and shout for joy,
Then climb upon his knee,
Put my arms around his neck,
Hug him tight like this,
Pat his cheeks, then give him what?
A great big kiss.
I hope I can do better at giving my friends, family, and spiritual brothers and sisters a hero’s welcome in a similar manner (just minus the “kiss”).