Loving even when you don’t “feel” love.
If you’ve been on the planet for any amount of time you have no doubt run into a person that you don’t like very much. You know the story. They do things differently than you do. They’re messy and you’re a neat freak. They take their sweet time to do the simplest task and you want everything done yesterday. They think differently than you and maybe they even have a totally different set of values. To make things worse, you’re in a situation where you must get along with them. Unbreakable ties such as family, the job, church, the neighborhood, et cetera. unite you both into a long-term relationship.
It’s become obvious that they aren’t going anywhere and they aren’t going to change, in spite of your best efforts to mold them. They are driving you crazy and making your life miserable. So now what do you do?
The Bible commands us to love one another.
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples–when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:33-35, The Message)
The first key to developing a loving attitude is to realize that loving each other is not an option–it’s a command. Okay, I will be the first one to admit, this can be extremely difficult, especially when you find out what real love is . . .
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 4:4-7, New Living Translation)
When Jesus gave us the command for us to love each other in the same way that He loved us, this is what He meant. We don’t have the right to think we are better than other people. Love is not boastful. We don’t have the right to be jealous of other people’s accomplishments or their natural gifts and abilities. Love is not jealous. We don’t have the right to stay angry when someone else has done us wrong. Love keeps no record offenses.
And this is the toughest one; we don’t have the right to write people off as a loss when they behave badly. Love never gives up and never loses faith, but endures until the end. Whew, what a list! How in the world can we love people like this when nothing about them inspires us to love them?
Accept people for who they are.
If you can do this, half the battle is won. One of the reasons we don’t love other people is because we want them to be something they are not. If you have a child who is loud and aggressive, but you want her to be quiet and obedient, you will always be disappointed by her behavior because your expectations are unrealistic. It’s easier for you to change your expectations of her than for her to change the personality and temperament God gave her. Realize that the person God created her to be is not necessarily bad, just different.
A word of caution is needed here; you can accept the person without accepting behavior that is wrong. For example, Timmy may be a naturally boisterous child, but that still doesn’t give him a license to tear up your house. Timmy should be punished for that particular act of disobedience. Maybe he has privileges taken away from him for a time or he gets a spanking, etc. Then, after the punishment has been executed, you still love Timmy and treat him as though he won’t do it again. Don’t think, “Timmy is such as bad child. He is so disobedient and always tears up everything.” Instead say, “Timmy is going to be a good, responsible person when he grows up.” Remember, love always hopes.
Meet people where they are.
Imagine that Mary and her brother Johnnie are going on a hike through the woods because their car broke down in bad weather and they must get to shelter. Johnnie is an experienced hiker in excellent condition. He has the strength needed for strenuous climbs, plus he knows how to pace himself for endurance. Mary on the other hand has never been hiking and has never liked physical activity. She is naturally unprepared for the trek but must go if she wants to be sheltered from the coming storm.
So, the two set off. Mary moves at a snail’s pace, falls several times during the hike, and causes Johnnie to backtrack often in order to help her. To top it off, Mary constantly complains the entire time and eventually sprains her ankle in the process. Now, Johnnie not only has to listen to Mary’s negative attitude, but he must carry her for the duration of the trip. He thinks to himself, “I should just leave her here she is so much trouble.” Needless to say, he doesn’t. They finally find a cabin to bunk in until the storm passes. As they settle in for the night Johnnie keeps waiting for Mary to express some gratitude at his efforts. But, words of thanks never come; Mary goes to sleep without expressing any appreciation.
Johnnie has a choice. He can be offended and decide to never go anywhere with Mary again or he can decide to meet his sister where she is.
Johnnie can meet Mary where she is by accepting the fact that she is currently in a weakened and immature state. Mary’s weakness (not being a physically strong person) prevented her from taking care of herself on the journey. Her immaturity caused her to complain when she should have been grateful. Even though anyone can understand Johnnie’s resentment, everyone would have blamed him if he had left his sister in the woods in her weakened condition. Why? Because Johnnie was the stronger of the two, he had an obligation to help Mary in spite of her bad attitude and physical limitations. The bible tells us . . .
“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it.” (Romans 15:1-3, The Message)
This doesn’t seem fair. Why should we be inconvenienced because of someone else’s problems? Because that’s what Jesus did for us. His unconditional love for us gives us the opportunity and strength we need everyday to become a better person. God’s love for us is what transforms us.