Some people are easy to love. Think of your spouse, your children, and your best friends. Does it take work to love them? To a degree, yes, but I bet it’s effortless most of the time. Even when my kids are acting nasty, I still love them fiercely. And I’m quite lucky that being married to my husband is easy. Loving my people is not difficult. It comes naturally.
But what about all the other people I interact with? Why is it so difficult to love them? Maybe it’s because I lean toward being an introvert. Or maybe it comes back to my own selfishness and desire to control things. I’m not exactly sure why, but sometimes loving other people takes hard work. And when these other people become a part of your life, then it’s time to figure some things out.
About six months ago I realized I had a heart problem. It’s not an issue with the hardware. It’s a complication with the software. My heart doesn’t always love well. This realization stung a bit because loving God is everything to me, and if I am not allowing myself to love other people then I’m not fully obeying God. That’s a problem.
I knew I needed prayer and support so I shared this heart issue with the girls in my community group. For months they gently encouraged me. One evening, while we were talking, one of the girls shared something that struck me at the heart. This friend said that when she prays for people, she prays that they would know God’s love.
It’s so simple! I owned those words and started praying them as well. Even when I couldn’t get past my own selfishness and when ridiculous reactions to certain situations blinded me, I would pray this. Slowly, I began to soften.
You know how you sometimes hear the same message over and over again? Often in multiple places and from multiple people? And you think to yourself, “Wow. I must really need to hear this.” That is exactly what began happening. Last year, when driving Eve and Vera to preschool, I would listen to Chip Ingram’s Living on the Edge program. And, wouldn’t you know, the topic was love.
During one of those preschool drives Chip specifically addressed the topic of loving the other people. What does that mean? How can you love someone you don’t know? How can you love someone you know is difficult? To put it simply, he said that loving others means valuing and esteeming them. It is a choice. It is showing them honor because they are a loved creation of God Himself.
I am not cured from my unloving heart, but I have made progress. When I know I am going to be in a social situation that pushes me outside my comfort zone, or one that forces me to deal with people I find to be difficult, I prep myself. I pray that God would use me to show others His love. And I think to myself, “OK. When they walk in, I am going to honor and respect them.”
Prayer works. My softening heart is proof of that. But I also think mental prep makes a big difference. It takes my mind off of me. It turns my focus away from those selfish tendencies and helps me to clearly see other people. When that happens, I am finally free love and be loved by them.
As I was working through all this, I read Spiritual Simplicity: Doing Less, Loving More by Chip Ingram. I discovered that when I struggle to love someone, it is usually because I’m judging them. I’m comparing myself to them and determining whether or not they are worthy of my time, or whether they would think I’m worthy of theirs. In his book, Chip talks about comparison. He says that comparing yourself to others either leads to envy (comparing up) or arrogance and judgmentalism (comparing down). Both build walls around your heart.
Think about that for a moment. It’s true!
I think I enjoy my introverted bubble because it means that I don’t have to deal with uncomfortable comparisons very often. But hiding from other people is part of the problem, not the solution. I think I’ve always understood that the answer is love, but I haven’t always known how to follow it up with action. Honestly, when I’ve opened up to others in the past and have been told to “just love them” it seemed like a cop-out answer. But it’s not.
I am learning that loving someone doesn’t start with the heart. It starts with the mind. It’s choosing to show someone honor and esteem even when you don’t feel like it. Or when you have nothing in common. Or when you disagree. Or even when there’s a personality clash. Sometimes that may mean showing interest even though you aren’t actually interested. Other times it may mean keeping your mouth shut and smiling when you’re really tempted to just roll your eyes and make a sarcastic remark.
This change in perspective has made me less stressed, more relaxed, and further able to enjoy life in the day-to-day. So while I started down this path out of a desire to love others better, I can’t deny the benefits that I’ve personally experienced from it. Another cool reminder that when you do life God’s way, it goes better.
How do you honor the difficult people in your life?