Loving Those We Didn't Choose
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
I think I'm a pretty nice person and can usually make a new friend almost anywhere I go. I have always been able to do this and I am pretty proud of this trait. Yet, there are still people who seem to be a little extra challenging to befriend or even work with. We all feel this at times, right?! Maybe it's because they are having a bad day, have different political or religious views, their personality is different from mine, or they are just plain mean. Or maybe it is someone who is super nice, but they require a lot of grace to be in a relationship with. These "challenging" individuals can test our patience, push our boundaries, and sometimes even drain our emotional reserves. However, as followers of Jesus, we know we are called to love and serve ALL those God brings into our lives. I mean, Jesus did this, and He did it with compassion, empathy, and understanding. So the question becomes, how do we love the more "challenging" people in our lives well?
I believe, with a little understanding, empathy, and compassion, we can foster love for even the most challenging people in our lives. So let's look at Jesus and some of the practices He modeled when interacting with people or challenging situations. We can learn so much from how He lived his life in those short three years!
- Practice Active Listening: Healthy communication is crucial when dealing with difficult individuals. Practice active listening by giving them your full attention, acknowledging their feelings, and reflecting on what they say. Ask questions and remove distractions so you can give your full attention (and heart) to them. By listening actively, you validate their experiences and emotions, showing that you genuinely care about their thoughts and feelings.
John 4:5-30--Jesus actively listens to the Samaritan woman
- Practice Empathy: Sometimes it is as simple as putting yourself in someone else's shoes and learning to understand their perspective, experiences, and struggles. Recognize that people have their own battles, and their behavior may come from a place of pain, insecurity, or fear. Maybe it is because of past hurt or trauma that if we take time to understand, we can empathize with them more. By cultivating empathy, you can break down barriers and establish a genuine connection.
Luke 13:10-13--Jesus shows empathy when he sees a crippled woman
- Cultivate Patience: Dealing with challenging individuals can be frustrating. However, practicing patience is key to maintaining a loving approach. Understand that change takes time, and everyone's growth journey is unique. Avoid reacting impulsively or becoming defensive, and instead, choose to respond with understanding and kindness. Pressing pause on the situation can help grow our patience and allow space before reacting. In your brief pause, ask the Holy Spirit to help you respond in patience, and then proceed with your response. You might be surprised with the amount of patience you have. Doing this over and over is difficult, but helps strengthen your patience muscle and with time will get easier.
John 8:1-11--Jesus is patient with a women in sin
- Seek Common Ground: Identify shared interests or values that can be a starting point for building a connection. Discovering common ground helps cultivate unity and bridges the gap between differences. Engage in conversations about shared hobbies, passions, or even what you are watching! Sometimes something as small and simple can make the greatest connection to build from.
Luke 19:1-9--Jesus connects and relates to a tax collector
- Serve and Pray: Look for ways to serve those you find challenging to love. Acts of kindness can soften hearts and build bridges. By showing love through practical actions, you can demonstrate Christ's love to others. Prayer is one of the best tools for transformation, both one's own heart and others. Pray for those you struggle to love, asking God to change your heart and theirs. Ask for wisdom, patience, and guidance every time you interact with them.
John 13:4-5 & 17:6-19--Jesus serves and prays for His friends
- Set Boundaries: Loving difficult people doesn't mean tolerating disrespectful or harmful behavior. It's important to set clear boundaries and communicate them. Boundaries protect your emotional health and create a framework for a healthy relationship. Be honest yet compassionate when expressing your limits, and discuss it openly to set agreed upon expectations of the relationship.
Loving people requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to see beyond challenging behavior at times. When we practice empathy, seeking common ground, patience, and prayer, we foster love and compassion for even the most challenging people. Remember, it sn't about changing a person but rather finding ways to develop a healthier connection. Loving people – when it’s easy and when it’s difficult – is what Jesus modeled for us. As we practice, the Holy Spirit will grow our capacity to love, even when it’s hard.