Loving People We Don’t Even Really Like
“Years ago, I started spending time regularly with Jim, a very lonely guy who can be very difficult at times. We still meet regularly. At times, he’d be quiet and gentle, then in the next moment, he’d turn demanding and selfish. After he’d share a meal with our family in our home one day, I dropped him back at the group home where he lives. As we pulled away on our way back home, my son, sitting in the backseat, was uncharacteristically quiet. Finally he asked, “Dad, do you really like Jim?”
“Not yet,” I said.
Here’s the point: I don’t always like everyone I’m called upon to serve. And unfortunately, I’ve discovered I can’t make myself enjoy someone I don’t. God can do that in me, of course, but by no act of my will or psychological technique can I create in myself heartfelt love and admiration for another human being. And I’ve decided that I’m okay with that. Loving your neighbors means being kind and gracious to people you may not like – until you do. Maybe.”
The 10 Second Rule, Chapter Eight
So, is it really possible for us to love people we don’t really like? Yes! And Jesus himself taught us how to do it.
Jesus redefines love.
The tenth chapter of Luke, starting in verse 25, tells about the day a group of religious leaders came to Jesus, hoping to trip him up. One of them asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law?”
The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” But after Jesus had affirmed that the man had answered correctly, the man asked, “And who is my neighbor?” This much is for sure – in asking this question, the man wasn’t looking to expand his "neighbor network". Jesus answered by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.
It’s a story we all know. In fact, one of the problems with this story is that it’s too familiar. For instance, how many of us have ever noticed that the story never tells us whether the Good Samaritan loved or even liked the man he rescued?
Does God love people he doesn’t like?
Consider this from respected theologian, Floyd Barackman; “When we consider God’s love for the world, we must be careful not to equate this love with human friendship or love, which is based on the pleasure that we receive from others. God’s sacrificial love for the world is based wholly on His grace, or undeserved favor. God’s love is an affection that moves him to provide for the well being of humans, regardless of their personal merit, worth or spiritual state.
It is God’s kind of love that we are to express toward others, even toward our enemies (John 13:34-35; Matt. 5:44-45). God does not ask us to love all people, that is, to take pleasure in them. He does demand that we minister to their needs, even at personal sacrifice (I John 3:16; 1 Cor. 13:4-7), and that we show them patience, kindness, and courtesy (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Needless to say, we can do this only by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5:22).” (Practical Christian Theology, Floyd Barackman, page 549, Kregal Publications)
For ease of discussion, let’s think of love in terms of Love 1 and Love 2 (L1 and L2). L1 love is that love that we are commanded to have for all humans. We are told to love others as ourselves, which means at a minimum, like God, we are to be kind, compassionate, forgiving of their failings, and care as much for their well being as our own. This is the love Jesus described in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Nowhere in this story are we told that the Samaritan enjoyed or became friends with the man he helped. Nevertheless, Jesus said that he fulfilled the command to love others, or L1 in my terms, by having compassion on the man and putting this strangers needs ahead of his own. We don’t even know if the victim was thankful to the Good Samaritan. In the end it really doesn’t matter, the Good Samaritan did the right thing; he acted with kindness and compassion, L1 – what we Christians refer to as unconditional love.
However, for us to achieve the level of L2 love with another person, which are the warm feelings of admiration and a desire to enjoy their company requires something more. There is some responsibility on the part of the other person to work at being somewhat lovable, enjoyable, safe and trustworthy. I cannot, by an act of my will, make myself enjoy, or love another in person this way unless they take some personal responsibility to be worthy of this level of love. In the same way, I can make myself more lovable to others by my good attitude and behavior.
Likewise, I can make myself less likable by my bad behavior or attitude. I can discourage people from loving me with an L2 love by being untrustworthy, unkind or distant. In this sense, L2 love is not always unconditional – in fact it is often conditional on me changing some of my behaviors to help another person love me more.
One word of caution; we don’t have the right to sit back and say to another person for whom we have harden our hearts, “be lovable and worthy of my love and then I’ll love you." In doing so, we can actually hinder truly loving others by our bad attitudes toward them. If we believe someone will never measure up to our standards, they probably never will. Our personal responsibility is to have the attitude toward others as beautifully described I Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Cor. 13:4-7 (This passage says that we are required to attempt to think the best of others, even in the face of much evidence to the contrary in the past.)
Respect R1 and R2
“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33
I believe the same principle holds true with respect. To respect someone, at a minimum we must speak respectfully to them and speak respectfully about them to others. Specifically, for a wife to have a R1 respect for her husband she must speak respectfully to him and about him to others. If a wife does this, she is honoring God by respecting her husband, even if his character and behavior are not admirable to her. (That goes for a parent we don’t really admire, or even a boss.)
However, for a husband to be fully respected, and by that I mean truly admired by his wife (R2), his character must be such that he is worthy of that respect. His wife cannot make herself, or will her heart to fully respect him (R2) if he acts selfishly, without integrity, etc. A man must earn the full respect of his wife and children by being a man worthy of respect. However, just as it was in our discussion on love, if a woman hardens her heart against her husband and refuses to look for the good in him; she grieves the Holy Spirit and sins.
So, whether it’s love or respect, in the case of husband and wife, if the relationship is really only on an L1 or R1 level, each person ought to examine their own life and ask two absolutely critical questions:
1. "What is there about my current character or behavior, or what have I done in the past that keeps my spouse from fully loving or respecting me?”
2. "What has my spouse done to me for which I have not truly forgiven them which keeps me from fully respecting or loving them? Am I grieving the Holy Spirit?”
My questions for you:
1. Do you agree or disagree with the L1 or R1 or 2 ideas?
2. Is there anyone you don’t L2 love or respect because you’ve hardened your heart to them?