How many of us have avoided social media this last week because we’re just tired? We’re tired of seeing the arguments, of realizing that people we know see so differently than we do, and of hearing some stories that break our hearts and others that outrage us.
Even under normal circumstances, this can be a trying time of year. Whether it’s that relative who gets under your skin at family gatherings, or the co-worker you’d rather avoid at holiday parties, we all have someone in our lives who is difficult to love.
Years ago, I began to ask God to show me how to love well. I had a naïve idea that the answer to this prayer would mean I suddenly felt overflowing love for everyone, and it would be easy to move toward them.
Instead, my eyes were opened to so many ways I did not love well. I had to step into hard conversations with people, involving apologies, hurt feelings, and misunderstanding. It was tempting to ignore the conflict, or pretend it wasn’t important, but I chose to believe that leaning in would be better in the long run. It was.
Most conversations went well, but others didn’t. Not everyone responds with grace and kindness when we chose to lean in, yet even in those times-maybe even more so in those times- God can teach us how to love like He does.
In the next few weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at what it means to lean in to the challenging relationships. How can we be people who love well even when we disagree? How can we be more like Jesus?
But you might be asking: why? Why move toward others when it is hard, uncomfortable, messy, and inconvenient?
Jesus decrees it
We do it first, because Jesus calls us to it. In Matthew 5 verses 43 and 47, he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . . if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
Loving people who are like us is easy. Loving when we feel like it is easy. Even the world does that. Jesus expects more from us. He ties our identity as God’s children to our capacity to love our enemies.
We need it
But loving others is not just for their sake, it is for ours. Psalm 133:1 says, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” There is an emotional, relational, and spiritual cost to disconnection. We were created to connect, and when we live with disunity, it diminishes our quality of life. When we refrain from giving to others, we cut off our ability to receive as well.
Culture sees it
The world is watching us. When we choose not to lean in and love those who are hard to love, they miss the gospel. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus invites us to lean in when everything in our hearts tells us to push away. He invites us to lean in when everyone else walks away. He knows when we do that, we will proclaim the gospel in a way that the world cannot ignore.
Leaning in is tough, but Jesus shows us the way. Next week we’ll look deeper into how to lean in. Until then, here are some questions to prepare your heart:
Who is most challenging to love in your life right now?
How do you feel about the idea of moving toward them?
Begin praying for this person and for God to help you lean into this relationship.