Over the last month, I had a chance to reconnect with an old friend from a young adult ministry who I haven’t seen in well over eight years. Something he told me made me very sad as we reacquainted ourselves with each other as friends. He said that he has always had a hard time keeping friends and has never had true friendship. He is incredibly spiritual and a faith-filled young man, but as the month went by, I realized he worked better with youth than he did with adults. While this seems to be okay for his vocation for now, it has the potential to go wrong for him as he finishes his seminary studies.
See, several people we are mutually friends with have said he has a tendency toward orneriness. To make things worse, he doesn’t like having that flaw pointed out – it makes him more upset, if you will. This week, I was a recipient of some of his crankiness, and his reaction should have chased me away. See, I grew up in a home where I learned that it was okay to pay back someone with the same attitude that they gave me, and apparently he did too thanks to his father. Now as an adult, my friend is considered by some in our former ministry to be grumpy and not quite so loveable as he was when he was a very young man. I refused to believe that, and still refuse to believe that about my friend. He may be many things, but unlovable is not one of them. At least, I do not see him as such.
I started thinking though, how can people love someone who expresses themselves in such a way that is meant to push them away? In my training as a counselor, I learned that often times such behavior was a defense mechanism to protect oneself form being hurt on an emotional and psychological level. The idea is that if we push others away, there is no chance of them hurting us. Another assumption is that being pushed away is evidence that the person behaving in an unlovable manner really is not worthy of being loved or cared for.
So if this is going on in the mind of a person, how do we learn to love what is seemingly unlovable? In a devotional I received this week, I read that it is hard to love difficult people, but that this is especially true when those difficult people are not strangers to us. It is hard to love our loved ones who, like my friend, make it difficult to love them. I still love my friend dearly, but he does not make it easy for me. The devotional (found at http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo) was for April 6, 2016, and talked about ways to respond to those who make loving them difficult. Here are a couple ways to consider:
- Give extravagantly without counting the cost. This means to give without counting the cost to yourself. This may also mean giving love unconditionally and without expectation that it will be returned to you.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated. Often called the Golden Rule, it is a way to guide our thoughts, our actions, and our vision of how we treat others. If we wish to be treated as good people, we should think of the good in others as opposed to their flaws. We should also act toward others that show we are loving. And we must train ourselves to see the good in all despite their treatment and attitude toward us.
- Love without expectation. Very much like giving extravagantly (see #1 above), loving unexpectedly is simply that: to give your love to someone without expecting anything…at all. It’s easy to love the people who love us back. It is an even greater calling, however, to love the people who do not love us, let alone think about us. This means letting go of vengeance should the person in question become hostile or vindictive.
In The Last Prophet book series, our main characters emphasize these three tenets frequently. We are made from love, for love, to love. We are all created from a powerful source of love, and that is stated repeatedly in the book series by its main character, Sophia Randall, or the prophetess. We are also created with the intention of being loved, and that too is stressed in the series whenever characters falter or fail. Lastly, we were destined to be love and give love to our fellow creature. That being said, there is no such thing in the eyes of our Creator as someone impossible to love. The unlovable man or woman does not exist.
In my nightly chats with my friend (he happens to live on the East Coast now and living in a religious community for seminarians), we disagree, we fight, we get heated. But in the end, we love each other as friends should and we forgive one another for each other’s shortcomings. My friend is teaching me to love the unlovable part of him because he is just like me – made from love, for love, to love. It is this learning to love him that we are all called to do as well.
Who have you learned to love despite being unlovable? Have you ever been difficult to love? Comment in the space provided.
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