Love is probably the most common subject matter for songs, movies and books. It resonates as a universal experience. Love is something that the majority of people seem to approve of, want, and encourage. The Beatles proclaimed it was all we need. Gandhi said that love wrestled with the world because it is incompatible with fear and violence. Oh yeah, and Jesus told us that we have to love our enemies. (Yeah that's right, I just referenced The Beatles, Gandhi and Jesus all in one breath). But...
Loving others is hard.
This statement seems somewhat obvious to me, but I'm not sure the average person on the street would agree with me. After all, it's pretty easy to love your family and friends and to be kind to strangers. And if people treat you badly you can be the bigger man and just ignore them.
In action, however, I think love becomes a lot more difficult and nuanced.
Is it easy for you to show love to people who aren't showing you love in return?
How do you show love to people you think are complete idiots?
How do you stay loving towards those who are annoying you to the end of your patience?
How do you show love to people who are prejudiced and unfair?
Do you really want to show love to your enemies who hate you and would just assume you suffer?
Does anyone ever really feel like showing love to people who hurt and abuse others?
You know, people who don't deserve love.
When it comes down to it, I suspect that none of us truly deserve to be loved. We're so selfish and sinful. Yet we were given love anyway, and are called to extend that love to others. And because of that, I believe that everyone deserves to be shown love. Every life is equally valuable to God. Every person has a unique story worth hearing. Putting the belief and conviction that every single person on the planet deserves my love into action...not. easy.
I've made a point over the last few years to try to become aware of the people I am not showing love. I discovered the people it's natural or easy to love (strangers, friends, family) and eventually began to recognize the types of people I struggle to love. I started a battle with myself, and it's not a battle I always win.
There is more than one area that I have to be very proactive about, but the main area I struggle with personally is loving people who I feel are being unfair towards me. For the sake of transparency, I'll give an example.
A couple of years ago I discovered that a girl I had never met before---hated me. Straight up hated me. Despite the fact that she was more or less a stranger, it hurt me. I couldn't understand how someone could be spiteful and hateful towards someone they'd never even spoken to. What was it about me that she found so offensive? What had I done to her? Even when I did eventually find out "what I'd done" it was nothing I had any control over or did intentionally. I won't lie about it---I was angry. My hurt bubbled into anger that could have easily turned into bitterness or resentfulness. My natural reaction was to want to get others on my side, to agree with me that it was unfair. I wanted reassurance. And I wish I could say that I didn't complain to friends about my "mistreatment", but I did. At some point I recognized the complaining as gossip and was disappointed in myself. I was tearing her down, and even if I thought she deserved it...she didn't. I decided that even if she talked badly about me, even though I wanted to defend myself, that I had to love her. Loving her meant not only that I wouldn't tear her down, but that I would build her up. I started making an effort to only speak kindly of her, to be fair and try to look for the best in her. I prayed for her. And I tried not to pray selfishly but to see her as equally as valuable to God as I was. I prayed for her life, that God would bless her and her relationships. It didn't feel good at first, it was challenging to say the least. But it was the right thing to do and holding onto it would have never brought me peace. (Eventually there was some closure and reconciliation which I'm thankful for, but even if it had never come, it was important to show her love).
I'm happy to have found that in general I'm slow to anger, and that loving others comes easy to me in most areas. I'm also incredibly disappointed in myself having realized that there are certain types of people and situations that it's a battle to love and I've failed in those areas.
Sometimes the difficult thing is recognizing your lack of love in situations that are subtle and less obvious---the insecure coworker who gossips about you, or the passive aggressive neighbor who puts notes on your car.
I guess sharing this story is a reminder to myself to always be proactive about love, and a challenge to others to find out who you struggle to love...and love them anyway.