Monday, June 6, 2011

The Hardest People to Love

Jesus told us that the most important commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbours as ourselves. I have lived in apartment buildings most of my life so I know firsthand that sharing space with strangers who have different values can be frustrating to say the least. I've been neighbours with people who party loudly, drink and fight, let their kids run wild, use the halls as a place to store soiled diapers, leave their laundry in the washing machines for days, dump old appliances and furniture in the yard for others to deal with, are ignorant and abusive, smoke in the hallways, get too close for comfort and sell drugs.

Then there are the leeches. These folks, often sweet but socially inept, are overly friendly and invade your life by knocking on your door just to chat or ask favours. They've known you for five minutes and suddenly you are their best friend. You find yourself sneaking in and out of your own home hoping they won't see you coming or going. They assume that living in the same building means they should know about your personal life and don't hesitate to share their own. These situations are probably the most frustrating for me because I have a hard time establishing and maintaining boundaries. I am always nice but deep down I want them to leave me alone. These people are hard for me to tolerate let alone love.

And this love commandment gets even harder. You see, I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus didn't limit his definition of neighbour to the family next door. It's (usually) pretty easy to love our own clan, and even to love anonymous strangers who we see struggling, but when someone is close enough for us to see their faults and invade our space but not close enough to be in our personal circle, it gets mighty difficult to feel the love. These neighbours are our coworkers, classmates and church family. We might not see eye to eye, share values or even like each other's personality, but we need to spend a lot of time together.

Can I love the coworker who is always bossing me around and treating me like a child--the one who has worked with me for four months but still can't remember my name? Not easily.

Can I love the clerk who never returned my calls when my daughter needed medical treatment, who misplaced paperwork, didn't put us on the waiting list and was unapologetic if not annoyed by our inquires after waiting weeks for an appointment? Probably not.

Can I love the woman at church who often offers constructive criticism of my initiatives with the toddler ministry even though she has not stepped up to offer any help herself? Barely.

Can I love those who are arrogant, dumb, oblivious, weak, snobby, ignorant, judgmental, bossy, phony, two-faced, mean, lazy, weird, overly dramatic, painfully chipper or emotional vampires? Sometimes.

I know I am not perfect--some days I am painfully aware of this fact--but I still seem to have a major problem accepting others in their imperfection. An old friend recently told me something I shared with him years ago that stuck with him. Apparently I said, "people are at where they're at," which basically means we need to accept people as they are. Sounds like I was pretty wise back then. These days I am acutely aware of just how little I am able to love. I consider myself active, conscientious and generous but am I truly loving?

Perhaps loving acceptance comes easily to some but for me it takes conscious practice. I need to recognize the voice of the enemy--my ego--who is eager to tell me I am being offended, threatened or rejected. This voice separates me from others and feeds on my fear. But there is also a quiet voice within that unites and heals rather than wounding and isolating. It is this spirit, call it the Holy Spirit if you will, or God Within, that connects me with all that I lack. Infinite love, boundless joy, forgiveness and serenity. There is no fear when I tap into the Divine Source and drink from the Eternal Cup. Oh, but that gentle voice is so often drowned out by the loud and angry ego. One must remember to listen if she wishes to hear.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,but have not love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)


Steve Douglas said...

Two thumbs up! Keep this up and you'll have people doing a "Mondays with Michelle" feature. ;-)

Michelle said...

Haha! Thanks Steve.

Pippi said...

Well, love and like are not the same thing. I think in the end, as long as you aren't looking for ways to put the annoying person down or make them look bad, and as long as you're still willing to lend a hand if they need it, you are fulfilling the commandment.

It's like some people saying that if you forgive, you ought to forget. Not at all, IMO. If you forgive, you shouldn't hold a grudge. Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven. Only a codependent or a moron would actually forget that often, and let themselves be hurt yet again.

Steve Douglas said...

Hi Pippi,

That's certainly a start, and it's about as far as I usually get. But love in the Christian sense goes beyond a resolve to refrain from lighting a match when they're soaked in gasoline, or blowing it out when someone else does. It means something more than mere toleration. There are people I dislike who I'd help if they ask me, but who I would realize all the time that I was being magnanimous about.

Divine love is an active desire for the other person's benefit, and not particularly self-consciously. I understand not wanting to put yourself in the position to get mangled, but giving until it hurts, until we stand the chance of getting crucified...well, that's what Christians generally think Jesus modeled for us. It's a lot like this, it seems to me.

Michelle said...

I agree Pippi, we forgive but never forget, but when it comes to love my thoughts are very much in line with Steve's. He said it well so I won't waste words repeating it! :)

Greg & Debbie said...

I read somewhere recently that agape love is "Attributing worth to another at a cost to yourself". I find this useful as it goes past all the smarmy shyte like "I just love everyone". It cannot be done passively as it requires a cost to me and it is not as is often the Christian credo of "I will do no harm" which simply isn't good enough. Much of what Jesus says is difficult. Loving our neighbours as ourselves is certainly no exception. P.S. I really like your writing Michelle you are both honest and thoughtful. Keep it up.

Michelle said...

What a perfect definition. I like that. A few years ago when I came across that word, agape, I was completely confused. Then I was told the Greek have several words for different kinds of love whereas we only have one. Smart Greeks!

Thanks so much for the postive feedback. It made me smile!

Pippi said...

I agree with your take, Steve. I wasn't talking about being magnanimous or feeling like you are somehow special because you still treat the person well "in spite of." I'm just thinking that there are some people whom I really would have to shut down my own feelings of "they deserve it" and help them simply because it's the right thing to do and it's what God expects of me, and what I owe because He does it for me constantly. And I don't think that's sinful. I think the sin would be in allowing myself to act upon those selfish and angry feelings.

Steve Douglas said...

Pippi -- understood. You're right: our feelings and natural impulses are only sinful to the extent that we defend them and refuse to submit them to God. I believe that as we commit to submitting our impulses to God, "dying to ourselves" in the Pauline sense, the right feelings gradually follow. Thanks for clarifying. :-)