Loving Those Who… Don’t Love Well

Kayaks on the shore of Honeoye Lake, New York
Kayaks on the shore of Honeoye Lake, New York

A few weeks ago, I posted about loving the ones God has put in front of us, namely, our families.  One of my readers commented on social media about their own family experience: That this child of God and his family had not always seen to eye to eye on life.  He recognized the need to love and the reality that neither he nor his family had done well on loving each other.  But for me, his well-thought-through comments brought me face-to-face with the reality that it’s not always within our power to show our love to the people God has put in front of us.

Striking off-trail to climb Mt. Agassiz in the Uinta Mountains of Utah
Striking off-trail to climb Mt. Agassiz in the Uinta Mountains of Utah

In recent years, I’ve had the “privilege” of dealing with a few difficult relationships.  Thankfully the family members didn’t give up on me entirely, but they also didn’t make it easy to love them.  Even overtures toward showing them love were rejected.  It has been… interesting.

Window high in a wall at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Window high in a wall at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

I learned a ton about myself – and even more about God and His love – through these experiences.  But they’ve also taught me a few things about loving people anyway (or perhaps loving people who don’t want to be loved).

The Palm Bowl in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
The Palm Bowl in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

First, anyone can be shown mercy.  There is a time for showing mercy and a time for consequences.  But being willing to overlook the offence (especially the intentional offence) is a beautiful gift of love toward the person – whether they want to accept the love or not.  Even when you turn the other cheek, God is there with you, and I don’t have to face the shame or hurtful words alone.  In fact, if I’m hiding in the shelter of God’s wings (see Psalm 91), those hurtful words touch Him before they touch me (which is somewhere between comforting and terrifying, but mostly almost unbelievable that He would take that pain for me).

Cliffs above Lake Agnes, State Forest State Park, Colorado
Cliffs above Lake Agnes, State Forest State Park, Colorado

Second, acts of service are still love.  Given my situation, I can still do their mending, save a piece of their favorite snack, take them to do a favorite activity, or give them a nice Christmas present.  Paul wrote, ““If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink.  For in doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)  I heard of a ministry leader who made sure some of the surplus money from her ministry was donated to the ministries that actively opposed her.  The point is that most sane people will, at some level, be ashamed of their hatred if you do something nice for them.  Gifts may be seen as trying to curry favor – but it still is burning coals (at least in my experience).

Mt. Shasta from the Horse Camp, California
Mt. Shasta from the Horse Camp, California

Third, God is the God of right relationships.  He’s 100% for the relationship being healed.  And He has some pretty creative ideas of what will touch that person.  My grandfather despised the Christian faith for many years.  The thing that brought Him closest to accepting Christ in his rebellious years was when a church woman delivered a very prime cut of beef to his son and daughter-in-law after they gave birth to their second son.  It was nice but nonconsequential to me.  It was life-altering for him.

Leaf  in Barnes Gully, New York
Leaf in Barnes Gully, New York

Fourth, it’s ok to back off.  Sometimes being in the person’s life is doing more harm than good.  Sometimes it’s not that you’re not physically in their life, but your communication is little more than a smile or cordiality.  At times I feel like I’m waiting out the hatred, hoping and praying that the anger will recede before something worse happens.  In relationships, sometimes one or the other of us goes to the grave without the redemption of the relationship.  Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)  You can’t force someone to be in right relationship with you – but you can be willing to make up at any time for any reason.

Views over Heather Meadows from Table Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Views over Heather Meadows from Table Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Fifth (and last), don’t despise them.  They often deserve it.  But God didn’t despise us when we were sinners (Romans 5:8).  You don’t have to join in the others who are talking about what horrible people they are.  You don’t have to relive or tell the tale that shames them.  I can choose how I see them and how I project that to others.  Not denying the facts, but choosing mercy over judgement.

Rock formations in the Valley of Dreams, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, New Mexico
Rock formations in the Valley of Dreams, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness, New Mexico

At the end of the day, for me at least, I can’t change them.  But I can change me.  And at the very least, I can forgive myself for the mistakes I have made – even ask forgiveness from those who aren’t so thrilled with me.  As far as it concerns me, I, with God’s help, can live at peace whether they join my peace or not.