There’s a first time for everything…. Usually the ideas for my blogs each day come as a result of listening to conversations in the air…and responding. This one however was a direct request…please tell me how to love somebody…not forgive them…but love them when they have hurt me and the wound is still fresh. How do I choose to love somebody, whom I’ve loved in the past, but the pain is so egregious even if I want to love them, I don’t feel I am able? God says to love them…so how do I do this?
I have often felt that this particular command is so hard, even when the person has not hurt me. There is a rule of thirds out there that suggests that when a person walks in the room, 1/3 of the people will like the person, 1/3 of the people will not be aware that the person walked in the room, and 1/3 of the people will dislike the person before they have even spoken with the person. A twist on this is, you could be the person walking in the room, so 1/3 of the people will like you, 1/3 of the people will not be aware that you walked in the room, and 1/3 of the people will dislike you before they have even spoken with you. Statistically speaking if these numbers are accurate, you only have 1/9 chance of being in the room with someone you are naturally drawn to, who is also naturally drawn to you. Just knowing this information could help change how you think of each person walking through the door. Today you can choose to think positively of every new person you meet. They are an opportunity to reach out to and to love. They are a new gift, offering you the present of their presence. Use these gifts wisely. In a world full of lonely people you have a chance to bring joy and light to someone new. This not only steals their loneliness, it can safeguard you from loneliness as well.
But back to the heart of the question…What if they have hurt you, how do you love them through that? The first step you must take is recognizing the sin is separate from the sinner. Start with focusing on the sin and not the sinner. It is the behavior or the action of the person that you disdain, and not the person themselves. The person is someone you have chosen to love in the past. This person is equally loved and cherished by the same God who loves and cherishes you. He forgives you because your sin does not define who you are, but rather a poor choice you made. Likewise, He expects you to offer that same grace to another. The person is broken and messy, like all people, including you. We all have work to do on ourselves. Focus on the work you have to do, which is to love and forgive.
Second, you must recognize that love is an action not a reaction or an emotion. It is a choice, not a response. Love comes first! God so loved the world (that world that broke all the ten commandments, that stole, lied, cheated, and worshipped other Gods..that one) that He gave His only begotten Son that we may be saved. He chose to love regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of our sinful behavior. He modeled love. I choose to love you whether or not you deserve it. I choose to love you whether or not you recognize that I exist and that I am who I say I am. I choose to love even though and despite all the disappointments, poor decisions, unloving, judgmental, less than grace-filled, hypocritical attempts you have made to be called my disciple and my saint.
Third, you must recognize the opportunity to love someone is not a task to do, but a gift to receive. God says I give you this commandment as a gift. You see people are going to hurt you and treat you wrong on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. You, yourself, are going to harm and disrespect others, as well as yourself, multiple times a day. This commandment to love is a gift. It is permission to have the power and strength to choose love and give it freely. If we are not choosing to give love and instead are choosing to harbor bitterness, hurt, and anger, we are choosing to feel miserable and hatred, which is only going to eat up our soul, and cause ourselves pain, distress, depression, anger, isolation, unhappiness, loneliness, physical illness…etc. By choosing to love we are connecting to a wi-fi system that generates energy and joy and freedom and happiness and power. We can choose how we want to feel. By choosing love and happiness, we are choosing to experience a good life. We are choosing to receive the present of God’s presence and power and grace and mercy and joy and contentment.
Nothing is more relevant than this time of year to remember that a little baby was born to this world for this very reason and this very lesson. Love! God LOVED! He loved so that we would love. He came so we could see love modeled. Love they neighbor as you love thyself. First you must love yourself. To love yourself you must love others. To be worthy of love, we must be loving. When we fail to love, it is hard to love ourselves or feel good about ourselves. We feel anger, shame, and disappointment. It is impossible to love ourselves without loving others. If we struggle with loving others it is because we are failing to love ourselves or we will fail to love ourselves because we fail to love others.
The hard thing about all of this is sometimes it is not as quick or automatic as we would like it to be. The reason is because we are experiencing, above all, a sense of grief. We experience grief and loss not only over the death of loved ones, but over the death of relationships, trust, security, job loss, being treated unrighteously, empty nest…etc. The first stage of anything we grieve is shock. We experience this so much more often than we recognize. When we fail to recognize that we are grieving, we fail to understand how to maneuver through it. There is a loss. Label what it is that you are grieving. Once that grief is recognized for what it is, then we need to go through the process of letting go. We have to recognize all the good we lost, AND all the bad we lost. Nothing is ever 100% good or 100% bad. The grief process takes time. We don’t like letting go of what is familiar. We often don’t adjust well to change. Change is happening and we have no control over the way it is changing our life. Grief is the process we move through to not only let go of control of the change but to accept the change, as it is. This process is not always immediate. In addition, when we are grieving the loss of something, it is natural for all our past unresolved griefs to throw themselves in our space. We grieve the death of a loved one and the ghosts of other deaths start ruminating in our souls. We lose a boyfriend, and the grief from our parents divorce bleeds into the picture. Grief compounds itself when it is not properly laid to rest. Grief requires that we recognize it, that we process the shock or denial of the event, and then go through the stages of anger, bargaining, and depression before arriving at acceptance. This takes time and energy and patience and commitment, Sometimes the prayer of serenity can assist as we transgress these challenging changes. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”
How can we go about flipping the switch from negative to positive when the pain is so fresh? It is easier than one thinks. We make a decision and then we stick to it. The hardest thing about making a decision is to make the decision. Once we decide to do something and commit to something we are an unstoppable force. Sometimes we have to recommit to the decision minute by minute, day be day, but once we make a decision all we have to do is stick to it. The hard part has been done..the decision has been made. I choose love. I choose forgiveness. I choose freedom. I choose power. I choose sobriety. I choose kindness. I choose gentleness.
Next, we must focus on things about the situation that make us grateful. Sometimes we focus on the lessons learned and the wisdom gained. Sometimes we focus on being compassionate about the situation of the other person that caused them to be careless in the way they treated us. Sometimes we focus on being grateful that because this challenge happened, we are being put on the path that we are supposed to be on, that we would not be on had this disheartening event not happened. Sometimes we focus on forgiveness, because forgiveness is freedom- I choose to no longer allow the pain to have power over my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I let it go so it can let me go!
Finally choosing to love a person doesn’t always look the same. Sometimes choosing to love is something that must be done from a distance. I love you… I wish you well…Take care! It is impossible to keep all the people you love on your radar…you still love them! The human condition is always limited by time, location, and available resources. People move in and out of your space, and in some instances that is healthy and natural and good. If you have an abusive person in your life, forgiving them and loving them does not mean they should be permitted to continue to abuse you or stay in your space. Relationships end due to proximity, time, space, and death! Love does not end. If you chose to love, it remains forever!
Action Step: Who are you struggling to love because they have harmed you? Make a decision today that you are strong enough and God is big enough and together you are choosing love!
Choose love… When you’re sitting with difficult family members at Christmas dinner. Choose love … When your in-laws make a criticism about your parenting decisions. Choose love… When your adult siblings bring up some painful memories of your childhood past. Choose love… When a conversation about politics starts and you know that there’s going to be tension in the air. Choose love… When your mother pushes that red button on Christmas morning that makes you want to just grind your teeth. Choose love… On Christmas morning when your children have an argument or cry or act ungrateful. Choose love...choose love...choose love!
Well done good and faithful servant! Well done!