How do I love? Not love my family or people who are nice to me, but how do I love people who don’t like me, are unkind to my children or aren’t like me? Loving Christians is hard enough (I know. I’m a Christian who can be very hard to love). How do we love atheists, those who oppose what we believe, or those who hate us simply because we are Christians?
Romans 8:29 says we are being conformed to Christ’s image. Although I struggle to love others sometimes, because I call myself a Christian, I… we, must get better at loving those who don’t love us, who don’t understand or agree with us (or us them). Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them” (Lk 6:32).
How do we, the Church, begin to love better?
1. Smile. When I got off the airplane in Atlanta this summer, a young man wearing fake eyelashes, glitter eyeliner and bright red lipstick greeted me with exuberance. I’m a church lady from the suburbs who isn’t around LGBT folks very often. How do we love people we see in passing who we maybe can’t relate to or don’t understand? I haven’t totally figured that out, but when I went to Japan and couldn’t speak the language or relate to the culture a genuine, look-them-in-the-eye kind of smile always translated.
2. Pray. Last year when one of my children was being mistreated by a classmate, I wanted to talk to the child – mama bear to defenseless small human. God reminded me however, I am called to repay evil with blessing. And just as God did when I prayed for the transgender airline employee, He softened my heart and gave me compassion when I prayed in earnest for the student bullying my child. The thing about praying out of love is it changes us – the only people we are responsible for changing.
3. Be Nice. I don’t always know how to love people who are different than me, who are unkind or who attack my character, but I know how to shut my mouth. I know how to smile and I know how to pray. Doesn’t being nice mean I am condoning another person’s choices, sin or lifestyle? I’m not sure, but I do know being unkind isn’t loving and as a Christ-follower, I’m only called to love. Even when I am called to speak the truth, I’m to do so in love and last time I checked, love was nice; not sarcastic, belittling or prideful.
How do we love when it isn’t easy, reciprocated or natural? Here’s what Mother Teresa wisely advised:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
People need help, but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.