Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Loving the Unlovable

"My command is this: Love each other 
as I have loved you."
John 15:12

With the passing of another, "Valentine's Day," I have given some thought to the meaning of, love, and what it is that makes it so difficult to love others as Christ loved us.  It seems like a question with an easy answer--clearly, none of us is Christ, making none of us perfect.  Hence, our love is imperfect.

My sweet hubby, T-bone, bought me these roses for Valentine's Day last weekend.  He said that the one white one stood for me because to him, I am unique and pure amongst women.  He lovingly said that I stand-out in a crowd of many duplications.  It was very sweet sentiment, and meant a lot to me.  But ever since, all I have thought about is how impure I really am.  How my love is, at times, quite my attitude can easily waiver depending on who is pushing my buttons and at what moment they are pushing them.  I thought about these roses.  To me, the ONE white one truly represents God's desire for me to actually live-up to that calling.  To actually BE PURE HEARTED, and live a rare, unique, selfless, and unconditionally loving life.  

But WHY is it so hard to love others as Christ loved us?  

WHY is it so hard to love the unlovable?

For starters, let's define, "unlovable."  There are the people who flat-out don't want our love.  (That's about as unlovable as it gets)!  They either don't love us (or even like us), don't want us to love them, or they don't like/love people, in general.  Then there are those who want our love, but often don't want to return it to us--they are the, "all-about-me" people in our lives. These are the people who ask things of you that you would never ask of them (either because you know they would never do it for you, or because you would never impose such a request on them).  Then there are people who on the surface, seem unlovable--like the dirty beggar downtown holding the sign, or the addict who makes poor choices due to their addiction.  Last, we have the category of unlovable that too often trips us up in our quest to love others as Christ commands us.  I call these folks the, "daily drainers."  These are different for everyone, but perhaps it's the passive-aggressive co-worker who drives you bonkers...the back-stabbing gossip who seeks to increase their own influence and decrease yours...the whining complainer who criticizes everyone and everything...the crazy-driving jerk on the road who cut you off and almost caused an accident...that person who cut ahead of you in line at the store...the smelly guy at the gym who constantly gets on the treadmill next to you and coughs his head off the entire time even though there are tons of open treadmills everywhere else (ah hem, no, this one isn't hypothetical)...and the worst and most harmful of all, the "frenemy."  You know what I'm talking about~the friend (or even family member) who, at times, is actually an enemy?!  These are the people who you either thought were in your court, or who are in your court but are scoring points for the enemy's team. They love you one minute but then by their words and deeds, hate you the next.  They are too often ruled by negative, defeating things that fester and eventually destroy them and their relationships, such as:  dishing-out belittlement, back-handed compliments, green-eyed monster jealousy, making comparisons, engaging in competition, zapping you with zingers, acting joyful at your sorrows, acting sorrowful at your joys, rudeness, purposeful exclusion, public embarrassment, using Facebook or other social media as a weapon against you, and so forth.  Their tactics are obvious, sad, pathetic, and extremely powerful.  And shame on us for falling for them.  We often feel like we are the only ones who have to love such people.  But we ALL have to learn to love the unlovable in this life.  

I see occasional posts on social media touting things like,

"If they don't appreciate your love, do them a favor and remove it,"

or, "If people don't take the time to be in your life, don't waste yours on them!"

The world tells us often to take charge of our bad relationships and do what is good for US!  We all have this entitlement attitude of self-protecting, empowerment and we even at times, justify it as, "guarding our hearts," which IS Scriptural (Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it").  I do not believe that Christ calls us to waste our time incessantly loving people who drain us to a ridiculous degree, or who steal our joy and peace to a level that is unhealthy, ultimately getting in the way of our relationship with Him.  Jesus did not hang-out as, "buddies," with the Scribes and Pharisees who despised Him from day-one.  But even Jesus had flawed relationships within His inner circle.  When we think about His twelve disciples, we quickly see that even His closest friends were sinful people who betrayed and denied Him in the end.  Jesus knew about loving unlovable people--He loves all of us, and we're all flawed, sinful, and unlovable at our core.  As He hung on the cross in the worst pain and rejection anyone could ever endure, He displayed the greatest love anyone has ever displayed--He said, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing," (Luke 23:34a).  He could have said, "Father, smite them NOW!"  Isn't this what we too often pray when someone hurts us or doesn't value and reciprocate our love?  When we are hurting, we are all about justice and God's vengeance...and love flies right out the door of our hearts.

But again...WHY is it SO HARD to love the unlovable? 

Humility.  It demands utter humility.  We have to literally take up our cross and die to self.  We have to ignore insults.  We have to be bigger than the belittlement.  We have to deny our own needs and sacrifice our time, energy, and money.  We have to have mercy and take pity on the jealousy, and be complimented instead of offended by it.  We have to smile through our pain.  We have to pray a lot.  We have to trust God a lot.  We have to turn the other cheek.  We have to make conscious efforts to put our attention on our blessings and dispel the myth that our problems are greater.  We have to remember who we are in the Lord and place our entire identity in Him.  We have to believe God loves us and that it is enough.  Basically, we have to walk our talk.  We have to, "get over," ourselves and humble ourselves before the Lord and man to do any of those things--and they are very hard things to do for sinful, prideful people like us.

It is easy-breezy to love kind, thoughtful, lovely people.  It is easy to love those who steadfastly love us back, and who appreciate our love and don't abuse it.  But the ability to genuinely love unlovable people requires taking the road less traveled...and it is a narrow and rugged road.  It feels like a road in the pit of lowliness...but though rugged, it is actually the high road.

Speaking of rugged, I am reminded of the old hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross."  I remember when my first niece, Josephine, was born.  My sister [in-law] gave me the privilege of babysitting little Josie one evening, and told me that to put her to sleep, I should rock her and softly sing this old hymn, which was one of my sister's favorites.  She had begun the ritual of singing it to her and it had become a bedtime, "thing," for Josie.  So I sang it to her.  Sure enough, little Josie was out in a flash!  I always loved that old song myself...I sang it often while growing-up in my Baptist church back home.  But after singing it to my infant niece, it will forever be etched in my mind as, Josie's song.

I heard that old hymn on Christian radio the other day.  I, of course, thought about my beautiful, now 12-year old niece, Josie, but also about that old rugged cross.  I thought about how Jesus bled upon He carried it in utter He hung there thirsty, suffocating, facing utter He died on that rugged cross to pay for our sins, proving exactly how much He loved us.  It was a heavy load and a hard road for Him--it was a rugged one.  He was worn, torn, and ragged after bearing such a cross. 

Are you worn, torn, and ragged from bearing your, "rugged cross of love," for others? 

If so, then you are walking the good path and loving as Christ loved.  If loving others has always been easy for you, you have not yet been challenged or tested by fire in loving people as Christ loves us.  Perhaps you've been tested repeatedly in the past and finally passed the test--chances are, God will give you a re-quiz later to keep you sharp!  Loving others as Christ loved us is a rugged cross on a narrow road, my friends.

One day in the summer of 2012, I had received a phone call from a, "frenemy," who for whatever reason had decided to call me up and badger me...about, well, a lot of things.  She was rude, crass, and extremely hurtful in her words to me.  Before the nearly 1-hour conversation was over, she had sneakily insulted me, my daughter, and laughed at my self-deprecation as if it were true and then some.  It hit me on a day when I was weak, and it HURT.  I mean, it HURT.  I went to the pool that afternoon to swim some laps and read in the sun.  I was sobbing underneath my sun hat sitting alone in the corner facing a rock wall with my chair back to the pool patrons...I needed my space and then some.  I prayed and prayed that God would remove my tender, sensitive spirit and give me a thick skin through which no one could penetrate.  I begged Him to just easily and gently remove her from my life.  I said, "Lord, I am tired and I am weak.  Why do You keep giving me people to deal with who are horrible to me?  I am beat.  I'm over it.  I'm tired of always being the one to overlook the offenses and reciprocate love."  I heard God say, "Be the ONE. Just keep being the ONE."  I angrily stopped praying and looked up at the rock wall before me to see ONE, round rock amidst many square ones.  Then I again heard God say, "Be the ONE." I thought about that stupid round rock.  It made me mad.  It was a good symbol of the circle of love and how it comes back to what goes around comes around.  How God blesses us when we love the ways too numerous to count.  How others can be rigid and crass, but God commands us to be smooth, soft, and loving in our witness and testimony of what He has done for us and who WE ARE because of it.  How HE was, "THE ONE," in all of our lives.  He was, THE ONE, who loved sacrificially, and now it is our job, as people who bear His name, to pass that sacrificial love onto others.  It is who we are supposed to be.  It is who we are called to be.

I hated that rock that day.  In my rebellion and pain I didn't want any reminders about being more loving!  My attitude was, "Sorry, Lord...I gave at the office and then some!"  But I snapped a picture of the rock because when God shows up, it means something, even if you are ticked-off at the time!  Since God is my rock, it is perfect that He spoke to me through one.  Here is the picture of my rock:

God has been dealing with me a lot lately on my issues of, "love."  He has shown me that though I do not have to set myself up for constant abuse, which WOULD harm my heart and which I AM called to guard, I know that I need to watch that I am not only loving those who love me back.  If we cannot, "be the ONE," in the lives of those who are unlovable and sacrificially love in Christ's name and for His glory, our love is vain and selfish.

So where do we go when we sacrificially give and give and give our love until we are empty...utterly empty? 

We stop expecting to get horizontally refueled and go to the everlasting, vertical source of LOVE--our LORD.  We get over our entitlement that others should reciprocate our love and we get on our knees before God and ask Him to refill us.  Only He can and only He is able help us to, be the ONE
Selah and Amen.

Much love to you friends~

Related Scriptures:

Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves."

Matthew 7:12, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Matthew 5:44, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Matthew 16:24, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'"