By Alicia Searl, Crosswalk.com
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Matthew 22:37-39
I sat there somewhat shyly, smiling on the outside, but the inside was gurgling with raw and real emotions. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In all honesty, after a while, I began to tune her out, and at some point, these intrusive thoughts started to form in my mind as if out of nowhere, and let me tell you, they weren't pretty.
Fury grew, and bitterness plagued my heart. Unfortunately, that encounter came home with me as it rubbed off on my family, and my poor hubby got the brunt of my wrath. When he ever so carefully asked what was wrong, I snapped. My retort caused the room to immediately be filled with tension that could've easily been cut with a steak knife. My whole mood shifted from the sweet and friendly wife he kissed earlier that morning to the "tread lightly" wife he came home to that evening. His reaction of slowly stepping back rather than coming in for his usual hug only proved that I had lost it, and he was proceeding with caution.
As I went on about this and that, all while justifying my feelings, he just sat and listened with an occasional nod. His unresponsive reaction caused me to pause. Why wasn't he as mad as I was? Why wasn't he saying anything? Didn't he understand?
Then, it hit me – at that moment, I was being unapproachable and, well, not so lovable! Sadly, I had allowed my ill feelings for this person to build and build until it eventually consumed me. The bitter seed I had planted (quite a while ago, might I add) only grew, eventually stealing away the love I freely gave to my family.
We will all come across people who will rub us the wrong way, whether it is in the workplace, at church, in our friend groups, with a neighbor, or with a family member. Yet, we are commanded to love others in a selfless way (1 Peter 3:8). Yes, selfless. But as you may already know, that is often easier said than done. Because, maybe, like me, you want to be heard and understood. So, how exactly do we love others selflessly in the way we are called to?
Let's Address Love First
If Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and then to love others as ourselves, it may be important to understand what love looks like to our God. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 defines love like this: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
As believers, we are called to love one another in this manner. However, this may sound like a rather lengthy and unattainable list. And quite honestly, we will fall short and fail others. That's because we can't love with compassion and sincerity on our own; our selfish nature will always come out. But, when we seek God with our whole heart and strive to put Him first, He will make subtle changes to our hearts, equipping us to cope with challenging and difficult relationships, subsequently learning how to love (and see) others the way He does.
Rely on the Holy Spirit
What a beautiful promise that Jesus offers us through the Holy Spirit. As believers, the spirit dwells within us and offers to intercede on our behalf. In essence, the Holy Spirit is like our compass, leading and guiding us. Helping us seek truth while gaining wisdom. When responding to those that are a little more difficult to love, we can always lean into the Holy Spirit and seek discernment on how to respond with grace and poise.
The Holy Spirit will offer us ways to love others first, putting our selfish ways aside. It will gently call us to embrace forgiveness and slowly let go of resentment that only causes us harm. It will remind us that understanding may not be attained in this world, but God always understands the depth of our hearts.
Consider Their Story
We may never truly know what others are facing or what may be causing them to react in an unapproachable, unusual, or unloving way. If we get a little uncomfortable and try to seek to understand their story by gently approaching them with love, we may be surprised at what we find. It's been said that hurt people hurt people, and I have to agree with that. When wounds are fresh, we tend to be slightly numb or raw with our feelings. Greif, pain, and sorrow change us, and healing takes time. That person may never be the same, so we must learn to love them where they are.
We must also realize that our own stories and emotions play a part in how we respond to others. If we walk a journey of healing, that may cause us to put a guard up, making others hesitant to draw close to us. So, give yourself grace and space to rest and recover (Isaiah 41:10).
Temper Your Thoughts
Our mind is a battleground, and Satan is constantly trying to mettle in our business and lives, force-feeding us lies. Please don't listen! We mustn't entertain those thoughts; they do nothing but bring us down and aim to carry as many people down with us.
Remember how I tried to take my husband down with me in my heated fury? I was mad, and I wanted him to be mad too. I wanted him to feel the way I did. All because I had allowed bitterness to grow and take hold of my thoughts.
Just remember that if it doesn't align with God's Word, it isn't Truth! Where God will convict us and the form of discipline comes from a posture of love, Satan will condemn us and brings us into a downward spiral of feeling unworthy. We must recognize the differences and fight to protect our minds from the deceiver's evil tactics.
Bite Your Tongue
I hate to admit it, but my emotions sometimes get the best of me, and I will rattle off things I quickly regret. However, over the course of our 20-year marriage, I am learning the art of biting my tongue and keeping my mouth shut—still a work in progress.
While I still spit out words I don't mean from time to time, I am so grateful for a husband that easily forgives. But, that being said, we must realize that our words are powerful. When we utter hurtful words, they can cause grave damage in the heat of the moment. We must think before we speak, especially if we have raw emotions.
When dealing with people who seem to be a tad bit unlovable, as much as we may want to blast something back in response to an unruly statement, we must bow out and instead respond with dignity and remain neutral. A simple head nod or a sincere statement that shows you heard them, but will not give in to anger, can go a long way.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, discerning if they hold their tongues. Proverbs 17:28
Pray for Them
Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45), including those we see or deem as not so easy to love. The truth is, when we pray for them, we begin to see them in a different way. Our hearts soften, and something profound happens – God gives us a chance to understand the greatness of His incredible and indescribable love for us.
While we are all sinners and fall short of His grace and goodness, He still extended sacrificial and unconditional love on the cross. Praying for others (and ourselves when we are being a bit unlovable) causes us to recognize that love is not meant to be conditional but to be given freely, without regard for mishaps, faults, or failures.
A Prayer to Love All
Lord, You are so good to me, and I thank You for the people You have brought into my life. Please forgive me when I fail to see others the way You do. I ask that you change my heart and speak truth into my life. Bring down conviction in areas where I need to grow and soften my heart in the relationships that test me. Help me love others so passionately that they see You in me. I ask all this in Your Holy Name. Amen.
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.