Learning to Love

Posted on: May 10, 2016 Written by
Learning to Love
Photography by: Thom_Morris from iStock          

One of my favorite Sara Groves’ songs says, “Loving a person just the way they are, it’s no small thing, it’s the whole thing.” She must have been a global worker in a past life.

Loving people was never much of a problem for me until I got to the field. Lots of things became problematic for me once I became a global worker, and “other people” topped the list. How could it be that all of a sudden I had become such a jerk? Why were relationships so difficult?

I slowly realized that my relationships, up until that point, were largely based on my feelings. People who were easy to be around, who made me feel good, were my friends—people who weren’t, simply were not my friends. A highly-regimented schedule that avoids painful and problematic relationships is a luxury I can have in the States. I had never understood what it actually meant to really love someone.

For the past eight years, I have been learning how to love, but I am a slow learner. This does not come easily to me. When my emotions toward another person are not loving, I sometimes pity myself, feel bitter, or withdraw my heart in order to punish the other person.

However, God is faithful, and He has been teaching me about loving other people. I do a lot of things wrong, but one thing I am getting better at is simply “showing up.” God is helping me to keep coming back to a relationship, time and time again, when my emotions tell me to be done with it. God is supplying the strength to act on my commitment to the relationship as well as trust in Him—trust that He will bring my emotions along.

Paul Miller’s book, A Loving Life, has been supremely helpful to me. On the subject of “showing up,” he says:

Almost every ancient culture knew that unchecked feelings were dangerous. Even the Greek Stoics knew that if you followed your desires you were headed for disaster. Our culture has created an idol out of feelings and become enslaved to them. We have become emotional chameleons, captive to our mercurial desires. ‘Being happy all the time, pretending to be happy, actually attempting to be happy—it is exhausting,’ writes novelist Stephen Marche in The Atlantic. Marche quotes a study on happiness: ‘Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness.’

True authenticity, when I am obeying in spite of my emotions, always makes me feel dislocated. My feelings say ‘drop out,’ but my commitment says ‘hang in there.’ If I hang in there, eventually my feelings will right themselves and will catch up with my obedience. (p. 60–61)

As the Lord gives strength to continue showing up in relationships that are difficult, something happens in my heart. I begin to understand why my friend is the way she is, and I even empathize with her. I remember that we are more similar than we are different. My eyes open to blind spots in the relationship: areas where I am difficult to love and need to grow.

There are lots of good reasons to love others. God tells us to do it. It is good for our health. It makes for a happier life. It is the kind thing to do.

Ultimately, however, we must love others because we—even in our most difficult moments—have been loved by a patient, understanding, and empathetic God, One who always shows up.

 

Questions to consider: How have you seen “showing up” help in difficult relationships?

 

©2016 Thrive.



About the author

Cara Herzberg, Senegal, West Africa. Cara and her husband do holistic community development in a rural setting in Senegal. At the moment, Cara's community development consists of raising three children under the age of three. They have lived in Senegal for five years. Her favorite thing about being a missionary is seeing the incredible ways God meets her as she slugs it out in the desert, and the food. Before the kids came, Cara enjoyed running, surfing, rock climbing, and lots of other fun things. Now she enjoys sleeping.

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  • Carla Adkinson Talley

    Wow!! This really hit home with me today! Since moving to a new country from the States over a year ago (Trinidad West Indies), I’ve experienced the difficulty of relationships first hand. I never thought about how easy it was to have friends in the States and how MUCH my feelings played a part in those relationships. “I slowly realized that my relationships, up until that point, were
    largely based on my feelings. People who were easy to be around, who
    made me feel good, were my friends—people who weren’t, simply were not
    my friends.” This is SO TRUE!! I have always known that friendships take work…known it in my head, that is. But it’s only been in this past year that I’ve experienced the hard work it takes to begin relationships and grow them. I have experienced the self-pity, bitterness and withdrawal of my heart. I am just now beginning to realize that showing up in spite of my feelings is definitely the right thing to do. So many times in this past year, I’ve made excuses for my not showing up, such as, they must not really want my friendship, or, I just don’t have time for this pettiness, or, how can they treat anyone they way they just treated me?! “Me” and “I” have been huge obstacles in my new relationships. So I not only have to show up over and over again, but I have to put my own feeling and insecurities aside and do the hard work that’s necessary to develop deep relationships that I will one day look back on and smile..the kindred spirits in life don’t come without some hard work no matter what country I live in. Thanks so much for your encouraging words!! God knew I needed this at this very moment. 🙂

    • Cara Herzberg

      Carla, thanks for sharing what is happening in your life. I just prayed for you, that God would give you the strength and grace to keep showing up, and to fight the bitter roots that can so easily grow up in our hearts. After almost 9 years on the field, I am just starting to see some fruit in some of my most difficult relationships. Don’t give up, He won’t give up on you!