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?