After 9 years of living in Rhode Island, I feel like my identity is now entirely a Rhode Islander. Rhode Islanders are a particular breed with a unique culture. I don’t know if it comes from an insecurity complex from being the smallest state, but the people in Rhode Island are stubborn and blunt (nice way of saying mean). This is probably why I fit in so well.
Another reason I fit in so well is that I had a heart change. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to love other people. There is a popular Christian song that has a lyric “love is a verb.” I grew up hearing this song all the time. Different versions exist, but essentially the message is, “if you love someone you will show it and put the work in to show them.”
While that is true, I was never taught how hard it is to actually love people and show love to them. Sure, people who love us and like us are easy to love because usually, they are likable people. What about those people that disagree with you? Rub you the wrong way? Live a lifestyle you completely disagree with?
Maybe it is that they swear a lot. Maybe they are gay or transgender. Maybe they like having a lot of sex or drinking a lot. Maybe they hate God and religion. Maybe they think the Church is stupid, and so are the people that go. Maybe they just don’t care at all and can’t stand the fact that you are always talking about how blessed, loved, saved, redeemed, holy, perfect, and pure you are.
How do you love people like that!?!?!? Why would you even want to!?!?!?!?!?
I see dozens of students a week because I am consistently around campus, many open up to me quickly and know they can share problems with me. While each person is unique, I’m finding their stories are not unique at all.
I hear a variation of each of these every single week during the school year –
“I kind of believe in God and Jesus. I mean I really want too, it’s just that I have such a hard time with organized religion. There is so much tension to live a certain way, believe a certain set of beliefs, and make sure no one ever knows you are doubting or struggling in your faith.”
“Truthfully I don’t care at all about religion. I mean I grew up with my parents telling me it was important but once I got older they didn’t care as much. Besides, who needs religion? I’m all set in life.”
“Screw religion. I don’t need that crap (nice word). Look at all the ways Christians have hurt me, my family, or my friends”
WE have let them down
Each time I hear one of these, it breaks my heart. Somewhere along the way, we let them down. WE. As in, Christians. As in, not God but US. As in, it is our fault this perception is out there.
Somewhere we sent the message that following Jesus is about being perfect, or if you disagree with us, we’ll just ignore you. Maybe we send the message that you are inferior to us because we are more mature, more holy, don’t ever swear, and have a perfect life.
We might not even say it out loud but judgmental glances, comments, and reactions go a long way into determining how someone will feel when exploring a Christian community.
Come to think of it – so does your Facebook post.
Where did we get the idea that “loving like Jesus” means defending his integrity and taking attacks against God personally? What story are we basing our actions on? Are we even thinking about how we are being perceived?
Others Perception of you is your Reality
Have you ever thought about why so many people followed Jesus? – When you read the Gospels, there is always a crowd around Jesus! What about why the religious people were always annoyed with Jesus? – He always attracted bad people, sinners, and tax collectors. Jesus was a religious man, but he was not acting as a religious person should. What was his biggest ‘religious fault’? – Sinners liked him! (Matthew 9:9-13, John 4:1-26, Luke 19:1-10, etc.)
What if we had that perception today? What if people said things like, “I don’t agree with everything they believe but man they are so fun to be around.” or “I don’t know if I’ll ever be one but oh my gosh! The way Christians care for you. It’s amazing how much they love people.”
What if we were known for our love for people instead of what we are against in people?
Where do I even start?
As Peter was writing his letter, he includes how we can live a life that is pleasing to God. In that he says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:8- 10
Above all – love. Use your gifts to serve others (this shows love – remember love is a verb). The way we start showing love is to serve the people we have a hard time loving. Think about it, who in your life do you serve the most? Kids? Spouse? Friends? These are all people that we love and therefore serve.
If you are having a hard time loving someone or a group of someones – try serving them. Serving someone is a fast way to develop the heart and love God is calling us to.
Oh yeah, don’t grumble about it either!
But it’s soooooooo hard!
You are right. It is hard. In fact, there might not be anything more difficult than loving someone who we view as unlovable, not worthy, or just plain annoying.
I’ve been there.
I used to not love the LGBTQ community. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t post hurtful things about them online, I didn’t insult them. I just ignored them. Probably because I was fearful of getting close to anyone and the messiness (not their messiness, but mine) that a friendship would include.
One day I’m reading and reflecting on John 3. You know the famous verse. John 3:16, “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
What did that love cost Jesus? What did he have to do? He had to enter a messy world, with messy relationships, with people who didn’t deserve it, were unlovable and definitely annoying (here’s looking at you Pharisees).
Yet his response to that was to come anyway and enter the world to show his love in a very tangible way.
Aren’t you glad when he looked at your life he didn’t use the same excuses we have for not loving the people in our world? I for one, am glad he choose to enter the world even when we were hard to love and choose to love us anyway. I pray we do the same and change the perception that exists in our world today.
Who do you have a hard time loving? Have you found ways to love people even when it is hard? I’d love to hear about it! Please comment below or email me at the contact page.