A few years ago, I wrote a post called “As Yourself.” It briefly explored the idea of loving yourself, as we are called to do from Mark 12:31. But what about the other part of that verse? The love your neighbor part? This verse has been examined with a fine-tooth comb, and I don’t intend to do any further monumental digging. I do, however, want to investigate my own response to others. Do I even know what loving others the way Jesus calls us to really looks like? Let’s dive in.
I’m a moody soul. I recently took the Enneagram test (See bottom of this post for more info), and it essentially told me I care a lot about myself and my own deep emotions… but not so much about small talk or being a shoulder to lean on. Maybe true, but ouch. I mean, I do get easily aggravated by others. I have even been known to tune other people out, with a few strategic “mhm” and “ahh”s to appear attentive. Does that sound like anyone you would want to be friends with? Probably not, but I would brave to say that you’ve done the same a time or two. Although we are made in the image of Jesus, we have strayed. So let me take it a step further and really show my ass here for a minute (Figuratively, of course).
Throughout grade school, I remember the first day of class with striking clarity. I would do something that I cannot even believe I am admitting right now. In fact, I had to pause and decide if I really wanted to go here. (Now you’re probably on the edge of your seat for what I’m about to say, right?) I would sit at my desk and scrutinize each classmate, one at a time. I would look at their clothes, hairstyle, backpack (had to make sure they didn’t have a rolling one), and form an opinion. Would making friends with this person make me cooler? I shit you not folks, I did this same thing for years. Now I probably don’t even have to tell you that this lead to a lot of very volatile relationships, and surface level friendships. I had begun tolerating others to get ahead, rather than investing in others to learn their heart. This memory shatters me to this day.
I had a roommate in college, which feels like another lifetime. that I honestly did NOT love well. I would define her as “too nice,” if that is even a thing. She was constantly baking, cleaning, fixing, tutoring… and any other angelic activity you could think of. I mean, I would not be surprised to find this girl in a nursing home on a Friday night knitting socks and playing the piano. I have my shortcomings y’all, and one of them is walking all over people that are too nice. My personality is rough, intense, and overbearing. I don’t mean to make myself sound like the school bully… but in this situation the shoe fits. I was constantly making her feel small, I’m sure. Snarky comments said in passing, taking advantage of her good works, and so on. This particular relationship keeps me up at night. We went our separate ways and no longer have any communication, which was probably for the best for her sake. Does any of that sound like good love to you?
Throughout my life I have gone on various “love-others” binges, high off of some church sermon. This usually consisted of sacrificing my time volunteering or hanging out with someone I would have considered weird, for lack of a better term. Each stint was brief, and ended with me feeling pretty proud of myself and my admirable behavior… as I settled back into my selfish ways once again. Is that what being a good person is? Does loving others really require so much forced, and even faked, effort? Not hardly.
It is not enough to simply tolerate others. Jesus presents a radically different idea that we are to invest our time and love in EVERY person placed in our path. We are to love well, every time. I have recently been brought to my knees by the revelation that, not only do I not know how to love well, I’m not sure I’ve ever loved at all. Now, this may be a slight exaggeration, but to Jesus’ standard I have failed. No doubt. Let’s go back to the verse. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Okay, got it. I’ve got two neighbors. Shouldn’t be too hard. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that the love doesn’t stop there. You see, essentially every person you come into contact with is a neighbor, of sorts. Someone in close proximity to you that you must interact with. They are living life alongside you = they are your neighbor. Oh crap. How in the actual hell am I going to love everyone in the world when I can’t even successfully put my own family on the “People I Love Well” list. Hold the dramatic inner monologue, there’s more.
I am certain there are at least a few of you that have been seriously burned by love. You were vulnerable, it was used against you, and you know better than to make that mistake again. And you’re right. People are painfully broken, and will use your weakness against you. You’re reading from a recovering bully like this, actually. But to love others does not mean to put yourself in a place of weakness or inferiority. At least, it doesn’t have to mean that. I think I was trying to eat the whole horse in one bite, instead of one bite at a time (is that even a saying? Connor says no… let me know.)
I now think loving others starts with patience, for me. The question isn’t “what can this person do for me?, but it should become “How can I leave this person better off than when I found them?” That’s an easy concept, and has probably been the conclusion of many sermons on this topic. But that’s because it’s true. Jesus sacrificed EVERYTHING for people who would never do the same. I don’t know about you, but I am hard-pressed to even sacrifice a dollar for someone who wouldn’t do the same. Reciprocity is nice, but it is not a requirement for love. In fact, there are no requirements for love. Hence, unconditional love. Get it? Losing the conditions is the hard part, and we may never fully drop them on this side of heaven. It starts with things like patience, though. Pick a fruit of the spirit that you have been seriously neglecting, and try to incorporate it into every interaction you have for the day. Then the week. Start small you guys, loving others doesn’t always look like selling your belongings and walking barefoot through the jungle. (if it does though, you’re a badass for real.) Sometimes loving on others looks like spare change in a coffee cup, an extra seat at the table for an outsider, or even lending an ear for a few needed minutes. Love can be tiny and sneaky like that.
The second part of this discovery is a harder question to answer. Do I think I am more important than others I come into contact with? Frankly, yes. I have operated under that very assumption for years. And if you are the same personality type as me (Type A/ strong/ independent/ power seeker), then you may find this to be true of you as well. As Millenials, I think there are more and more of us that believe this. Just look at Instagram; people obsessed with their own likes, followers, and comments. “Engaging” is a fancy term bloggers use to mean commenting and liking pictures as a way of driving traffic back to their own page. God forbid we actually interact with others because we are friends and care about their lives. I digress, but the point is simple: the minute we stop caring so much about ourselves and status, we immediately open up room to care for others and love them fully. Are you making an effort to clear out the selfish, or are you realizing right about now that you may be a little too vain for comfort? Either way, take inventory of your thoughts. I preach on taking your thoughts captive because it is good practice for growth in any aspect of life. You can control your beliefs/thoughts/practices, regardless of what you have taken as truth in the past. Each day is new friends, and there are a whole lot of people that need loving on.
If anything, this post is a wake up call for me. I’m glad we don’t get report cards as adults, because I would surely be failing in the “works well with others” category. I am extended grace upon grace though, by a pretty cool Father who has enough love to replenish you a 1000 times over. So if you’re still reading, spend time asking Him how to clear out the cobwebs, and make room for amazing, unconditional love that we were made to give and receive.
** If you are interested in learning more about the Enneagram, your personality type, and how you “tick,” you need to buy this book. It has shaken my foundation, and I am so grateful. ALSO, if you choose to buy it, please use the link below, so that I get credit for your purchase! Thank you so much for spending time with me today!