Let’s get this out there — some people are just plain difficult to love. I hate to admit it. Yet, even if they move on, soon I find this person is replaced by another. I don’t know why, but I always seem to have one of these folks in my life.
I had this roommate in college who was loud, messy and stayed up way too late. She sort of disrupted my life. And I think she never actually got my hints: my subtle silent treatment, my whispered “huffs,” or my deliberate tossing and turning as she flipped on the light after mid-night. “What was she thinking? This was time to grow up, be an adult, go to bed by 11, to get up at 7 for early classes.”
Much later I had this neighbor who liked to talk a lot and a lot about himself. I very much wanted to avoid him. It was much easier to stay behind my closed door and welcome mat, or look this way and that way, before coming out of the house.
It is kind of funny now looking back and remembering some of these incidences — the times I avoided someone, didn’t listen, spent more time “huffing and puffing” than trying to communicate openly or just plain wished them away. Honestly though, it makes me sad and ashamed when I think about my lack of patience, kindness, and understanding. So why is it difficult for me to have empathy with someone?
What would Jesus do?
Basically, in the book of Philippians, Paul says that Jesus “stooped.” He who is God took on flesh to be among us. He condescended to live in a harsh, smelly, loud, lonely, unforgiving, and self-focused world. I imagine even the most perfect of days couldn’t come close to a day in heaven. I bet the beauty on earth was just a tiny reflection of the beauty that would one day fill the earth. And I know the love, relationships, victories and the good experienced on earth was pale in comparison to what Jesus experienced with His Father. Yet for some reason He emptied Himself. He humbled Himself and became obedient, for me. Yes, Jesus stooped.
…but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:7-8
Is it trying harder?
Sometimes, if I try harder I am a better listener. If I put it on my radar, I can “schedule” people or take time out for others. But usually, the people most difficult to love are people a little closer to home. They are the people I run into everyday: roommates, family, neighbors and co-workers. And the very people I am to love the most, I struggle to love, feel rejected by or so desperately want to change. My empathy is truly tested and I can’t always find the love or even the “like” I need. Avoidance, hardening my heart or distraction are easier remedies with these people. And it seems like it always come down to this choice, “Do I move away from them or move toward them?”
True love can’t be just a nice feeling, for if it is, I am not feelin’ it often. But it is action lived out even with the difficult to love roommate, parent, or boss. Jesus says that His love involved stooping. Now I don’t mean, we are putting ourselves above others and we are coming down to their level, no, actually the opposite.
Stooping like Jesus
On campus there is a building that has a long wide staircase adorning the front. At the top of these stairs are massive white columns. Both give this building a grand, imposing look. As I stand at the bottom of all the stairs I feel as if someone important should come out of the doors, between the columns, stiff and stately, slowly descending the stairs.
This is not how Jesus came.
Stooping like Jesus is actually putting others above us, considering their needs first. It is putting them up higher on the stairs of that building. It is really hearing a person, and having flexible time in my schedule to stop with people. It is moving toward and not away. It is choosing sometimes to have lunch with others in the lunchroom or cafeteria so I can engage with them, instead of off by myself. It is reaching out and calling or talking with the family member who has rejected me. It is moving toward and not away.
When I stoop like Jesus I love like Jesus.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philipians 2:3,4
Stooping is not natural
My flesh likes to speak to me negatively about these kind of things, and most frequently through my feelings. And it is so persuasive! It is much easier to be angry, bitter, justified and unforgiving than to stoop. For some reason those things feel so natural. To think of myself first is a little like breathing. I just do it!
But then I find that life is much fuller when I stoop. I don’t know what it is or how God does it actually, but as His Spirit works in me and through me, there is so much more to give than I can muster up. The forgiving life is so much more freeing then the bitter life. The giving life is so much more full than the selfish life. This is the life I want. This is the life God offers us each day and every day. And God in His grace and mercy knows this is what is best for us, for He has always been a giving God. That is central to who He is. Stooping is giving.
My prayer lately has come from an AA prayer I once heard. One line of it says something like this:
“Bless them, Change me”
I am praying this more frequently lately.
- When I encounter the person who is “in my way” or disrupting my life, I pray this prayer.
- When I would rather the person to “go away” I pray this prayer.
- When I feel rejected, I pray this prayer.
God knows, and He wants to change us so we become more like Christ. God knows I need these people in my life that make life a little more difficult, a little more challenging. He knows I need people that make me look to Him and press into Him. Only Jesus can change my heart and even change my prayer from, “Take them away,” to “Bless them, Change me.”
Overflow: allowing God’s ways to touch our lives and then our lives to pour out to others
Who right now is difficult to love?
What is one step you can take to move toward this person?