[Introduction: James and I are beginning to write blog posts to answer some of the questions we most frequently receive (or don’t have time to answer) during our Textinar messages. Here’s one that’s been asked several times.]
Question: How do we love others that we don’t even like?
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” – Matthew 5:46-47
The Girl I Didn’t Like
I grew up at a swim club in upstate New York. Every summer, we lived at the pool. When it opened, we were there for swim lessons and swim team, and when it closed, we were the last ones out, with our coolers and water bottles now empty. It only made sense to start lifeguarding there as soon as I was old enough to be certified, and continue guarding there all through college.
During those years, I never realized how I was perceived by others as someone who was stand-off-ish. I felt so insecure around the other lifeguards (almost entirely girls), and acutely aware that I didn’t fit in, so I just didn’t say much and tried to look really pretty everyday. I found out later in life, that they all just thought I was stuck up and annoying.
So it only makes sense now why they teased me.
There was one guard in specific who I dreaded working with. As soon as I’d walk in the gate, the teasing would begin. She’d make fun of my jeans, pick on my little sister (who I fiercely loved), and all-around, say mean things until I felt super self-conscious and uncomfortable. (That being said, I got self-conscious very easily at that point in my life, so I may have reacted much more quickly than most would have.)
One day I saw that this girl and I were scheduled to close the pool together. I felt dread fill my stomach at the thought of seven hours working together — the last three hours being just her, me, and one other guard.
I don’t know why the idea suddenly came to me, but I decided to start praying — not that she’d be nicer, but that I could learn how to love her.
As our long day of guarding approached, I kept praying that my heart would change and I could show God’s love to her.
That long day of guarding didn’t start much differently than any other day would, but a couple hours before closing, we both were sitting down by the pool, when I started trying to have a conversation with her: asking about herself and listening. Maybe the only thing that changed was I didn’t seem so “high and mighty” as I apparently normally did, but for whatever reason, she started talking with me in a friendly way. She was actually kind of cool!
Go figure we got scheduled for another of those long shifts together. I kept praying. The shift started out like any other, but again we ended up sitting together down by the pool for a long time. Somehow, faith came up during that day’s conversation, and I got to share God’s love with her not only through actions, but also through words.
To make a long story short, by the end of the summer she said she wanted to start reading the Bible and going back to church, to learn more about God.
If I remember correctly, that was her last summer guarding. I don’t know what her life is like now, but I never stopped thinking of her.
When we don’t like someone — and sometimes for good reason, because they are mean to us — we can still learn to love them. It won’t be easy, but when it’s hard, that’s when it’s different from the rest of the world. That’s when it’s a picture of GOD’s love for us.
If you’re in a similar situation, here are some things that might help:
- Pray for your heart to change — that God would help you love the person you don’t like. This is an incredible opportunity for personal growth for YOU!
- Ask some people you trust (and who will be honest with you) if you’re acting in a way that could be hurting the person you don’t like. Maybe it’s a situation like I had, where I was unintentionally perceived as being stuck up. In that case, you can start to change the way you interact with that person, so that their perception of you can change over time.
- Pray for the person — not only that your relationship would improve, but also that God would heal his or her heart. As my mom likes to say, hurting people hurt people.
- Get advice from your adults you trust. Someone who sees the situation up close, and is older and wiser, can be a great asset as you figure out the best way to show God’s love.
- You don’t have to be close with someone to show God’s love to them. There are some people you will only love from afar. You can do this by praying for them and being kind to them whenever you see them. It’s like being friendly with someone versus being their friend.