Learning to Love the Unlovely

Love the One You're With
Learning to Love the Unlovely
By Tammy Darling

What would it look like to love the person in front of me — even if this person annoys me, criticizes me, belittles me, or even scares me?

When this question was put to me recently, I had to do some serious thinking. I knew I didn’t treat everyone with the same love and acceptance — some people just didn’t look “worthy” or “safe” in my eyes.

In today’s society loving some people could be downright dangerous. While this may be the case in a few extreme situations, I must admit that I have used this excuse as justification for avoiding certain strangers I come into contact with. Even those with obvious needs have at times frightened me away.

Loving the unlovely doesn’t come naturally. It goes against our nature to love those who don’t have something to give in return — even if that something is simply their acceptance.

Since pondering the above question, I have realized that my spur-of-the-moment responses toward others are a very clear indication to what is going on in my own heart. Take telemarketers, for example. My immediate response has always been to put up a wall — my tone was anything but friendly and the majority of the time I hung up on them. They were interrupting my family life, after all!

Unfortunately, I had lost sight of the fact that they are innocent people simply trying to make a living.

Dealing with the people who populate our everyday lives can easily frustrate, annoy, or even anger us. These negative attitudes then become embedded in our hearts and become the main focus of our thoughts Outward symptoms, such as eye rolling, sarcasm, criticism, complaining, gossiping, and cynicism, become routine. All these and more can be signs that we do not value others as people whom God loves.

The busyness of my life has a tendency to make me become self-absorbed. I can easily become so caught up in my own life to the exclusion of the lives of others. My self-absorption can lead me to become cross with my kids for interrupting me, impatient with the bank teller when she makes a mistake, and angry with the slow driver holding me up from where I need to go — as though it’s all about me.

But, thankfully, I am discovering that the less I am the point of my life, the more my life has a point.

At times our reactions may even seem justified. For instance, when the teenage driver cuts us off, indignation rises up within. How dare he! I, for one, have often wanted to ram such drivers to “teach them a lesson.”

Regardless of what we try to tell ourselves, the simple fact is that no matter where we are or whom we come across in the course of our lives, we can love the one we’re with — even if it’s only for 10 minutes. How? By trusting God with those difficult and “scary” people. Our trust in God enables us to be kind to the ungrateful, to be patient with the impatient, and in essence, to love the unlovely.

The kind of love God calls us to requires a heart transformation. The transformation begins with cultivating a right heart—a heart of good will towards others. This cultivation includes confession, prayer, obedience, and service.

Loving the person in front of us often requires that we find some common ground. Connecting with others can start as simply as finding and sharing common experiences. When we do so, we take the spotlight off ourselves enabling us to focus on others.

While we are all different, we’re also alike in many ways. Finding common ground isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It doesn’t have to be an earth shaking connection — a little oneness can go a long way toward developing a love for someone that works itself out in kindness, prayer, or service.

So what does loving the one you’re with look like in action?

* It may mean remaining silent when your spouse says something unkind to you.
* It may mean turning the other cheek when a co-worker blatantly degrades you.
* It may mean putting your fear aside to aide the homeless man on the street corner.
* It may mean smiling and being patient with the slow check-out clerk, even when you’re in a hurry.
* It may mean lifting up a prayer for the driver who nearly swiped your car.
* It may mean refusing to mouth off to the neighbor that is constantly complaining about your dog, your kids, your noise level, etc.
* It may mean serving anyone, at any time God leads.

Real life requires real love. Love the one you’re with.

—Tammy Darling writes from her home in Three Springs, Pensylvania, where she also homeschools her four daughters.