"And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:39
How does one really love their neighbor? Over the past few years, it seems that the messages I hear about love are just increasing all the time- it's clearly an important subject. Love is the key to everything- God Himself is love, and it's something that we really need to get into us and learn to utilize. And yet, sometimes it can be so hard!
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Ephesians 4:2
Sometimes we just run out of patience, or we grow tired of bearing with someone in love when they're being so difficult. I think of that often. The last few times I've heard a message on love, I just took a minute to talk to God about it and ask Him "what about those people who just drive me batty?" How do we learn to love someone who seems annoying to us at times? And how do we love someone who just seems to make it difficult to love them?
Well, I was thinking on this again this week, and kind of asking God about my questions when I got a very clear answer in my head. I thought about my children, and I just knew that God was showing me the answer. I love my children. More than anything, I love them so completely, and every day I marvel at the fact that my heart hasn't burst, I have so much love for them. And yet, there are times where I don't like them all that much. Those days when neither of them have gotten enough sleep and they are fighting and arguing all day long, and all I want is for the day to end so they can go to bed. I don't want to spend time with them because they are so unpleasant. And yet... And yet I still love them with all my heart.
It almost made me laugh when I had this thought, because it was ridiculously obvious once I thought about it. Yes, I may find that person annoying over there from time to time, but you know what? I can still love them- I don't have to like all their actions in order to love them. If that person were going through a hard time and needed a boost, I wouldn't stand back and think to myself that I don't want to help them out because they annoy me sometimes. No- I would help as I was able, and pray for them, and let the love of God work through me to minister to them.
Loving others is not about some mystical journey where we all walk around professing our undying love to everyone we meet. It's not like that. Learning to love those around you is not like some crazy hippie movement from the sixties. I imagine that there are times when God looks down at us and sees what we're doing, and says, "Hey, you know I love you, but you're being really stupid right now. Knock it off." It's more about learning to reach down inside ourselves, and finding the love that God already planted there, and then using it.
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10
We are God's workmanship, and as such, we have a whole boatload of love hiding inside of us, just waiting to be pulled out and utilized. God put it there in advance so that we would have it when needed. The two greatest commandments are to love God first, and then to love our neighbors. He made it possible for us to accomplish this by putting the love there in the first place. Jesus is love. When we asked Him into our lives and our hearts, He moved in and brought an endless supply of love with Him. It is our job to utilize this precious resource that is within us and share it with those around us.
So yes, that person over there may be annoying from time to time. And that person over there may have a personality quirk that you'd rather not be around sometimes. Or another person may just come across as brash and irritating sometimes, and that's all okay. You don't have to learn to love some one's bad behavior- you have to learn to love the person behind the behavior. I can have the naughtiest kid on the planet- one who needs to be grounded for a few weeks and sent to their room for several hours, but I will always love them. My heart will always be full to the brim with love for my children- no matter what their behavior- and we have it within us to take this idea of loving our children unconditionally, and applying it to other people.
But maybe you're reading this and you don't have children- you don't know what I'm talking about. Well, how about your parents? Oh, I remember very clearly as a teenager, those days where I really, really didn't like my parents. Those days when punishment was doled out I really didn't like my parents at all... and yet, I still loved them. It may have felt like that love was really far away and really deep down inside, but I still loved them, regardless of how mad they made me at the time. In the same way, a neighbor really could make me angry beyond belief at times, but deep down, I know I still need to love them.
In those situations, when someone makes you angry, I almost always make it a point to say something to God. "You want me to love this person? Grr" But then I am always reminded that I am to love this person, and when I think on that- maybe ever so briefly, but that always lessons the anger- even just a little bit.
Loving your neighbor is not some crazy impossible task that Jesus set out there before us, and we'll never realize. We will realize. We do realize- I just think that we forget that people are people, and there will always be things we disagree with or prefer to not spend time around, and that's okay. Love is not impossible- not even a little impossible. It's more than possible, and when we start thinking like that, we'll find even more love hiding within us, just waiting to give it away.
Way back in the early 1990's, renowned artist Michael W. Smith was singing about this very thing. Over ten years later, it's even more relevant. I want to send you over to a Youtube video of him singing it live- it won't let me embed it here on the blog like I usually do. It's worth the five-and-a-half minutes to head over and check it out. Give it a listen, you won't be disappointed. Have a wonderful weekend- and look for an opportunity to give some love away. When we look for it- we will find it.