I’ve been wondering for the last few weeks if I really and truly know how to love people. Although this thought was sparked by the incident of The Inconsiderate Ones and my resulting lack of respect for them, it actually has nothing to do with them, so stick with me on this.
People get on my last nerve sometimes. Like, the very last nerve on the very edge of my body. There are just times when someone will find that last nerve I have and get on it. They’ll do or say something stupid and work that very last nerve and I’ll want nothing more than to shoot laser beams at them with my eyes – maybe real laser beams, too – then put them on the back burner of my life, at least for a little while until I can wrap my mind around dealing with them again. This has happened a few times over the past several weeks and has left me wondering about my ability to love people.
For example, I have that one friend that we all have; the one who complains about everything on the face of the earth. Every. Single. Thing. If there’s a clear blue sky, this person can find the one cloud and turn it into a hurricane of epic proportions. They’re like Chicken Little and the sky is always falling, no matter how you try to help them see that it isn’t. It’s like they’re committed to being unhappy. I want to do this but someone else wants me to do that: problem. I want my kids to do this but they’re doing that instead: problem. Nobody ever listens to me: problem. I made some decisions that have resulted in a bad situation that is now threatening to wreck my life but it’s not my fault because nobody gets me! Problem! Problem! Problem!!
Worked my last nerve. I think they decided to put me on the back burner of their life for a while, since our last conversation ended with them reaching that last very nerve I have and me basically telling them to get over themselves. They were annoyed with me, and I was so over them. Now, how do I love this person? Mostly what I feel when I think of them is exasperation.
I took my thinking further. You know I live my life for Jesus, right? I try to obey Him and my prayer is that I become more like Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit and in my daily choices. Well, in John 15:13 (NLT), Jesus says:
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Wait, what? Lay down my life? As in, die? When I first started contemplating this verse, that’s exactly what I thought it meant, that I should be willing to die for the people who I profess to love. Not gonna lie, this alarmed me because, other than God, there are zero people in my life that I would willingly choose to die for. Not one. I would try to help them – of course, I would – but I wouldn’t consciously choose to die for them. I thought something was wrong with me, that perhaps my heart towards others was hard and I must not love them at all.
But God took me deeper, still. Yes, of course Jesus died for us but in this verse I don’t think He’s telling us to physically die for people. He’s telling us to die to ourselves for those we love. It means thinking about and doing what’s best for them, which is not necessarily what pleases them or what makes them feel soft and fuzzy towards me. It means caring for them in practical ways, like doing them a favour when they need it and it’s in my power to help. It means making myself uncomfortable for them, like staying up late or getting up early so I can be the listening ear that they need. And it means not putting them on the back burner of my life even though I really, really want to.
All these weeks I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around how to love the people who have been getting on my last nerve because I certainly don’t feel loving towards them. But you see, it took all that time to bring to my recollection something that I knew long ago but have forgotten in my recent solitary life. That is, love is an action, not a feeling. Love is what I do despite how I feel.
I’m sure Jesus’ disciples worked His last nerve from time to time: Peter running his mouth, talking about what he didn’t know (Mark 8:32); Judas with his shady behaviour (Luke 22:6, 21); and none of them had His back when He needed their emotional support the most (Mark 14:50). Plus, once Jesus’ ministry kicked into high gear, they all must have spent a lot of time together as a travel team and you know how the people who are closest to you can get on your nerves when you’re all emotionally tired. But although His disciples must have caused Jesus occasional eye roll-worthy frustration, He served them (John 13:5), He looked out for them when they were emotionally exhausted (Mark 6:31) and He corrected them when necessary (Mark 10:13-14). He didn’t let His feelings about their shortcomings or inadequacies change how He loved them. In fact, how he loved them actually had nothing to do with His feelings in the first place.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally got this about all these people who I’m supposed to love, who I’ve told I love on multiple occasions but who work my very last nerve and leave me not feeling the love at all. Just because I don’t feel those warm and fuzzy feelings – which come and go, by the way, and are therefore not at all dependable – doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. Loving them means doing the right thing for them with the right motives in my heart.
Now, to stop thinking about all of this and do it.