Loving the Hard to Like
We know about loving our friends and our enemies, but what about the people in-between?
Some people are just harder to love than others—we all have that gregarious friend we liked the moment we met them—but love is not easy, even when you love a lovable person.
Love does not mean you are filled with warm, fuzzy feelings. It is not a big purple dinosaur dispensing free hugs and sing-along songs. True love goes against our very nature.
Love is both a wonderful bliss and a promise of pain. It carries with it the risk of loss and an almost unbearable threat: It requires us to risk our wants, desires and priorities for the sake of someone else. The real challenge of love is that it requires us to be selfless when we are all selfish by nature. Love, then, is a defiance of our own instinct.
When the person for whom we take these risks is easy to love and loves us in return, the notion seems reasonable. But what about everyone else? Are we really expected to set aside what we want and desire for some person we don’t even know? Is that what love means? Is that what love does? If so, that’s not an easy pill to swallow.
In the Church, we talk about loving our enemies. But truth be told, our enemies are not the hardest people to love. It’s not those who antagonize us, but the pariahs, the socially awkward—the people with boundary issues, the guy with the wildly inappropriate jokes, the girl who talks like she’s paid by the word count—who pose the real challenge.
Some people are just unlikable. Try as you might, you cannot muster the desire to spend time with them. You don’t want to talk to them, and when given the opportunity, you will go out of your way to avoid the awkward, culturally expected niceties.
We tell ourselves we love them; we just don’t want to spend time with them or be seen in public with them. One trick we are taught to master from a young age is the ability to justify. We rationalize not liking certain people because they just aren’t likable.
Yet Jesus has the audacity to tell us to love other people. Not just that, He says it’s the second most important commandment in all the law. The only thing more important than loving other people is loving God Himself.
But surely Jesus doesn’t understand what He’s asking of us. He doesn’t have to smell the close-talker at work who has yet to discover the purpose of soap. He hasn’t had to have a lengthy conversation with the woman who shares intimate details about the lives of her cats. No, Jesus doesn’t realize how hard it is. It’s not like the people He came to love nailed Him to a cross.
Our problem isn’t that we don’t know how to love but that we mistake love for an emotion. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes love. Scripture defines it in two ways: what love is and what loves does. What love does is a direct result of what love is. Nowhere in Paul’s description does he talk about feelings. Love is not a feeling—it is an act of valuing others as much as we value ourselves.
The Greeks were much more specific with their words for love. They had not one, but four separate words to describe what we call love. One of the most common, phileo essentially means a love of that which is lovable. This is the world’s standard of love. You love what makes you feel good. You hate what does not. Too often our love looks like the love of everyone around us.
Jesus says we will be known by our love. That means our love should stand out. If we love people who are likable and fun, how are we any different from anyone else?
If we had only one word to describe God that word would be love. If only one idea could express the core of who He is, that idea would be love. God is love. This is without a doubt the most defining characteristic of His nature.
Only through the power and grace of God can we truly and consistently love others. It is our love that transforms us into the image of Jesus—for we never look more like Him than we do when we love. When we love each other with the love of God, our lives become testimonies to the power and the person of God, and when others see it, many of them will be drawn to it.
We are not just called to love. We are called to love those whom no one else loves. We are called to love unlikable and unlovely people. Unlovely people are unlovely for a reason. It is not because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.
It is easy to write people off because loving them does not come naturally. Love rarely does. Real love is never easy.
Loving an unlikable person does not mean you have to make them your new “bestie.” Loving someone means valuing them, treating them with respect and not thinking you are superior to them.
None of us were likable, yet God did not write us off the way we write off others. He reached out. He did something we did not ask for. He gave us something we did not deserve. God gave us love expressed not in a feeling but in an action. He sent His son to die in our place so that through Him we might be adopted into the family of God.
If God could do that for us, what stops us from loving others? Love is not about the one you love, it is about the one doing the loving. God loved us because God is love. We love others not because it is easy but because God loves us.