I was once working with a wise woman teaching a Bible study and she told a story of a relative in a tough situation. This relative was having conflict with someone in her family, and although this individual appeared to be a victim in the situation, whenever someone asked her about her feelings toward her family member she said these five simple words, “I have chosen to love.”
Those words struck me years ago and continue to resurface in my heart whenever I am faced with the obstacle of loving people who are hard to love. We all have different individuals in our lives, some perpetually difficult and others that surround us just for a season, that take a special kind of effort for us to show generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness and of course, love.
Whether it is a negative coworker, an exhausting friendship or a challenging family member, there are times when we just want to give up on people and feel as though all our love and patience has run out. I believe in these instances and circumstances we need to be reminded of the truth, of the reality that we have access to a love that is always abounding, always giving, always selfless, always real and true.
Our ability to love is a heart issue, and there are specific things we need to examine and be reminded of when we’re having a hard time loving the people around us:
1. How Do You Define Love?
Sometimes we have the completely wrong definition of love. It isn’t just good feelings toward someone or something, it isn’t the love we feel for things or food or places. True love is action, true love takes courage and vulnerability. True love gives rather than takes.
We can find our definition of love in the classic Bible passage 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 where we are given the great description of love—and it all stems from action, not feeling.
If you try to love people out of your feelings for them, it will result in inconsistency, because feelings change and people do things that frustrate and offend us. When we love out of action and have the mindset that giving is far better than receiving, we will love selflessly and well.
2. Where is Your Love Coming From?
This is a crucial question to examine. When you are tired out and worn out and there is nothing left to give, you have to rely on Jesus for your ability to love. There is only so much we can give as people, as individuals in the flesh. Usually when we love out of our own strength, it ends in selfishness and bitterness because we are trying to get something out of giving love and if we don’t get anything in return we are resentful.
When we love with God’s love, our purpose is to give and give, believing we will never run out. God’s love is a love that doesn’t take but simply loves because it overflows from your soul. It is a joy, not a burden.
An amazing verse that puts this point in perfect perspective is 1 John 4:16, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” When we are abiding in God, we will always be in His love and have the ability to love at all times, in all circumstances, loving all people.
3. What Makes This Person Hard to Love?
Is it the way they treat you or others around you, is it the way they conduct their business or work, is it their words that cut so deep or the way they talk about people you love? There are many reasons someone may be hard for us to love, but I believe when we begin to examine the situation we can begin to realize our own faults in the matter.
Sometimes, the way we judge or see others is not out of love in the first place, so of course it is difficult to love them. Sometimes we don’t try to understand why people are the way they are and play the blame game instead of trying to get to know them in a deeper way, understanding the challenges they have faced and what they have gone through to make them act in the ways they do. Everybody is responsible for their own actions and choices, but we have the ability to be patient with others and realize that most people are left with scars in their lives that affect who they are on a day-to-day basis.
In 1 Samuel 16:7, this truth is proclaimed, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
We cannot trust our first instinct or judgment. If we want God’s heart for an individual we need to press in and seek His wisdom and truth about them. I believe this will give us better perspective, grace, and patience in the way we love people.
4. Are You a Difficult Person to Love?
This is probably the most crucial question of all. You may be wondering why this would have anything to do with you, but when it comes down to it, we have all been difficult people to love. We have been difficult for our parents, our friends, our spouses, our bosses, our mentors. Examining your own faults can humble you when it is difficult to love someone. Because Jesus didn’t just die for the sin of the difficult person in our life, He died for yours too, and you also need His grace every single day.
Ultimately, this love that we need died on a Cross for us. This love conquered death and sin and shame. When we encounter difficult people, we need to reflect on Jesus for our wisdom and rely on His never ending love supply to foster a deeper love for the people around us, even the hard ones.
Because when Jesus lived out His life on earth, the Bible clearly shows us His love was abounding in every situation that took place, every word He spoke, every step He walked. He was purposeful in the way He loved others, and we too can have purpose in our love when we train ourselves to rest in the love of Jesus and learn to reflect that love to those around us. In doing so, we can begin to believe that we can love anyone we come in contact with because Jesus has empowered us to do so.
Corinne, from Portland, Oregon, is currently a missionary in the Dominican Republic. Check out her website, corinnecarver.co as well as her business LittleFlockDesigns. You can find her on Twitter @corinnemcarver and Instagram under the username corinnecarver.