“If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand that unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.”— Marvin J. Ashton
“We have the tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve” — T.D. Jakes
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:34-35
I read recently when Jesus asked us to love like he loves us, he said it was what would set us apart from the rest of the world. Loving people like he does reveals how we are his followers. We would serve as a force for good and people would listen as this love stands out.
And at first, it seems so easy. As little kids, as soon as we learned to say those three words, we gave them out like candy. Many of us still say “love you” so casually. For most of my adolescence I thought “I can do that” when I heard the greatest commandment was to love one another.
But as we know all too well, when it comes down to it, truly loving someone is not easy. When we’re honest with ourselves, people can be hard to love—full of both little things that drive us nuts and big portions of their personality that just don’t make sense to us. Thinking through both my internal and external dialogue, I complain about others’ actions all too often. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s too easy to make judgements on others and spend more time considering their wrongdoings than what they do right.
This is especially apparent with the hot political climate of late (you know Trump vs. the democrats and all that?). One party feels so convicted about a matter—so certain they know what needs to happen and who is in the wrong—they show up to display support for a political leader. Whereas someone else can show up to that same event and be so certain they know what’s right and wrong that they protest this leader.
Both of these people have such a heartfelt conviction they’re willing to fight for it, but they stand on opposite ends of a spectrum of beliefs. For me, it’s really hard to look at that person with opposing beliefs and not jump to the immediate conclusion they are wrong. Furthermore, it’s really hard to feel love for that person.
This is when love is power. This is why Jesus left us with one final instruction on his last evening on earth. Did we think the greatest commandment would be an easy one?
No. It’s the hardest. Likewise, the most powerful.
I recently listened to a talk by John Pavlovitz where he humbly told a story about a political talk he gave where he felt hatred towards the protesters in the back. He spoke louder and with more authority than usual, in hopes he could drown out their noise. He spoke, they spoke—they both felt right about their actions. The next speaker came up, a African American LGBTQ woman who was speaking about her identity. They confronted her with the same booing and yelling, but instead of tuning them out, she listened and invited them to come up there with her. She opened up her arms. And perhaps more surprisingly, these two opposing parties embraced. They both cried.
This is where humility is both crucial and a relief. According to Christ’s message, people that cause you the most anger or feel hardest to love aren’t any less worthy than you are. It doesn’t help to put yourself above them, thinking that you’ve somehow trumped them with your own goodness and wisdom. You and the “other” have both had a life full of experiences, forming you into who you are and what you believe. In the end, God allowed for this diversity. Once we accept this was intentional and we don’t have to prove anything, we can find some relief.
Another helpful reminder is how love doesn’t pick and choose. We don’t need to waste any energy judging who is worth our love. Loving one another means that we love the whole self and we level out the playing field. Just as Jesus would.
Rather than spending all our time debating whether others are as worthy of our love as Jesus said they are, what if we just believed him? What if we started more conversations out of love rather than judgement? That’s when love is at its most powerful.