December 28, 2009
Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. ~ Colossians 3:14-15"To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." ~ St. Therese of Lisieux
When I was still an undergraduate, the home group leader at my student church assigned us a special New Year's exercise. She told us to write down one prayer request for the year and to put it in a self-addressed envelope. The following year, she would mail the envelopes out to us, and we could reflect on the past year in light of that request.
Being the ambitious young lady that I was, I wrote, "Lord, help me to love people more like you love them." Love is a beautiful thing, right? Who doesn't want more love? Especially the perfect, divine love of Christ?
Well, I've since learned that this prayer can be as "dangerous" as praying for patience. Because not only will God answer it - every time - but at least in my case, he answered it not by filling me with warm, fuzzy feelings of love towards others but by putting people in my life I found very difficult to love. People who required me to draw from the love of Christ because I simply didn't have enough natural love within me to offer them.
I've been reflecting on that prayer request lately because even ten years later, there are still a few people in my life I find very challenging to love.
I think we all have one or two challenging people in our worlds. Those who seem gifted at pushing every emotional button. Those who, time and again, leave us feeling sad, mad, frustrated, or disappointed. Those we walk away from feeling like a failure, a bad Christian witness, or even struggling from the pride of "knowing" you're right or "better." Sometimes the struggle is with a fellow Christian and on top of the relationship tension, spiritual strife ensues. (There's nothing like getting into an angry, scripture-quoting match to make you feel like a complete failure as a believer).
Equally humbling is the realization that the very person you find difficult to love may feel the same way about you.
Yet, our calling to love does not go away just because we encounter a person who challenges us. Christ came for all - even the worst of sinners. It is his will that we experience his peace in our hearts and in our interactions with one another, and thankfully, his divine love is available to you and me to help us grow beyond life's imperfections, sins, and petty hurts.
Whenever I get discouraged, I think about St. Therese of Lisieux, who spent her young life in a convent with sisters she struggled to love. When she felt incapable of loving a difficult soul, she chose one small act of love to perform for that person. Even if that person did not recognize her act of love for what it was, she was one small step closer to healing that relationship and just a little bit more open to the transforming love of Christ in her own life.
It also helps to remember that Jesus' life wasn't void of personal hurts and relational pain. His life didn't resemble a Norman Rockwell painting any more than yours does (although, I am sure Mary and Joseph offered him a good start). Yet, God bravely entered the world as a human being - with vulnerabilities, feelings and desires capable of being trampled on. He "gets" your pain, too. He empathizes when you're misunderstood or treated unfairly. And he loves you enough to help you change the areas that really do need to change.
One of my New Year's resolutions this year is to persevere with that prayer from long ago. I now know that my prayer was not a one-year prayer but a prayer for a lifetime… a prayer God answers slowly as he refines our characters, our faith, and our families.
Intersecting Faith & Life: If you're struggling with a difficult relationship, ask for God's help in 2010.