“…and with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace.” ~~God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
I was a young nurse working in an office full of other medical professionals. My closest working companion (for lack of a better word) was a woman named Donna. She was near my same age, was petite and blond and had laughing blue eyes. She was smart and funny and extremely good at her job. The only problem I had with her was that she didn’t like me very much (can you imagine?).
As Christmas neared, I noticed that while Donna remained her usual cheerful self with everyone else, she also grew nicer with me. I vividly recall one afternoon we spent working on a project. Donna joked almost nonstop and I laughed so hard, tears slipped down my cheeks. At one point my husband called. While I tried to have a brief conversation with him, Donna continued to tease. When my giggles became uncontrollable, my husband asked, “Who has you so tickled?”
“Donna,” I answered.
“Donna? The same one who sends you home most nights in a tizzy?”
For a few days — maybe a week — I thought Donna and I had bridged a gap and become friends or, at the very least, somewhat friendly. But on January 2, when we returned to the office, Donna went back to being her Scroogy self with me. Oh, well. It could have been worse.
It Could Have Been Worse?
Yes, it could have. While I was open about my faith, Donna was not a believer. In fact, this may have been the very reason Donna wasn’t so thrilled with me most days. But, as I have aged and become wiser, I have learned that the season of Christmas manages to bring out the best in most of us, not just those of us who love and worship the Christ all year (as opposed to those who simply admire Him as the babe in the manger). Had Donna been a sister in Christ, I would have been heartbroken at her actions toward me for more reasons that one.
Why Is This So Difficult?
Have you ever heard the saying “If this were easy, everyone would be doing it?”
In Jesus’ day, pious Jews recited the “Shema” every morning and evening. The word “shema” means “hear” in Hebrew. The Shema is taken from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5, which says:
: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Israel
These words roll off the tongue almost effortlessly, but loving God to the very core of one’s being takes practice. It also takes faith and perseverance. These devout Jews understood this all too well. You see, the rabbis counted 613 individual statutes in the law, 365 negative and 248 positive. That’s a lot to keep up with.
Jesus and His disciples were in
Jesus began His answer by quoting the Shema. Loving God totally and with complete abandon is the most important, He told them. Then He added another Old Testament scripture, this one from Leviticus 19:18, which reads: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus concluded with, “There is no commandment greater than these.”
It was as if Jesus were saying that if you love God, you will automatically love those God has placed in your life. Loving means more than liking someone or being nice or even being jolly for a season. Loving your “neighbor” means to give those entrusted to your life the same courtesy you would give to both God and to yourself. You cannot say you love God and treat others poorly.
A Life Lesson
I learned something else a long time ago: not everyone will like me and I won’t like everyone. There are some out there I’m sure I rub the wrong way and vice versa. This is not about loving or treating kindly. But I have lived long enough and been in ministry long enough to know something else: people do not act the way they do without reason. I have found that if I take the time to look at those around me with the same heart and eyes as Jesus looks at them, I receive understanding. This is not said to excuse bad behavior, but rather to become more appreciative of the circumstance of others.
I have also found that when I pray — truly pray — for those I’m not so crazy about; loving them begins to take shape. I find myself seeking ways to do nice things for them. To “embrace” them, as the song says. To be Jesus with skin on.
True love and brotherhood should not be a seasonal issue. It is a gift that keeps giving all year long. In return, we will find that we now love God more deeply than we could have ever thought possible.
Eva Marie Everson is an award-winning author (The Potluck Club; Sex, Lies, and High School) & a national and international speaker. For more information, go to: www.EvaMarieEverson.com.