The Love Challenge
So, today’s post had been set and ready to go for a couple of days now; I was about to congratulate myself on being superbly and unusually organised for once – and then I came across this article by Ty Gibson and was so moved by the challenge and weight of the last resolution in which the writer encourages us to:
“Go out of your way to connect with at least one new person this year in a consistent personal way, preferably somebody who seems alone or boring or obnoxious or marginalized or awkward or silent because…
People limp due to the fact that they’re wounded, and wounded people begin to heal and normalise and flower into their potential beauty through gracious human contact.”
This speaks so powerfully to me. In this week of transition time before going back up to university, my heart has been preparing for another busy term and I have been subconsciously setting out my priorities. I had been thinking a lot about my friendships and how I could invest in them (that was actually the basis of today’s intended post!) but not a whole lot about how I could love people that I found difficult. Actually, I’d managed to completely avoid thinking about any kind of radical, sacrificial kind of love altogether...
This 'sacrificial' kind of love forms part of the 'Love Challenge' we face in our Christian journey. I remember a conversation with somebody a little older and a lot wiser than me where I was quite insistent that I “didn’t have a problem loving people”. I like to like people and I have fun with my friends. I also appreciate the benefits of a healthy dose of people-watching...I quite confidently qualified myself as a 'people-person'.
But as this person started to talk to me about Jesus' way of loving people, I realised that actually, I was a long way from loving people well. For the idea of being a ‘people person’ in the world’s eyes is one of a life filled with happy, easy-to-love people ...something that doesn’t bear a huge resemblance to the type of life that Jesus led on this earth. There’s great value to be had in healthy, enriching relationships - God calls us to community - but a cosy collection of nice, safe friendships isn't quite everything:
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Luke 6:32
We are called to love the unlovable. To work hard at showing God's love to the people we struggle with. Perhaps these are people who don't appreciate or value us, and to try and protect ourselves from any hurt or rejection, we find it easier to distance ourselves from them.
But - who gives us our identity and purpose? We are anchored in Christ, not defined by the opinions of others. With our hope set in our sovereign and unchanging God, we don't need to fear the rejection of others. And so we are freed to love a little more. To love a little more deeply, a little more sacrificially. There’s something slightly uncomfortable and very countercultural about this kind of love.
I believe that the more we recognise where our identity lies, the more we will learn the love that Jesus really intended for us in our lives and relationships.
As a start, I find it helpful to remind myself of how Jesus conducted his relationships on earth: he prayed for people, loved them unconditionally, extended friendship to the most unlikely individuals. Jesus wasn’t swayed by the opinions of others; he was generous with his time, undivided with his attention and genuine in his conversation.
His is a self-forgetful, others-centred kind of love.
He knew the potential beauty of every individual, and the circumstances and sin that had made them so different to the person they were intended to be. If we had even the tiniest bit of wisdom to seek out the beauty in somebody rather than become distanced as a result of their faults, wouldn't our lives speak so much more of God's goodness and love for His people?
Today I'm grateful for this reminder that we are called to love the unlovable, to surrender any dreams of a perfect-looking life and instead invite people into our imperfect hearts, to point them to the One who is in the business of changing us.
For our God is a ‘people person': He loves us more than anybody ever has or ever could. He adores when we are satisfied in Him.
Matthew 25 shows us that when we make our lives about people, we are serving and glorifying our Father.
I know that the challenge to love people will be ongoing. I regularly fall short of the standards, but it's exciting and humbling to be able to respond to this challenge as a grace-saved child: to love the unlovable along with the easy-to-love, and point the people in our life to the One who will make them beautiful.