There's a Christian ethic to love everybody, always (great book). It sounds nice and preaches well but can feel unrealistic at times.
When your life collides with someone you find hard to love, what are you supposed to do? Do you just learn to tolerate them while feeling guilty about it? Do you avoid them altogether? Is it possible to love someone you don't even like?
A while ago, I met a woman named Angela. She was nice enough, but we didn't have much in common. Different interests. Different backgrounds. Different beliefs.
As circumstances would have it, shortly after we met I found myself spending more time with her than I would've naturally sought out.
At first, I didn't look forward to our time together. I focused on the tension between our differences rather than looking for the beauty in our commonalities.
After a few months though, something odd happened. The more time I spent in her company, the more I began to enjoy her presence. Look forward to it even.
What happened? How did I go from tolerating this person to having genuine feelings of affection toward her?
The answer, I've found, is that love is a verb.
Although we cannot force ourselves to feel a certain way about someone, we can push ourselves to act lovingly regardless. This is valuable not for what it does for the other person, but for what it does to us.
The end result of following Jesus is that we're able to love everybody, but we don't start there. Our hearts have to be stretched to that place.
When you demonstrate an act of love toward another person, your mind has the opportunity to see them in a different light—a light that allows you to think of them as someone worthy of being loved.
When you listen to them, you start to consider they might be someone worth listening to. When you eat with them, you start to consider them as someone it’s nice to dine with. When you sacrifice for them, you start to consider them as someone worth giving something up for. When you show up for them, you start to consider them as someone worth being dependable for.
Maybe they were always those things, and it was just too hard to see. Because of how much they require our perspectives to shift, the people we find hardest to love hold the greatest power to transform our hearts.
Is this disingenuous? Maybe, but I think that's okay because it rarely stays that way. In other aspects of life--namely fitness and career--we understand the value of doing hard things when we don't feel like it. The same attitude can be just as helpful in relationships.
Feelings are hard to control, but they're not hard to grow. Thus, it's unfair to discount the value of acting lovingly prior to feelings of affection toward the other. The mere effort put forth in the former more often than not leads to the latter. The action precedes the feeling.
Sometimes your heart and mind direct your hands. Sometimes, your hands have to remind your heart and mind of what's possible.
"[Jesus] said we would identify ourselves simply by how we loved people. It’s tempting to think there is more to it, but there’s not. Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become." - Bob Goff; Everybody, Always