The August 22 entry in David Jeremiah’s devotional book Pathways is entitled “I love mankind…” Jeremiah quotes Linus, of the Peanuts comic strip, who said, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”
I’ve felt like that before, and I think the odds are pretty good that you have, too. Jeremiah is spot on when he writes, “People can be rude, obnoxious, selfish, foolish, trying, vexing, and vicious.” I might add “irritating” to the list. Due to my human (read sin) nature and my own personal preferences, there are some people that I tend to like, some I tend to feel indifferent about, and some that, quite frankly, I could do without. Depending on my mood, where I am, what else I have going on, and any number of other essentially-insignificant things, I may or may not be polite to someone I meet in the grocery store, a driver who cuts me off on the road, or the person who is on the other end of the phone I pick up. There have been numerous times when I wished I had one of James Bond’s cars, complete with all of it’s Q-designed upgrades, so that I could blow away the driver who just cut me off, or the one who can’t seem to recall that it’s the pedal on the right that makes the car go. Why? Because, far more often than I really care to admit, I’m focused on me…on what I want, or what I prefer, and what is convenient for me.
Jesus, of course, had plenty to say about how we are to interact with others. Specifically, I am called to love my neighbor as myself. Even tougher than that is His instruction in Matthew 5:44, when I am told to love my enemies. “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you,” Jesus said. That surely does not come naturally!
It embarrasses me to admit it, but during my first year of teaching, there was a coworker I could not stand. Here I was, right out of college–still wet behind the ears in many ways–and teaching in a Christian school, no less. And for some reason (I really do not remember, which makes my tale even more pathetic), I did not like this other teacher. I was fresh out of college, remember, and she had been teaching for more years than I had been alive. And except for this little thing called “Help Class” I would not even have had to interact with her at all. But the school had this “Help Class” for students who were struggling academically to get some individualized extra help…and this coworker of mine was the one who taught these help sessions. Because I taught sixth grade math, and sixth graders sometimes struggle with math, I was supposed to send my students to the Help Class from time to time, so our paths did cross.
I will not go into detail of some of the things I said, and certainly not some of the things I thought…just suffice it to say that I did not like this individual, and I certainly did not love her as I love myself. At some point during that school year though, she died. I’m not making that up; if I remember correctly it was rather sudden, and I do not remember the cause, but suddenly, this person I loved to dislike was dead. Because the school was closed for her funeral, and the service was at the school, there was no way I could not go, so I found myself sitting in her funeral–which included an open mic time for people to share about how much this lady had meant to them. Everyone was in tears, and I was sitting there hardhearted, quite frankly thinking I couldn’t care less. There was part of me that still wanted to not like her.
An interesting thing happened as I sat there, though. The Holy Spirit began to work in my heart, and I began to realize exactly how petty and pathetic I was. Were there some things she did that irritated me? Without question. Were there even times that she did something that was wrong? I think so. But has my dislike faded, I began to see just how meaningless those things are from the perspective of eternity. And most of them were simply things that either did not go the way I would have preferred, or were a result of my own failure to do something when I was supposed to do it. I may have shed some tears before that service was over, but it was more because of my own sin than because of the passing of my coworker. I left that funeral wanting to put to death my own irritability and penchant for personal preferences. I still have to do that, a lot, and there are still times I don’t get it right.
But David Jeremiah is absolutely right when he writes, of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:44, “We can only do this on our knees. The person we most dislike is a soul for whom Christ died. We don’t have to always agree with our critics or defer to our enemies, but loving unconditionally is simply letting the love of Christ flow through us like warm water through a pipe. The most unlovable person is the one who needs love the most. After all, if Christ loved us, He can help us love others.”