It’s not always easy to love one another!
Relationships are at the heart of the Christian life, but what do we do when we struggle to get on with someone? Rochelle Francis shares her experience
The first time I met Melody, I found her to be attractive, warm and welcoming. She was lovely, but . . . I found that my own smile was forced and I felt tense whenever I was around her. I believed I ought to like Melody and that we should become friends, but my mind and my emotions were at odds with each other. For some reason, deep down inside of me, I didn’t really like her. I felt guilty and ashamed to harbour ill feeling against such a lovely woman.
Things came to a head when Melody and I had to work together on a church project. I visited her one evening at her home and, I don’t know what came over me, but suddenly I found myself saying, “Let’s be honest about the fact that neither or us finds this relationship easy”. Melody was taken aback by my directness, but she responded positively. “Yes – why are we like this?” We both felt the same way.
We talked together and tried to discover the root of the problem. We were of similar ages and personality types – outgoing and outspoken. We had similar interests, occupied similar roles inside the church, and even looked alike. And we both had a competitive streak. In short, we felt threatened by one another. Our emotional reactions seemed to be a mixture of insecurity, jealousy, and suspicion.
We prayed together. We repented of our competitiveness. We thanked God for bringing us together in his family. We asked him to be at the centre of our relationship and to help us to love one another just as we had been commanded to do. It was the start of a beautiful, but often difficult relationship. It was not the last time we had to pray this prayer.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” it says in Proverbs 27:17. We should not be surprised when people rub us up the wrong way. Misunderstandings, offences and disagreements are bound to arise amongst the diverse individuals that make up God’s family.
Avoiding these conflicts, feeling guilty, or distancing ourselves from the individuals that we find difficult to get along with, are probably not helpful responses. These situations may be the very things that God intends to use to ‘sharpen’ us.
Of course, this does not mean that we should seek out conflict, but rather that when we face these kinds of situations, we can trust that God has a plan. When you are finding a person or a relationship difficult, you could try praying these words:
Dear God, I know you love this person just as much as you love me, and sent your son Jesus to die for us. Please show me how you would like me to respond in these circumstances. Make your plans known to me and strengthen me by your Spirit, so that I may glorify you through my actions.
Relationships – with God and with one another – were absolutely central to Jesus’ teaching and are at the heart of the Christian life. Jesus commanded his disciples to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). He went on to tell them that it would be on the basis of their love for one another that they would be recognised as his followers.
Love is not a feeling or an emotion, even though films and novels might try to convince us of such. Love involves decisions and actions, and is intensely practical. And learning how to love is surely one of the most important – but almost most difficult – parts of following in Jesus’ footsteps. Jesus set the standard very high when he vividly displayed God’s love to us by dying on a wooden cross, so that we could be set free from sin and death.
Jesus did not say that loving other people would be easy. Indeed, he said that anyone who wanted to come after him would have to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Loving people definitely involves death – the death of our selfishness, or pride, and our vanity. It can sometimes mean giving up the right to have the last word, to defend ourselves or to prove that we are right.
Difficult relationships give us a myriad of opportunities to put our faith into action and to practise imitating Christ in our love for others. We have opportunities to practise patience, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. I find it completely impossible to do any of this in my own strength, which means I am forced to rely on God. That in itself is a huge blessing; anything that propels me closer to God cannot be all bad.
Several years on, Melody and I are very close. She has recently moved on and is now involved in overseas mission. Whilst on holiday in the UK, she came to visit me and it was wonderful to catch up on all our news, and to pray together once again. Our relationship has never been easy, but I have learnt so much through my friendship with Melody. She is one of my dearest friends, in whom I feel completely safe in confiding the deepest secrets of my heart.
In the light of my experiences, I believe that difficult relationships are one of God’s primary tools for shaping and recreating his children into the image of Jesus. In other words, they are part of his great plan. Difficult relationships should not necessarily be avoided, nor should they be a source of guilt and anxiety. Rather, we should view them as a normal part of the Christian life and an opportunity for God to work miracles in our lives and the lives of others.
If you are finding a relationship difficult, take heart. This could be a part of his great plan to ‘sharpen’ you and, who knows, you might even end up with a very close and special friend in the process.
5 ways to learn to love someone
+ Pray for them
Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. One of the best ways we can demonstrate our love for people that we find difficult is by praying for them.
Regularly pray short prayers of blessing for the individual that you find difficult, and ask God to reveal his love to that person, and to draw him/her closer into his presence. It may feel wooden and contrived in the beginning to pray these words, but over time you will sense a warmth as God changes your heart towards the individual.
+ Don’t fake it
Don’t let feelings of guilt cause you to overcompensate by faking friendliness and generosity towards the person you find difficult. In particular, do not engage in this kind of behaviour and then quietly complain about the person behind their back. This is deceitful and dangerous behaviour that can cause serious harm.
Try to be honest, genuine and straightforward in your dealings with the person whom you find difficult. Ask God to give you genuine love for the person, so that you don’t need to fake it.
+ Look for the good
Identify things that you admire about the person you are finding difficult. Dwell on their good points and it may change your perception of them.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
+ Don’t be afraid of saying sorry
‘Sorry’ can be a very difficult word to say – it means admitting fault, taking the burden of responsibility on ourselves and bearing the shame. But ‘sorry’ is also a very powerful word – it can be the first step towards reconciliation.
Learn to apologise, even if you do not feel that the fault lies wholly (or even in part) with you. Admit that you are not perfect, that you mess up and get things wrong. Learn to simply say ‘sorry’ without any qualifications. God has already forgiven you. Your apology may help the other person to forgive you for any actual, or perceived, wrong doing – setting them free from resentment and bitterness, and laying a foundation for a better relationship.
Whether or not you are fortunate enough to receive an apology – learn to forgive, without reservation. Pray and tell God what this person has done that has hurt or offended you – it may help to get this anger off your chest, and prayer is a great way to do this – and then tell God that you choose to forgive them. Ask him to take your anger, to heal your hurts, and to deal with the person, however he sees fit. Thank him for his mercy towards you, and ask him to teach you how to extend mercy also.