Loving the people in our lives who are easy to love is, well, easy. But what about the people whose personality rubs us the wrong way, or whose actions or words hurt, annoy or grieve us? What does it look like to love those people whom God has called us to love? Here are five simple things you can begin to do to reach out in love toward those you find hard to like.
Think about someone you struggle to like. I bet it doesn’t take long for someone to float to the surface of your mind. This could be a neighbor, colleague, family member – anyone whose personality might not mesh so well with ours, or whose history is a messy tangled in our own.
We know what God’s word says – we’re to strive to love all, not just like the people we don’t prefer to be around… God calls us to the radical way of love. But what does that look like, to love those whose company we find grating, whose personality we don’t mess well with?
Here are 5 very practical, simple ways to begin to love the people you struggle to like:
1. Choose Not to Be Offended.
“If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” Luke 6:29 NIV
Hurt happens, but we choose to be offended. When my two tween daughters are fighting, I can see a lot more clearly what choosing to be offended looks like. They look for reasons to be hurt, provoke, and invent ways to frame each other as purposeful perpetrators. They will give each other no room for natural human error or mutual misunderstanding. Instead of being quick to forgive, they are fast to make fools of themselves.
When Jesus taught about loving our enemies, He didn’t say answer a punch with punch. But that’s not natural. If someone slaps me, my instinct is to slap back! And if someone steals my coat …I am not going to give them my shirt! Our natural instinct to retaliate is not from God. He is our Defender, our Protector. There is literally no one or nothing stronger or more capable than He. We are to stand for righteousness, and anger is a healthy and natural emotion, but we must be so cautious not to let any of these agendas trump Jesus’ command to, above all, love God and each other.
2. Admit and Apologize for Unintentional Hurt
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 NIV
Most of the time, we dislike people because of what they did to hurt us, or because we disagree or are annoyed by a piece of their personality. Some people just rub us the wrong way. We disagree with their lifestyle choices, or put them in the dislike category because they hurt someone we do like. When we count people out, we are the ones who miss out. “It takes courage to make room for another person’s thoughts and feelings,” wrote Jolene Underwood in her article “The Courage to Be Wrong and Admit It,” “We might learn something, if we admit we don’t know it all and listen.”
It hurts to be hurt, especially when there has never been or forceable will never be an admission or apology to acknowledge our hurt. Sometimes the confession of sin James talks about is our prayer to forgive, regardless of admission or apology.
3. Forgive Quickly
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 NIV
We definitely don’t have to remain in the line of fire when we’re being hurt, but we must choose to forgive. Forgiveness allows us to see those we dislike through God’s eyes. He loves them just as much as He loves us, and there is always more to every story than we have the ability to see or understand. He tells us to confess and forgive for the health of our own hearts, and commands us to trust Him with the rest.
Though restoration and reconciliation are in God’s hands, forgiveness is a process we can begin immediately. It’s a little easier to give the grumpy driver who honked at us some forward forgiveness, than it is the best friend who betrayed us. Forgiveness isn’t always easy, or immediate, but it is required. There’s no wiggle room in whether or not we should or can forgive. When we surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in every believer, forgiveness can and will happen.
4. Remove Selfish Motivations
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 NIV
The root of “dislike” is a lofting of ourselves above another. We somehow, in some way, think we are better than or more worthy than someone else. Paul puts our expected attitude towards others pretty plainly in Philippians 2:3-4. He says in Romans, as well, that we all fall short of the glory of God. Knowing we are all fighting the same sinful battle in this mess of a world puts us on the same playing field, with those we like and dislike. Furthermore, God does not show favoritism among His people. He loves all of us, equally. Yet, we fight to be His favorites just like siblings vie for the attention of their parents.
Comparison and jealousy can drive us to dislike people who have never even done or said anything to hurt us, personally. Selfish ambition can also cause us to dislike others, keeping us from acting as one church body to reach out to the world together in love. We were created to honor and glorify God in all we do, not compete and compare with each other.
5. Trust God.
“In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.” Psalm 25:1 NIV
It’s not easy, and we don’t have to agree with everyone who crosses our paths this side of heaven. But consider this. God has created each of us with unique purpose. I don’t believe the people who surround us are accidental, but just as purposeful as our existence in the first place. We will be tempted to dislike some of them because we don’t agree or understand them, but we are all God’s creation. He doesn’t make mistakes.
Perhaps it’s our lack of trust in God that causes us to dislike others, leaving us seemingly unable to love them as Christ commanded. The remedy is to deepen our relationship with our Father in heaven. Carving time out of our days allows Him to align our perspective with His. He will connect the dots and soften our hearts towards others we are having a hard time loving as He commands. The rich truth and wisdom of His Word equips and rightly motivates us. We can disagree with each other, but we must find a way to love the people He has purposefully and faithfully placed in our lives. We may need them, and they may need us. One thing is for sure, we all need more of Him.
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as a freelance writer, blogger at Sunny&80, and author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” and “Glory Up, The Everyday Pursuit of Praise,” and “Home, Finding Our Identity in Christ.” She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters …which led her to pursue her passion to write. A member of Faith Church in Sandusky, OH, she serves as Communications Director and leads Bible studies for women and teen girls. Meg is a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, living by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.