Can we be more loving? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. And many people are doing a really great job loving other people, giving their lives away to help and serve others. Yet other people seem to thrive creating division and unrest, fear and anxiety. I trust that since you’re reading this, you fall into the first group of people. Hooray! And if you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for ways to better love people.
One big problem I notice is that there seems to be a giant disconnect between how some people think they are loving others, and how loved those people actually feel. Some people simply think they’re loving people best by pointing out their flaws (or their sins), and telling them they need to change. I’ve done that, and it makes life miserable. And lonely. Uggh. I’m so glad I’m not on that train any longer.
I believe Jesus gives us the greatest example of how we are to love each other. In fact he spells it out pretty clear in John 15:13— “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
But we can’t lay down our lives for others when we’re so focused on changing them to be more like we think they should be.
Stop Trying to Change People
How do we know that God loves us? Jesus. Why does Jesus love us? So we can live free of the entanglement of sin and destruction. So we can be free to engage with and love other people without agendas. So we can experience unity with one another.
This doesn’t sound too radical. But why is it so difficult? Because we hold onto our agendas. We want to change people. We want to get them to think the way we think. We want to get them to clean up their messes so our lives won’t be inconvenienced. We want them to join our gang. Wanting to change people might be the ultimate area of control that we need to surrender. But remember, our surrender is not passive and disengaged, but rather, a movement toward people with more love, more grace, more forgiveness, more creativity, and more authenticity. And with zero agenda for what should happen as a result of our efforts.
When we don’t have an agenda for others, we can better identify their needs and do what we can to help meet them. We’re loving people because we finally recognize them not as our projects, but as our brothers and sisters, desiring them to see their true identity like we’ve discovered for ourselves.
“I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce, and dominate him with my love. I must leave him his freedom to be Christ’s [not mine]. Human love constructs its own image of the other person, of what he is and what he should become. … Human love produces human dependence and constraint; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service and creates freedom.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
But we can’t love this way until we are convinced that this is how we’re being loved. When we are convinced of how completely God loves us and then begin working to love others that same way, we start to see how the systems and structures of our culture are designed to promote dualistic Us vs. Them thinking.
Our churches and homes must be places where unity is fostered, not exclusion and elitism. Most people would never claim that they’re fostering exclusion or elitism, as it usually festers unconsciously. It takes stepping outside our prescribed boundaries and spending time with the Other so we can begin to see objectively.
Who is the Other? People who think differently or look differently than us. People we don’t understand or agree with. The enemies that Jesus told us to love, and those who we judge as being bad, messed up, off the rails, or lost. For some, that might be your super-religious family member. For others, it might mean a Muslim coworker, or, it might mean starting a conversation with someone who identifies as LGBTQ+.
If the thought of moving toward someone different than you makes you a little nervous, that’s a good sign that there’s a wall between you that needs to be torn down.
I believe that if I try to change someone to be like me than I am judging that individual and that isn’t what Jesus wants. As you know, I work with a great numbers of cultures and I find it fascinating that when the individual and I are visiting what they believe. I simply let them know that when I visit with someone, that I am having Fellowship with that individual. I feel that is one of the gifts God has given me in respect for the individual…..Keep on posting!