“I don’t really do a good job loving people.”
Upon hearing my random proclamation, my surprised hall-mate immediately shook her head and protested. “That’s not true! You make time for others – you care. You do more than a lot of people!”
I merely stared at her from my seat at the table we had managed to grab in the dining hall; I couldn’t help but feel conflicted. Part of me wanted to hear her reaffirm me. To let me continue to think I had always done my very best in my relationships with others. The other part of me felt ashamed. Why? Why did I feel guilty hearing her say those words?
As I turned my gaze to my plate, realization dawned upon me: just the night before, I had decided to give up on a friendship. I had become bitter and impatient, hurt by an outcome that I didn’t truly understand. Hadn’t I tried to explain my position and clarify matters? Hadn’t I tried my best to not be judging, to be open instead of angry? Why, then, had this particular friend chosen to ignore me for more than a week?
The emotional and mental stress had become too much to bear – I wanted to get rid of it. After all, I felt that such a person didn’t deserve my friendship in the first place. I didn’t want to be so easily crushed and stepped on. Besides, one of the verses my mother often recites came to mind: Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
As far as I was concerned, I had been honest and innocent in my actions. Now, it was time to be shrewd.
That all changed after Pastor Skinner’s sermon. Despite my unwavering determination to end the relationship, I couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t right as I stood and sang worship songs, as I attempted to pray and focus, as I sat there and pretended I could still be righteous before God’s eyes. I couldn’t help but feel that God would not have wanted this, that I was being too rash.
It wasn’t until near the end of the sermon that the cold, stone walls I had built came tumbling down with Pastor Skinner’s question to the congregation:
“Think of God’s main two commandments. 1) Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “How is your compliance with the great commandments going?”
The silence that came after seemed to stretch on forever. I could feel my resolve weakening; I began to reevaluate myself and my actions. Acknowledging my bitterness and faults was like taking a huge gulp of salty water and accidentally swallowing it – it stung. Nonetheless, the words that Pastor Skinner uttered next gave me the courage to overcome the pain. He smiled and remarked, “Well, that’s why you need Jesus.”
I was shocked at how far I had fallen. Here I was, giving up on someone while Jesus had never given up on me. Being shrewd didn’t mean to stop caring, to stop loving the person. In fact, refusing to be stepped on vs. refusing to love my neighbor as myself were two completely different matters. I wasn’t being shrewd. Instead, I had chosen to become full of spite and anger. If I thought I had been mistreated, what must have Jesus thought as he lay upon that cross?
Quite simply, Jesus loved. He continued to love even as he lay there, bearing the weight of our sins and despair. He loved even as we hurled insults at Him, turned away, spit in His face.
As a follower of Christ, could I do the same? Could I love as He loves? Bluntly, the answer is no. No one can ever love to the extent that God does. Nevertheless, as I stood to sing the concluding worship songs, I knew that I had been freed from my chains – I could still try to emulate Him in the best way I could.
It took me a while, but I managed to pray and offer the situation to God. I then had a chat with my friend over the phone. I was still hurt; heck, I was still bitter. But these feelings now came out of a willingness to repair a relationship instead of a determination to throw it away. Rather than coldly turn my back on the friendship, I decided to bear the full pain of my emotions and work through them in order to rebuild what had been lost. True, my rebuilding wasn’t perfect and I still feel unsure of what will happen next. Still, I had chosen to care again. I had chosen to love. Most importantly, I couldn’t have done it without God.
Thus, how is your compliance with the great commandments going?
Well, that’s why you need Jesus.
1 John 4:19 – We love because He first loved us.