Love them?


I have a great family. Mostly.

What I mean is, out of the whole group of three brothers, one sister, four step-sibs and a bushel basket full of cousins and in-laws, there are only one or two I don’t care very much for. But we still get along.

The same goes for my neighbors.

Great neighborhood… wonderful place to live… really outstanding people. The vast majority, that is.

But then there’s that one guy that just… well… let’s just say he is a little “different” and we’ll leave it at that.

What I have noticed recently is that if I widen out the scope of my vision and try to take other groups of people into consideration – you know, groups other than my family and my neighbors – I find that the same rule of thumb applies. I find that most of them are really great people with just a few glaring exceptions.

You might have discovered the same thing in the circles you travel in.

Following on that observation, I am willing to bet it is highly likely that you and I take a very similar approach to dealing with this reality of life. That is to say we try to maximize the amount of time we spend around the people we think well of (the “good people”) and minimize the time we spend with “the others.”

Makes sense really.

I mean, why wouldn’t you?

Because really… who would willingly spend time with or hang out with people that irritate them? Chances are, if THEY irritate YOU, you probably irritate them too. Right?

All well and good. And logical.

There’s just one problem: it is also totally unChristlike. In other words, it is not at all an example of what it means to live in “The World According to Jesus.”

You remember him… the guy who famously (and fairly annoyingly) said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, NRSV). But because those irritating people… the people you’ve been avoiding… were just plain aggravating and not really your enemies, you thought you were off the hook. Right?


I think “love your enemies” was meant to include people who just really get under your skin, too. I think it was supposed to include people that – try as you might – you just can’t figure out.

I think it was supposed to include people from that other political party. You know… the one that is SO wrong and SO misguided. I think it was supposed to include the people you and your friends talk about when they aren’t there to defend themselves… silently shaking your heads at how completely CLUELESS some people can be.

I think it was also supposed to include the people who don’t dress appropriately for this restaurant… the people who talk too loudly in the movie theater… who block the aisle in the grocery store while reading texts… who pass along old, stale Facebook memes you’ve seen a thousand times already… who stay in the passing lane FOREVER… who talk and chew their food at the same time… who root for the wrong sports team, and yes… even those so-and-sos who park in handicapped parking spaces without having a handicapped hangtag.

It was definitely supposed to include people who were born in a different country than you, people who have a different skin color than you, people who believe differently than you and people who love differently than you.

Speaking only for myself, I know that I often get too easily hung up on the idea that “loving my neighbor” is the same thing as enthusiastically supporting everything they say or do. Jesus’ own guideline on this can be found in Matthew 22:39 where he says you and I are to, “… love your neighbor as yourself.” So let me ask: do you love yourself absolutely uncritically? Do you willfully turn a blind eye to your character flaws and occasional examples of outrageous behavior?

Probably not.

As C.S. Lewis said in his book, Mere Christianity, “In my most clear-sighted moments… I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing.” And yet, as he goes on to say, he can still love himself. The same principle, I am sure, can be applied to our outlook toward those irritating people in our lives.

I am also reasonably sure that loving them does not need to mean making moon eyes at them, running up and spontaneously hugging them, or writing little love sonnets on pieces of paper and handing it to them.

What I believe it does mean is considering and actively working to increase their overall well-being in the world… even when they don’t recognize you or thank you for it. It means looking with compassion on each person – yes, even the irritating ones – and pledging your heart and energy to be an agent of wholeness in each of those lives… even if it doesn’t change their irritating behavior one iota.

As Mother Teresa once famously said, “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.”

Because after all, the “Love your enemies…” command doesn’t conclude with the words “so that they will…” do such and such.

It just stops. Annoyingly. Right there.

And I think Jesus meant that we should, too.

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