How to Love The Mean People
(Disclaimer: This post is about loving those who are rude and inconsiderate, *not* those who are manipulative and/or abusive. If there’s someone in your life who is abusive, please seek help and professional counsel if you have not already done so.)
Recently God has been teaching me the beauty in loving “unlovely” people. Here’s a super simple, totally obvious truth: It’s really easy to be loving and kind to people who are loving and kind…and it’s really hard to be loving and kind to people who are not. Right? I can love the heck out of my awesome friends and the precious woman in line at Target who tells me she adores my earrings and the sweet, older gentleman who goes out of his way to engage my kids at church. But people who are mean, rude and inconsiderate? I’d rather not show kindness to them, thanks. But I’m a Christ follower, and am called (ahem, commanded) to be loving and kind to those God has brought into my life.
When I was 16, I got my first job as a sales associate in the ladies department at Sears in the Coral Square Mall. Upon getting hired, my dad gave me some excellent advice regarding my customer service: “Leah, people generally respond to the way that you treat them. So be nice, and they’ll probably be nice back.”
This is true, of course. Crabby elderly ladies who came to my register to return something could usually be softened up and maybe even be made to smile a bit by the end of the transaction. But some crabby elderly ladies weren’t just having a bad day–they were bitter and mean–and no amount of yes ma’am’s or I’m sorry’s would make a difference.
In life, we’ll always have crabby, bitter or mean people around us. If you’re like me, you kind of just want to write them off. Shut it down and walk away. I’ll be totally honest and tell you that I’m pretty much the opposite of confrontational, so my technique of choice is usually to retreat and avoid. Maybe throw in a little passive aggressiveness if the opportunity arises. Yeah…not okay. Also, definitely not what Scripture teaches.
Ephesians 4:32 immediately comes to mind, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” There’s also pretty much all of 1 John 3, the theme of which is, “Believers in Jesus — LOVE ONE ANOTHER!” And of course, Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul goes on to beseech the Philippians to make Jesus their example. Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So, there’s that. Going out of my way to be kind to someone who has hurt my feelings now seems pretty small in comparison to the way the Creator of the Universe humbled Himself for us, the created.
Please allow me to exhort you. Extend grace to the family member who has offended you (heap some burning coals on their head!). Pray for the neighbor who scowls when you wave to them (and keep on waving!). Befriend the mom at play group who sometimes says hurtful things to you (because she needs one!). Seek out the people in your church who have a tendency to make you bristle (and strike up a conversation!). Show genuine kindness when you don’t feel like it, because that’s when kindness is needed the most. Be quick to give people the benefit of the doubt, and for Heaven’s sake, don’t keep a record of wrongs, because that’s not loving at all. Know that there will come a time when you are the one who hurts or offends someone. Think about the kind of forgiveness you’d want to be extended to you. Above all, remind yourself of the Gospel often. Jesus offers unfathomable grace to us, completely undeserving sinners. We can offer grace to others.
This is humbling and hard. It’s also what we’re called to do, and we have the Holy Spirit who equips us to do it. You have no idea what may happen in a person’s heart when you are willing to show them the love of Christ. Someone who initially rubbed you the wrong way may turn out to be a great friend. You may come to find out that the person who hurt you with their words or actions has dealt with incredible hurt in their own life. Loving people where they’re at, unconditionally, is the literal work of Jesus. It’s transforming. For them and for you.
And one more thing I’ve been learning? Practicing obedience is like working out for your spiritual muscles…the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the stronger your faith will be.