Loving people can be really hard sometimes.
When conflicts arise or we have been hurt, or when others really irritate or offend us, it can be really tough to love them. Even when we are committed to being people of love, we can be tripped up by our own weaknesses, fatigue, or selfish instincts. For any number of reasons, our intention or attempts to love others can fall short.
There’s simply no formula that “works” in every situation. In spite of our best intentions, sometimes, we don’t know what to do differently. Or, if we do know, we may feel that it’s just too hard or exhausting to keep trying.
If this is how you’re feeling, it may be time to step back and take a fresh look at what’s going on. In my experience, greater self-reflection, changing my attitude or approach, and tapping more fully into the source of love have all helped me to become a more loving person.
Specifically, here are several things you can do that might make a real difference:
1. Don’t undo your efforts to love someone by letting yourself explode or say something nasty in a moment of weakness. Force yourself to take at least five deep breaths when you feel agitated or angry in order to calm down before saying or doing anything.
2. Ask yourself when you are trying to show love to others, “Whose agenda am I serving?” When others sense that your “love” is mostly about serving you or making yourself feel good, and not about them, don’t expect them to cooperate. You may get hurt or upset with them for ignoring or rejecting your overtures, but the problem in the relationship could very well be in you, not them.
3. Recognize and accept your powerlessness to change people. Even if you could change a loved one, it’s not your job. Your role is to love them, to encourage them, and to offer input when appropriate. Ask God for the courage and strength to speak the truth in the midst of conflict, and for compassion to do so in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
4. Remember that you always have power to choose how you are going to act toward others, regardless of their actions toward you. You may not have power to feel love or even to control your reactions as well as you would like. But you can keep returning to a place of resolve to show agape love in your actions—by being patient, kind, courteous, humble, selfless, forgiving, and encouraging (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
5. Accept their limited ability to love you in return, or discuss with them how to make the relationship more reciprocal. If your love is contingent upon their loving you in return, or you would simply like more from the relationship, talk with them about your needs and desires. If you would like to be able to love them unconditionally with God’s agape love, then let go of your expectations of any particular kind of response from them.
6. Attend adequately to your own needs in healthy ways. Instead of just trying to change your behavior, seek wisdom into what is going on inside of you that keeps prompting you to act in unloving ways. What needs do you have that are going unmet? How could you get your needs for love, for affection, for friendship met in healthy ways?
7. Tap more fully into the source of love. We simply cannot love unconditionally on our own, and we cannot give what we have not received. What could you do to connect better with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis so that you may experience the love and grace of God in deeper and deeper ways? How could you cultivate your relationship with God so that you will have more fresh, living water in your inner “well” to draw from?
Loving others can be really hard or tricky sometimes, but it is your calling, regardless of the response of others. By letting God’s love meet your deepest needs, and by following the Holy Spirit’s leading in the ways of love, you will increasingly become part of the solution to a world riddled with unresolved conflict, alienation, and pain. It’s also the only way to truly experience the full life that Christ intends for you.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)
Point: Don’t expect loving others to be easy, and don’t reserve your love for those who love you back. We are called to get past our own self-centeredness and selfish instincts in order to love others as God loves us. Jesus showed us the way, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us to do what we cannot do on our own.
Prayer: “Loving and gracious God, thank you for your unconditional love and mercy. Please help me to fully trust in your love for me, to accept your forgiveness, and to be renewed in the deepest part of my being. And lead me in the way of love, especially when it is really hard for me, so that all those around me may sense your love flowing through me.”
This article is part of the “What Will Make a Difference?” series for your spiritual nurture and growth.