by Marina Bekheet
We’ve heard it a million times - love, love, love. Since we first stepped foot in Sunday School, we’ve been taught to love our neighbour. But this is so much easier said than done. What if my neighbour is a psychopathic serial killer? Or what if he just talks too much? Or what if he won’t stop criticising my every move? How can I love those who make it very difficult to be loved? It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for years, and something I’m sure we all struggle with. I’m going to share 3 tips which I find helpful when I’m struggling to love.
Firstly, remember the phrase “it’s not you, it’s me”. It’s not that person who needs to change, it’s my perception of that person that needs to change. That man on the train who’s chewing too loud doesn’t need to stop eating, I need to learn to be less irritable. That girl in the short dress doesn’t need to dress differently, I need to be less judgemental. That boss who won’t stop criticising me doesn’t need to change, I need to learn humility. Putting this into practice doesn’t only change the way I perceive others, but it also provides me with an opportunity to improve myself - it’s a win/win! Because at the end of the day, God won’t ask for an account of anyone’s sins but my own, I need to focus on myself.
When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, there’s something about His answer that I hadn’t noticed before:
“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD you'r God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matt 22:37-39) Jesus was only asked for “the greatest commandment” (singular), but responds with two. This is because they both come hand in hand - He says “the second is LIKE [the first]”. Put simply, to show your love for God, you must show love to His children. And if you love His children, you love God, because He dwells in them. Maximus the Confessor says “the person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself”. So if I can’t love my neighbour, maybe it’s because I don’t love God. I need to improve my relationship with God, I need to get to know Him, spend time with Him, keep Him with me every single second of every single day. I need to work on myself instead of blaming others.
Secondly and on a more practical note, it's important to try to understand people - understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. For example: people who are hurting often hurt others; people who are insecure often criticise others. If someone’s acting in a certain way, there must be a reason for it. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life and its important to give them the benefit of the doubt. Make excuses for people: “maybe he’s had a bad day”. Certain circumstances can make good people do bad things and there’s usually an explanation which can completely change your perspective.
In the past, trying to get to know someone who I didn’t particularly get along with is something which I’ve found extremely helpful. People who I’d previously labelled as “weird” or “annoying” have turned into very good friends simply because I got to know them more. I looked past those first impressions and saw the good in them. It’s like peeling a pineapple -
the outside is all spiky and rough, but when you’ve made the effort to cut through it, it's all sweetness inside.
Finally, and most importantly, we have to ask for God’s help. The desire to change is 90% of the work and God would never deny His children this opportunity. As with any virtue, “ask and you will receive”. Ask for patience. Ask for eyes which see Christ in everyone. Ask for God to fill your heart so that His perfect love can emanate from you. You never know how a little love can affect someone’s life.