“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”1 And C.S. Lewis began to describe so well that person that all of us know. The one who knows exactly how to push our buttons and seems to annoy us without even trying.
All people are difficult sometimes. The more time we spend with someone, the more we wonder how anyone ever gets along with them, and when other people do seem to enjoy their company, we wonder what is wrong with us. We become easily frustrated with the relationship, jaded at what we think it should be and yet isn’t.
So we decide that we just need to love this person like Jesus would. It’s the Gospel, really. Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed for us even when we were less-than-likeable. Through that love, we have been changed deeply and are different people than we used to be. So it naturally follows that, as Gospel-believers, we just need to love others who are hard to love and they will change, too.
So we try it. We smile, encourage, invite, compliment. We overlook annoyances and remind ourselves that we are going to love them no matter what. We put on a happy face and refuse to take it off.
After a couple of days with no noticeable change, we remind ourselves to persevere, convinced we will soon see a difference. So we compliment more. Invite again. Keep encouraging. Smile day after day after day. One day we realize this has been going on awhile, and nothing has changed.
They are still annoying.
This is still hard.
The Gospel is still the Gospel.
No Requirements Allowed
The love of God is the most powerful force in the world. There is no question that it changes people and situations in ways our human hopes never think possible. That love was shared and shown most deeply in the sacrifice—sacrifice—Jesus gave on the cross. This powerful love changes people every day, but don’t miss this: Jesus’ sacrifice was not dependent on our change.
He knew it would change us. But we didn’t have to promise to change, or even try to change, before He loved us so well.
What are we asking of the people around us? Are we really loving them when our goal is just to make our life easier?
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“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, ESV, emphases added).
Is it really loving someone when our love is based on the hope of their future change? When our acts of love are conditional on their changing?
We Can Count on This
Gospel love does change people. But the glory of this love is that it doesn’t work the way we usually expect. We think we are giving Jesus’ love to someone else, but we aren’t. We can’t.
Jesus’ love is flowing through us, not from us, right through all of our imperfections and sins and unrighteousness and out to the people nearest us. In that cleansing and constant flow, canyons and rivers are gorged through us and soon the topography of our souls will be unrecognizably different.
Friend, we will be changed.
When we only see someone else’s problems in our relationships, we are blind to the fact that we need to change, too. But God sees it. He knows our hearts, sees our need, and loves us anyway—because Jesus loves impossible people. People who ignore, even hate Him. People who keep forgetting about Him. And people who try to hoard His love instead of sharing it.
I’m afraid it’s true: All people are difficult sometimes. But, as Christians, we can count on this: with time, and through many ways, Christ’s love will change us, too.
1 – Lewis, C.S., The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952.
Lauren Dunn is a writer and toddler teacher who can’t remember the last time she read a book without highlighting in it or dog-earing it. Except for the ones from the library. She loves cookie dough ice cream, spending time with people, and seeing the clouds in the Midwestern sky. You can find more of her thoughts at These Traveling Days.