Thoughts on love when loving gets hard
Let’s be real for a second - when it comes to loving others, sometimes it’s just more than we can handle.
It’s great when the people we are ministering to, helping, or serving want to talk about Jesus and are actively pursuing emotional and relational health. But what happens when one, or many, of these people are in the Extra Grace Required (or “EGR”) category?
One friend’s growth is stifled by addiction or trauma. Another endlessly chooses codependent or abusive relationships, inhibiting his ability to make positive and healthy choices. She was hurt by the church or other Christians, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth when it comes to anything religion, faith, or Jesus. He makes overtures about changing habits or relationships, but with one poor decision lands himself right back where he started. She disengages relationally when the conversation gets into deep waters. He becomes upset when you talk about your faith, or doesn’t seem interested in anything having to do with God.
At some point, it’s easy to lose patience and want to grab our friends and shake them with the passion of concern. We want to shout: “If you just did __________ [insert positive choice here], you wouldn’t be in this mess anymore!"
But it’s not actually that simple, is it? And I highly doubt such action on our part would really solve anyone’s problems or cause them to stop and think, “Wow, you’re right! I’ve been so wrong!”
Sometimes, love runs out. Hope finally gives in. We want to give up on people, and give up on what God might have in store for them. The end of our rope has been reached.
So where do we go from here? Do we give up and choose people who are just plain easier to love? Or do we keep going?
Here are few things to keep in mind about choosing to love when love runs out:
1. God journeys with people through the desert. After the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord journeyed with them through the desert. Despite their manifold sins and acts of idolatry and rebellion, God accompanied the children of Israel through the desert until they reached the promised land of Canaan. His presence never departed from their midst, as he manifested himself in the tabernacle and led them in a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke.
2. God doesn’t give up on people who have rejected his ways. The Lord’s love was never exhausted, even when Israel rejected his kingship and demanded an earthly king, even when they went astray and worshiped other gods, even when they were carried off into captivity for their disobedience. He never gave up on his beloved children. He was always willing to pursue them and give them more and more chances to choose his love over the worship of idols.
3. God has never given up on you. This is a tough reminder, isn’t it? The truth is that we are no better than the “challenging” people around us. Perhaps you too can stand with me in acknowledging that you have been guilty of wandering away from God at one time or another, or of making poor choices that did not end well. Maybe you too have required others to extend you a lot of extra grace during moments of struggle, selfishness, impatience, or anger.
But what you hopefully know from experience is that Christ has never given up on you. Or me. Or any of the many people who are really challenging to love. The love of God truly never fails, and by his Spirit we can choose to join him in extending love to those who seem far from him, or far from change.
4. God is the one who saves. Despite our greatest efforts, ultimately it’s God’s job to save people. We can take them to his throne, introduce them to his Word, and help them experience his love, but it is not and has never been our job to save them. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for another person is to trust that God is walking with them and, at times, carrying them. Trust that he has a plan to work all things for good in their life, and surrender them in prayer...every day if we have to.
God has been in the business of loving humans for a very long time. Let’s continue to seek his face and ask him to fill us with the love and wisdom needed to love our friends and neighbors as he does. Without him, we are empty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jamie Rosenberry lives in San Francisco, Calif. where she intentionally lives and serves among the homeless youth in Golden Gate Park, people who are sometimes often challenging to love.