Monday, June 15, 2009

On Loving Difficult People

Do you ever feel like you are trying to love, but not being loved? Encouraging someone but not being encouraged in return? Investing in a friend only to be used?

I have been dealing with a lot of this lately in a relationship. It has been painful and difficult. And yet, through this situation God has been showing me some incredible things. As usual, it comes down to the gospel, His majesty and greatness and my overwhelming sinfulness. God is showing me through this that I need to treasure Him above my friend's love and friendship. If I feel I need someone's friendship, crave it, am seeking after it, or am angry when I don't get it, then this relationship has become an idol to me. I love this quote from John Calvin, "The problem isn't usually with what we want, but that we want it too much." (italics mine). It's not wrong to desire mutual love in a friendship, but if I feel that I need it, it has become an idol. I just dealt with a different idol in my heart recently regarding this same friendship and here is yet another one God has shown me! Another Calvin quote, "Our hearts are perpetual idol factories." We continually exchange one idol for another. Deal with one, and another soon finds its way in. Deal with that, and soon you'll be wrestling with another. This is why I have the John Owen quote on my right sidebar of my blog. If you are not actively waging war against sin, be assured it will be actively waging war against you!

God is also reminding me of my vast sinfulness. Whatever small offenses I have against my friend, God has infinitely more to hold against me, and yet He loves and forgives me! He has pardoned my sins by paying for them with His own blood. I, who have been so abundantly forgiven must also forgive my friend and bear with that person in love, however difficult it may be.

So, what has God been doing in me? He's weaning me. Weaning me from idols that I've unconsciously had for years. He's showing me idols in my life right and left as I continue to listen to godly pastors, read soul-feeding books, and dig into the Word.

In the weaning process, just saying "No!" to myself isn't enough. I can't just say, "Don't crave that! Or, put another way, "Don't worship this friendship!" If I turn it into a mere, "Don't do that" I would simply move on and replace that idol with another, whether food, or the pursuit of health, or another friendship, or status, or admiration, etc. Instead, I have to replace that craving with God. We were created to worship but we continually worship things other than God. All sin boils down to being a worship problem! We turn good things into god-things. We all worship, it's just a matter of what we worship. (These thoughts taken from a Mark Driscoll sermon on Worship). This is why, in being weaned from the poison I have been drinking I need to replace that poison with the life-giving nourishment of God and His Word.

So, when a friend hurts me, someone reviles me, or a tough situation comes up I have an opportunity to say, "Oh God, I need You! Help me to treasure You above all people! I need you, God, like I need water to survive. I need You like I need air. May this moment cause me to find my satisfaction in You!!!" When I am hurt, it's a reminder to me, deep in my spirit that I must glory in my Creator, and that only He can truly satisfy me. Those longings, heart pains, and frustrations are grace to me as they bring me to my knees in prayer. This trial hurts; it hurts sometimes like a root canal as He cleans out the infection of my sin and idolatry. God is good in allowing this cleansing in my life; it is exactly what I need from my loving Father and He is present in this pain. And I know that soon, and very soon, as my heart yearns after God, my friend will not cause me pain and hurt anymore because I will be so satisfied in Him that these pangs will be quickly forgotten when I am rejoicing in the truest, deepest love I have ever known. As I am filled up with that incredible love from Jesus, it will spill over and flood into this person's life as well, blessing them and bringing a longing for more of God to them as well, perhaps transforming our relationship.

God is also teaching me thankfulness. My wise mentor suggested that I take a look around at the amazing friends I do have and pour into them instead of chasing after this other friendship. I have been blown away as I've opened my eyes to the incredible blessings all around us, including many of you who read this blog. I am learning to cherish these precious friends more than before and to intentionally invest in relationships that spur me on towards godliness, as well as trying to invest in loving those who need friends, those who are difficult, and those who need Christ.

I am eternally indebted to the God-centered ministry of John Piper. This sermon, and many other of his sermons on this subject have helped me in figuring out how to love difficult people and how to find my treasure in God. I've included this link in case you are in a similar situation and need encouragement from the Word on this topic.

Also, I was struck squarely between the eyes not too long ago by this post. It was one of those "DUH!" moments for me where a light bulb suddenly came on and I realized that if I am being Biblical, then my friend will be less loving than me. Take a minute to read this excerpt from the post below:


Taken from this blog post written by Sam Crabtree

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
Olympic athletes attempt to outdo each other in order to obtain honor, not give honor. But Christians are not merely to show honor, but outdo one another in showing honor, preferring that honor be given to others.

If God enables you to outdo others in showing honor, then others will receive more honor than you (at least until heaven’s rewards are bestowed).

And if God enables you to succeed in outdoing others in love, the others will be, well, less loving than you, because you're outdoing them. And that’s exactly how love behaves. It loves those who are less loving.

Instead of feeling sad that I am trying to love but not being loved in return, I need to remember that God has called me to love MORE, go the the extra mile, serve even those who reject it, and be there for others who are not there for me. When I look at it through this perspective, leaning on His Spirit to do this supernatural work of loving, it becomes a joy and a challenge for me: How much can I love this person above and beyond how they are loving me?


Something I've also found helpful in killing this idol is the memorization of the Word. My kids and I have read 1 Cor. 13 aloud most nights for the last month and almost have it memorized. Every time I read it to them I am aware of how much I need to grow in having genuine love for others, both my husband and kids and my friend too. If you are wondering how to show love to someone, whether a difficult person or not, this is a great passage to start with!


I leave you with a prayer from the most amazing book ever (in my opinion) next to the Bible, The Valley of Vision. This is a collection of prayers from the Puritans, including famous men like John Bunyan, Spurgeon, and David Livingston. I could read this book everyday for 100 years and still not cease to be stirred by it's depth.

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;

let me find Thy light in my darkness,

Thy life in my death,

Thy joy in my sorrow,

Thy grace in my sin,

Thy riches in my poverty,

Thy glory in my valley.


Anonymous said...

Oh, can I relate to this one. :)

I have a friendship where I vacillate between trying to 'heal' what I consider to be a broken relationship (by extending more love) and 'retracting' from the relationship completely, often due to yet another "sting" that makes me feel hopeless.

I read a chapter in the book "The Worn-Out Woman" about "burlap people" that really hit home. It also reminded me-- gently-- that I might be the "burlap person" in someone else's life! ;)

Praying for you!

Mrs. Jo said...

Thanks for sharing Anonymous. I must admit, I don't know what a burlap person is. Could you explain?

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