This is one post I feel reluctant, but compelled, to write. Ever have that feeling? You just can’t let it go, even if you want to, so despite my misgivings, here goes…
There is always someone in your life, a relative, co-worker, fellow group member, with whom you do not get along. And while you may attempt to limit contact with those people, it is inevitable that you will, at some point, be forced to interact with them.
Loving people is not an easy thing to do. Ask any married couple who has finished a even a few years of marriage. There comes a time where you really have to work; it no longer comes as easily as it did when the first flush of infatuation moved you forward. Siblings struggle with the frustration of dealing with each other over a lifetime, sometimes breaking ties for years in order to deal with their own demons before resolving that relationship. How much harder is it, then, to love those we don’t know? (Or easier, perhaps, since you will not have to brush up against their ideas and beliefs on a regular basis.)
Let’s start first with what I mean by ‘loving’ someone you don’t know, who is not a friend, but just the person you see in the store, on the road or in the coffee shop- a stranger. Love involves respect (allowing that person dignity) and an ability to accept a person where they are. You love your child even when they don’t follow directions, even when they hit a friend, even when they scream how much they hate you- because you accept them where they are at the moment. Of course, you do not accept bad behavior but sternly rebuke it, reprimanding where necessary.
That is our ultimate goal for strangers- acceptance with respect for the person while not accepting behavior that is harmful.
A discussion I had has made me pause for a bit and consider my call to do this. From a Christian perspective, I look at Micah 6:8: ‘He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ The question then becomes how do you ‘act justly’ and ‘love mercy?’ Another translation had ‘do justice’ and ‘love constantly.’ There is an inherit tension between those two things. Justice, as we understand it, is not always love. (I must note here, that the Old Testament understanding of justice was to do the commandments God gave. To be just meant to conduct yourself wisely, have faith in God and be ‘free from any fault which would damage fellowship.’*
Often, our first response to this concept is a positive one until we realize just how difficult it is to carry out these directives. To ‘love constantly’ seems to directly contradict our natures as humans. Or does it? My own belief is that we are all created good, original sin be damned. (Pun intended.) That being the case, we are morphed into something else as we grow. Society and experience teach us that in order to move ahead in this world, we must be vigilant of our own needs, stepping on others when the need arises.
It’s not pretty and calls into question what ‘needs’ necessitate hurting other people in order to satisfy them. Those of us living in the west live in a surplus of the basic necessities for life- food, shelter and clothing. There are those in our society who are marginalized by poverty and are forced to finds other ways to supply those basics, but most of the time there are ways to find them.
Every day we are challenged to step a little bit more out of our comfort zone and work with strangers we might not like, but are called to love; to help those we have deemed ‘not worthy,’ to accept that everyone has bad days and maybe the cashier just took out their frustration on you. It’s a radical idea, this ‘love your neighbor’ thing, especially when you want your neighbor to just leave you alone.
I struggle on, fellow travelers in life. May we all be successful on this journey.
*From ‘Encyclopedia of Theology, The Concise Sacramentum Mundi,’ Edited by Karl Rahner.