That quote attributed to the American poet/playwright has also been repeated in some fashion by Albert Einstein, Fyodor Dostoevsky (in The Brothers Karamazov), and by Linus of Peanuts fame. Most of us who read the quote are initially appalled by its crassness but then secretly admit we know exactly what she means. Why? Well, we humans are often a pretty difficult bunch to like, especially in the particular.
Oh, sure, we can easily speak of loving people in the abstract. We talk of loving each other, of loving the homeless, of loving the poor, of loving our neighbors, of all getting along in a great big group hug way. But then we have to deal with the guy down the street we can’t stand. We have to face the panhandler at the busy intersection every day as we drive to work. We have to work all day with people who get on our nerves.
Furthermore, those of us who are followers of Jesus speak of loving the church, loving sinners, loving the lost, and extending love, grace, and forgiveness to all. And then we have to deal with the particular sinner – me and you.
For many love in the abstract is easy while love in the particular is hard. Sure, some of you are just naturally the loving kind of people, but most of us love easily in the ideal world and then grit our teeth in reality. In fact, someone has observed that the more one idealistic one is in his/her love for humanity, the less they really like to be with people. Bottom line, it can really be hard for us to live together, much less love each other. So, what to do? Three suggestions:
One, although love involves feelings, it does not depend on them or usually start with them. Love starts with action. Choose to say and do the right things even to those you don’t particularly care about and even when you don’t feel like it. (Yes, I’m talking to me). Changed actions will eventually lead to changed feelings.
Two, understand that everyone has a story and many a person’s story is really tough. Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People puts it this way: “Seek to understand before being understood.” Sure, sounds like something Grandma would say, but it’s true. Listen before you talk. There is a whole bunch in Proverbs about that.
Three, for those who are in, have been, or have avoided being involved in a local church: No, it is not any easier there. In fact, learning to be a community of Christ followers is hard, very hard. Just read some of the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament. See, a born again believer is new in Christ – forgiven, redeemed, and saved. He or she, however, is still on a journey learning daily how to live and to do according to what he or she already is in Christ. And that can be very hard, especially if one’s story is a tough one. Remember that grace and forgiveness stuff? It works both ways. So, remember, it is a journey. We are all pilgrims in this together.
Unfortunately, too many on the outside of the church don’t get it and simply call us all hypocrites. Even more unfortunately, some on the inside of the church don’t get it and either place legalistic expectations on each other or just get frustrated and drop out. (I’m reminded that my friend Mike Lumpkin once told me he was running into so many pastors and church planters who loved the “idea” of church. They just didn’t love the church! Even leaders don’t always get it – you have to actually love people).
This list of suggestions could certainly be much longer. In the end, however, we need to remember that love in the abstract – the ideal – is pretty easy. It is love in the particular that is hard, because the particular involves messy, irritating people, just like you and me.