I’ve heard it said countless times, ‘Love God. Love others.’ Jesus Himself said that these two things are the greatest of all the commandments. But have you ever wondered what this looks like in every day life? I have. I tend to like concrete ideas instead of vague concepts, so I’ve often wrestled with what it means to love God – Who is an infinitely huge, eternal, and perfect Spirit- while at the same time loving my neighbor who is human, imperfect, and – I’ll admit – often frustrating.
I used to think that loving my neighbor was easy. But then I began to realize that Jesus wasn’t just talking about the people who were easy to love. He was talking about the needy person next to me. He was talking about the person who was different from me, who’s personality frustrated me. He was talking about the person who annoyed me most. And then I discovered something horrible about myself: I discovered that sometimes I just don’t feel like loving my neighbor, even though I know that I should.
My solution? Like any other problem’s solution. Try harder. Try harder to love people who annoy me. Try harder to show love to those who are hard to love. I’ve lived for YEARS thinking that if I just try hard enough, I’ll eventually overcome my problems. Eventually I’ll have enough love to give.
However, my solution started crumbling recently when I was approached by a few people who lovingly told me that – even though I was trying hard to love a particular person who annoyed me – my love didn’t appear genuine. Frustrated, I complained ‘But I’M TRYING.’ All of a sudden, I Corinthians 13 came to mind. ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.’ And that’s exactly what I had become. A clanging cymbal, because artificial ‘try harder’ love is no substitute for real, selfless, genuine love.
So then I did something crazy. I decided that I didn’t want to be a clanging cymbal. I wanted to love and to love genuinely, and that wasn’t happening through my own efforts. So, I gave up. I accepted my emptiness and inability to love and instead just cried out for God’s perfection and love to fill every crack and corner of my needy heart.
And then God did something crazy. He started giving me love for the person who annoyed me the most. Genuine, selfless, love that I honestly can’t explain on my own. It was all Him. My emptiness was being exchanged for His fullness.
Jesus said that the world would know that we’re His disciples by our love. I want to be known as His disciple, but I’m never going to be able to love the way I should no matter how hard I try. It’s only when I give up on my own efforts, run to Him, and continually meditate on the gospel truth that God loves ME even when I’m annoying and frustrating and downright filthy, that I’m truly able to love my neighbor. Not a formula to be learned, but a relationship to be experienced.