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Do you struggle to hold your tongue at Christmas dinner every time a certain relative speaks? Are you dreading finally going to the mall with that one friend you've been avoiding? Most of us know someone we want to care about, but it can feel like an uphill battle. That person may need to have their behavior called out, or they could have neutral traits that you don't appreciate. In either case, it's essential to distinguish the difference between loving and liking.
Love isn't a warm and fuzzy feeling; that's "like." The amount of like or dislike you have for someone may fluctuate, but it's rarely all or nothing. Even our favorite people will do things we dislike at some point. But some people tip the scale further toward dislike, and that's when we start to wonder how to love them. The answer is that love is a choice. Love isn't about how much we enjoy someone's company, and it doesn't always require us to spend time with that person. Love does require us to care. If there's someone you're struggling to love, even just sometimes, here are some questions to consider:
What is the purpose of your connection? Jesus shows us that our purpose is not only to embrace people who give us pleasant experiences but to love everyone. That does not mean we need to invite "everyone" into our lives. It does mean that God may have plans for a relationship even if there are struggles. We often don't want to see the potential to grow because that would push us to confront our own imperfections. If someone is clearly taking advantage of you or acting disrespectful, it won't serve either of you to continue the cycle. So take time to think about your connections and where they can/cannot go. If the person in question is family or a close friend you enjoy having around, you likely know it's worth the effort to handle your differences. Maybe you're struggling to get along with someone at your work or someone you'd like to support without letting them too far into your life. In any case, once you have a clear view of your place in the relationship, you can establish the choices you have moving forward. Where do you want the relationship to go? Where do you think God wants it to go? Prayer is a vital step in this process!
Is honesty always the answer? Some people seem to have no awareness of how they make others uncomfortable. Whether they constantly have strong opinions or hog all the fries, it's hard to navigate peacemaking with people when their actions are unintentionally frustrating. Generally, if someone continues to do something bothersome, it's a good idea to kindly express how it affects you. The problem is, what about someone whose entire personality grinds on your nerves? You can set space and boundaries with that person, but should you let them know how you feel about all their characteristics? Probably not.
Our differences serve a purpose, and while you may clash with one person's quirks, that doesn't mean they necessarily need to change. For example, if your friend tends to interrupt others and take over conversations, it's helpful to bring awareness to how they affect others. However, if your friend speaks passionately but respects your part in the discussion, it's not loving to make them feel self-conscious about their enthusiasm. You may encounter all kinds of more complex issues like this, and it's really a matter of discretion. Is your honesty loving? And would your lack of honesty be dishonest, or would it simply mean stepping into someone else's shoes?
As we go through life, we inevitably interact with many people we don't "like." Whether we keep those people around or just have passing shared interests, they are all people God tells us to love. Even if we think we're entirely different from certain people, we can probably learn something from them and reach each other in unexpected ways. How we choose to use our opportunities is up to us.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.