Actually, I'm still learning it.
Something I heard a lot growing up is that there will always be someone in your life who is hard to love. It could be a family member, a classmate, a coworker, an acquaintance, etc. There could be more than one person at a time, but there will always be someone. Usually that person is actually a lot like you, but you'd hardly ever want to admit that. You clash because you're alike or because you traditionally fill the same roles within a group--except this time, there are two of you and only one place to fill. That's when we have a choice to make. We can focus on the good and see the benefit of having that person around...their strengths, what they bring to the table that no one else can bring, what makes them unique, their spiritual gifts. Or we can let our pride take over and act like they are insignificant.
We can share our group. Our space. Our friends. Or we can be selfish and stubborn and set in our ways and our "spot".
The problem with having a "spot" is that sometimes we get so focused on where we always are, who we're always with, what we always do, that we miss out on good things. Not every change is good, but a lot of them are, and there's only one way to really find out if the upcoming change is going to be good or bad. We have to try it and see.
There are some things that are non-negotiable, but for everything else--the details--we can afford to have a little wiggle room. We can try out a different role in the group--one that may suit us better in the long run. We can share responsibilities and free up more time to spend with the people we love. We can move on from one activity and make room for others to enter while allowing ourselves to try something new. There's a lot of promise in new things--in changes, but there's also a lot of uncertainty, and that is sometimes scary. Some people find uncertainty exciting. I am not one of those people. But looking back on my life, I see that most of my growth and character building has come from times of uncertainty. It's not always easy to see it when you're in the middle of it. God has allowed me to be aware of some pruning that's happening in my life this Lenten season , and it's been a different experience for sure. One that I wouldn't change. Life is hard. We live in a fallen world that keeps racing further and further away from God, and (if you're a Christian) we feel constantly out of place in this world because our citizenship is in heaven.
We can try to please people or we can try to please God. If we try to please people, we will always fail. Everything we do will upset someone. Our world is so divided on so many issues that it would be impossible to try to make everyone like you. But we can please God. Not on our own because we are born sinners and God cannot be around sin. But through Jesus. Through His death, burial, and resurrection, we can be made new. Made whole. Made clean. Made into something that God can be pleased by and take great delight in. His creations who have chosen to pursue Him and a relationship with Him. God is pleased by that. The Christian life is not a checklist of good things we do. It's a two sided relationship that we need to invest in. The closer we get to God, the more we are able to see this world through His eyes and to see what His plan is for us.
I want that. I want to please God more than I want to please people. I forget that sometimes.
The counterpart to what everyone told me about always having someone in your life who is hard to love is something that NO ONE has ever said to me. Sometimes I am going to be that hard to love person for someone else.
My job is not to try to change myself or my behavior to appease people who do not like me. My job--my JOY--is to try to live a life that is pleasing to God. I cannot control the actions or opinions of others any more than I can control the weather (I can't control the weather, by the way). But I can control how I act, how I respond, how I react to others--with the help of God. I can't be perfect on my own. It's impossible. And I will still mess up even if I'm trying to let God dictate my life. I will still step on toes, hurt feelings, and offend. That much is inevitable. However, I can also hopefully encourage, build up, and offer healing to the people around me.
I've talked about my "Lent Theme Song" or "Lent Anthem" here before. The hardest verse for me to listen to is the one that says:
From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, Oh God
I am trying with everything inside me to sing that with conviction. To mean it. To crave the goodness of God over the things of this world. But it is a process. Lent always is. And I'm always amazed at the things God teaches me through this process. Every year is different and every lesson is perfect.
There is pain in growth.
But there is even more joy in being made whole.