People God Loves in Places We Hate

PEOPLE

A funny thing happened to me while taking an Apologetics and Outreach class. I discovered that I didn’t love anybody.

No kidding. Not even me.

I spent several weeks with my jaw gaping open, staring in astonishment at what the Spirit was revealing about my own heart, and gazing with riveted attraction at the love of Jesus incarnated in my professor.

My heart was saying, “I want what he’s got. I want to be like him. I want to love people like that. “ One day, the Spirit answered my thoughts. “Your transformation will take time.”

I wasn’t one who was accustomed to hearing personal messages from God, but was quite sure I heard that. What I didn’t discern, however, was that God was about to begin His transformation process by tipping the first domino in a chain of losses that left me without a job, without a career, and without a clue as to what was coming next.

After a miserable season of unemployment, the first job I landed was a part-time, low-wage position in big box retail. It was a huge disappointment for me. I mean, it was all wrong.

I grumbled. “This is NOT an answer to my prayers.’

I stewed. “I don’t belong here.”

Then there came an answer to my complaining, “There are people here. Look at them.” (emphasis God’s)

Jesus had to walk me through this whole love thing. It might seem obvious to you, but I had to learn that the first step in loving someone is noticing them. The Spirit had to teach me that love first looks at another person, and then listens to them. I had to set aside my preoccupation with my own story long enough to hear the stories of other people.

So, I looked, and I listened.

And, to my surprise, I found that I liked them, I enjoyed them, I cared about them. I loved them.

Here’s a funny thing. When I stopped looking at me, and started looking at them, I ended up seeing myself in them. They were broken people, just like me. They had difficulties and painful trials. Their lives hadn’t turned out like they’d hoped. This wasn’t their dream job either. And what they needed was the same thing I needed—the love of God poured into their lives.

God was teaching me that a big part of loving others is seeing my job environment, not as the place that I hate, but as a context for relationships with people He loves.

9 thoughts on “People God Loves in Places We Hate

  1. Interesting.

    I was trained to look at people as tactically significant or not, and since my life depended upon learning this very well, it’s carried over to later life.

    I like people; but I make them uncomfortable. I’ve been told that I look ‘through’ them. That can’t feel good.

    Point being – we may be limited by what we become, at least in terms of the capacity for altruistic love. Eleanor Roosevelt thought that members of the USMC Raider battalions should have been detuned before re-entering society, and should have been made to wear distinguishing insignia to warn others about their past.

    This was clearly a non-starter, but the core of wisdom is that some experiences do bring fundamental changes, and some of them ain’t pretty. Or reversible.

    • I can only imagine how difficult it would be to try to unlearn a way of life–and an approach to people–that was necessary for survival in another context.
      For me, I think I was surprised to learn that I was not able to love apart from the personal agency of the Spirit. It was a real revelation to me to discover my severe limitations and to recognize that I couldn’t just try harder to love people better. I needed to be awakened to my dependency. I’m still just beginning to learn how to live dependently.
      Back to your point. Maybe E. Roosevelt was on to something. Maybe some combination of re-training and personal healing is necessary in order to experience greater freedom to love well.
      This I do know. I appreciate you and I am grateful for your comments. You always give me much to think about.

  2. Here’s the funny thing, Dave. I can’t imagine you not seeing people. Not listening to people. It’s what you do. It’s who you are. It comes naturally to you … like breathing.

    • Well, Beth, that is such a kind and encouraging thing for you to say.
      There have been many barriers in my heart that have prevented me from loving people well. A few years ago, the Spirit began knocking those barriers down. God has also introduced me to my utter dependency upon the Spirit. I am only just now beginning to learn to listen to others while listening to the Spirit.
      But I am encouraged by your words. They let me know that heart transformation has indeed taken place since I first learned of the seriousness of my heart condition.

  3. Twins separated at birth, Dave? I mean, really, I think I could have written this post, although not as eloquently and not with illustrations, but still, the first part was my life until 2005. Then Dad died and depression set in and pretty much everything I had arranged and tried to controll and believed in and surrounded myself with crumbled. Love was all that was left … God’s, not mine. Now I clean commodes instead of counseling people like I planned and get this, one of my customers told me that I’ve saved their marriage because all she and her husband used to do was fight about the house – God’s ways are funny ones! Thanks for putting it in writing.

    • 2005, crisis event, depression, everything crumbling, God’s love breaking through–yeah, that’s the story line. Remarkable similarities.
      And yes, discovering that God appoints us as ministers who cooperate with Him as He works beyond the limits of professional or religious/institutional contexts–that is so important.. I love the story of your marriage-saving cleaning ministry. Thanks so much for commenting, Kim. It will be interesting to see if we continue on parallel tracks 🙂

  4. I listened to a talk given by a lady who worked for years with Ronald Reagan. She said that he looked at others as individuals to get to know, not as someone who could further him with money or position. He would find what he had in common with each one–that’s why you can see photos of him laughing with Tip O’Neill and Gorbachev. People would tell him, “Nice to meet you,” and he would reply with sincerity, “No, it’s nice to meet YOU.”

    I was reminded of how that impressed and encouraged me when I read your blog. Too often I am thinking of what to say instead of listening and focusing on the person I am with. Great words of encouragement and honesty. Thank you.

    • I appreciate your feedback, Amy.
      I love what you conveyed about Ronald Reagan’s focus on human connection–seeing people instead of position.
      Yes, listening to the lives and stories of others is where it begins. Thanks to my old seminary professor, Jerram Barrs for opening my eyes to what loving others looks like. Thanks again, Amy, for your response.

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