Life is made up of relationships. Some fun. Some stimulating. Some toxic or heartbreaking. We quickly warm to some people; others, we judge, avoid, or hold at a distance.
It’s not easy to recognize people’s true value, especially if we fail to recognize our own value. Today, a lot of focus is on removing toxic people from our lives, causing us to become reactive rather than proactive, and making it harder to discern what actually is a toxic relationship.
I used to avoid people who rubbed me the wrong way or whom I felt uncomfortable with. But each person is created in God’s image; each has a story.
Wow! Jesus calls us to walk in sincerity and to love our neighbors, those who are different.
How do we do that? I’m glad you asked!
FIVE KEYS TO LEARNING TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.
#1 Realize God gave you a gift, even if it feels like you have nothing to offer.
Nancy O. had an international driver’s license and a gentle poise; everyone loved her. Quiet and shy, I felt I had nothing to offer except empty, open arms. Weekly we drove into London in an old Volkswagen van devoid of seats in the back to collect 10-15 children and take them to a club, mainly attended by immigrant children. I cannot remember the clean and well-cared for children, but my heart softens with love, and I smile whenever I remember the English children who lived at our first stop.
As we approached, Nancy warned, “The little ones are scruffy, need love, but also desperately need a bath. Be ready.”
#2 Be aware of the little treasures God places in your path.
As she walked to their door, I slipped into the back. Moments later, the van door slid open, revealing my presence to three skinny children with unwashed faces. They squealed with joy. Misty was about 3; she dove into my arms. Jack, about 5, followed and fought for a spot on my lap, trying to dislodge his sister. Rosie plunked herself down and leaned against me. Embracing them, I listened as they chatted, their sparkling eyes gazing at me as if I was their best friend. Slowly, the aroma of urine engulfed me.
Each week, their eyes lit with delight when they saw me; for a brief time, they had a safe place to settle where they were seen and loved. Rosie had a loud raspy voice and loved to sing. But she only knew barroom songs! Her siblings would happily join in. I learned to quickly belt out a different song the moment the first note left Rosie’s lips. “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty”, or “God blew with His wind, puff, puff, puff” – action songs, which delighted the children.
#3 Remember all toxic people have a story.
The first time their mom invited us in for a cuppa tea, Nancy & I sat awkwardly in the little sitting room, kitchen area. While she put the kettle on to boil, a black and white cat jumped onto the table, languidly moved around dishes, and jumped onto the ledge of the sink. It seemed he was the official dish inspector. Our eyes widened in dismay as he gently licked cups and moved to taste the milk.
One day as the mom was brewing tea, Rosie invited me up to her bedroom; the open door revealed a broken double bed and clothes in a heap in the corner. Misty and Jack squealing with delight followed. “We sleep here!”
Jumping up and down, each child clamored for my attention. “This is my spot!”
“And I sleep here!”
I smiled. “Shall I help you make the bed?”
Rosie spoke quietly as the younger left the room. “Jack wets the bed. It needs to dry.”
Are you thinking the parents were toxic people?
They were. But toxic people once were little children too. Because they never found healing for their wounds, they passed their pain onto their children.
#4 Prepare to love, even when it isn’t easy.
The first time the children cuddled in my arms, and the scent of urine assailed me, I wanted to move them away from me to avoid their smell transferring to me. But their need for me to be present with them was so great I continued to embrace them. Over time, glimpsing the neglect and lack of nurture they experienced, the urine smell paled in comparison. Sadly, adults avoided these children because they didn’t smell nice.
#5 Be willing for the Lord to use you.
So what’s my point in all of this?
Like me, you may feel you have nothing to offer. In the back of that van, I learned the Lord didn’t need me to be clever or a gifted speaker to use me. Instead, He wanted to use my empty arms to provide a safe place for these wounded children. In their innocence and longing for love and nurture, I wonder if any Christian ever reached out in genuine love after Nancy and I left the country.
You are of immense value for you are God’s masterpiece. He deeply loves you. And He chose you to be His arms to love and bless others.
Let me clarify:
* In your lack, draw near to Jesus.
* Fill your mind with His words.
* In your emptiness, allow Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit.
* Ask Jesus to help you see others through His eyes.
* Let His love flow through you.
* Remember the call of Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Jesus spent time with people who were rejected and lonely. He loved the unclean, those despised by the religious and self-righteous.
Today, He calls you to demonstrate His love to widows and orphans. To love children, especially the brokenhearted and abused.
Note: If you are in an abusive relationship, please talk to someone who understands about domestic violence. Please contact me if you need someone to talk with and don’t know where to turn.