Easy to Love
This is Rafiki. Our family welcomed this little scrap of orange fluff over five years ago. He was the runt of two litters and had been rejected by both mothers. For several days, he had to be hand-fed as he hovered between life and death.
Too weak to mew, the only sound Rafiki made in his early weeks was a surprisingly strong purr. He frequently got stuck behind furniture, but we always found him by calling his name and listening for “that purr.”
Rafiki is, by far, the most “people cat” we’ve ever had. He is my husband’s little lamb, following Daniel everywhere he goes, purring up a storm the entire time. When I lie down with a book, he cuddles up on my chest and puts his around my neck in a fond embrace, purring 3.0+ on the Richter scale. He sleeps at the foot of our bed, and every time we stir, no matter how slightly, he begins to purr. He can be dead asleep on the couch, but if I simply walk into the room, I’ll hear “that purr” of welcome.
It’s so easy to love Rafiki. He started out helpless and cute, and he’s grown up to be loyal and regal. Best of all, he absolutely adores us. Which makes it so very easy to adore him back.
Hard to Love
In stark contrast is a kitten I met during a mercifully short trip to the vet not long ago. He was up for adoption and cute as a button. But his meow? Combine fingernails dragging slowly down a chalkboard with a badly rusted hinge being slowly turned, and you’ll have sweet music compared to the screachy-squawky-braying that came from this poor feline’s tiny mouth. At first, I feared for my eardrums, but soon, I thought my entire head was going to explode. I couldn’t run out the door and get back home fast enough.
When I got home, and was greeted by my sweet Rafiki’s welcoming purr, I realized what a plight the kitten at the vet was in.
He desperately wanted love, attention, and belonging. And he was seeking it in the only way he knew how: by calling out, over and over and over. But the very method he was using to try to get someone to meet his needs–meowing at the top of his lungs–was backfiring in the worst possible way. And he had no clue.
Loving the Hard to Love
Do you have someone in your life who reminds you of the kitten at the vet? Maybe they don’t have an ear-splitting meow, but perhaps they have an annoyingly superior attitude? an infuriating complaining habit? an ever-ready critique of every situation? Perhaps their behaviors are outside the norm of social skills, graces, and even basic awareness.
As much as we’d love to run from such people, God calls us to love them. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
Sure, it’s easier to love the Rafikis in our lives. And I’m not suggesting that we need to adopt every challenging person who enters our lives. But we do need to recognize and respond to their cries for love, attention, and belonging.
Three strategies for loving a hard-to-love person:
1. Realize that they can’t see or hear themselves.
It’s so easy to assume they know exactly what they’re doing and they’re doing it on purpose. Most of the time, it’s simply not true.
Being videotaped for the first time, many years ago, was a paradigm-changer for me. I “just knew” that I’d been enthusiastic and animated during the recording. But when the videotape was played back, I looked angry! I learned that it’s hard to know just how we’re coming across to others.
Give others the benefit of the doubt. Assume they think they’re presenting themselves differently than they actually are. Try telling yourself:
2. Remember that you don’t have to fix them
Then again, sometimes people intend to be difficult. They know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re doing it on purpose. When this happens, keep in mind that it’s not your job to fix them.
We may try to fix others by correcting them, thinking that if they just get the right facts, they’ll change. Or we may try to be soothing, hoping that if we act conciliatory enough, they’ll calm down. We may start making promises and take on a whole load of responsibility that isn’t actually ours. Ultimately, none of these will have any long term effects (except to wear us out!)
I’ve found that the non-committal, neutral things that my massage therapist says during a treatment come in very handy when I’m dealing with a challenging person:
3. Recognize that you are missing out
When we over-focus on a person’s weaknesses, we often overlook their amazing strengths.
Just this week, I discovered new something about Jesus’ disciple Thomas. If you have a Biblical background, what is the one word that you associate with Thomas? Doubting. He’s known as “Doubting Thomas.”
But tucked in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is an astonishing detail about Thomas. The disciples tell Jesus not to go to Judea for fear that he will be stoned, but Thomas says to them, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).
“Doubting Thomas” was also “Willing-to-Die Thomas.”
When you find yourself fixating on how hard-to-love someone is, try asking questions until you’ve learned five new positive things about them, such as:
Engaging, entertaining, and enthusiastic, Cheri Gregory connects women to the transforming power of God’s love. A story-teller extraordinaire, Cheri draws from Scripture and personal experiences that resonate with women’s frustrations, fears and failures, bringing hope that they are not alone and inspiring courage that they can grow beyond their circumstances.
Cheri, herself, was raised in what appeared to be the “perfect Christian home.” As a child, compensating for underlying family issues, she strove to be the perfect “good little girl.” As a teenager, reacting to her older brother’s drug addiction, she nearly lost her life to eating disorders. Cheri identifies with those who are burdened, and offers hope for the transformation possible through the renewing power of God’s rescuing love.
A Certified Personality Trainer and CLASS* Faculty Member, Cheri has written numerous magazine articles and drama scripts and is featured in Wired That Way: the Complete Personality Plan by Marita Littauer.
Married since 1988 to her opposite Personality, Daniel, a pastor, teacher, and musician, Cheri is a high school English teacher and the mother of two college-age kids (who are also opposite Personalities): Annemarie and Jonathon.
(*Christian Leaders Authors and Speakers Services)
Website and Blog: http://www.cherigregory.com/