loving the unlikeable

Love

I did not particularly love Wednesday.

It started a little earlier than normal, picking up a still-sleepy middle schooler for her last day of final exams. I put a smile on my face, said a cheerful good morning, and was met with all the grouchiness of an eleven-year-old forced to be up early for a day of tests she would much rather have skipped (that’s a lot of grouchiness). And just like that, I was fighting to hang on to a good attitude and a little bit of joy at facing the day ahead.

I was still on edge that afternoon, taking the eight-year-old for a swim at the pool. Really all I wanted was to sit with my glass of ice water and read my book while monitoring her in the water, but that wasn’t in the cards. “Beth, look at this handstand!” “Beth, were you watching?” “Beth, throw these toys in the water and time how fast I can get them all!” “Beth! You didn’t see my flip!” After looking down and back up again as my name was called out every few seconds over the course of two hours, I felt frazzled. In addition, my phone had been ringing at regular (and very short) intervals all day—same kid from youth group, same non-lifethreatening situation, and same ceaseless dedication to hitting “redial.”

By the end of the day, I wanted to be either a) surrounded exclusively by mellow, kind, adult human beings, or b) home by myself with a tub of ice cream. But this was Wednesday—hooray for heading from work to youth group, and fifty to sixty kids that my incredible husband gets to wrangle into some semblance of order every week (although occasionally it’s more like thinly-veiled chaos).

I hedged. I drove from work to Sonic. Sat in my car drinking a limeade and thinking of how wonderful it would be to drive past church and straight home. Contemplated the likelihood of snapping at the first kid who picked a fight, didn’t listen when asked, or insisted on sitting on the stacked chairs when he’d already been told not to. I sipped my limeade in silence and wished it could just be Thursday already.

All things considered, there was really nothing catastrophic about the day—just imperfect kids doing normal imperfect kid things, while my patience and grace slowly chipped away. I have always known a deep love for ministering to children, but on this day (like others) I just wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t particularly enjoying the company of the kids I’d spent my day with, or the idea of walking into a room of fifty more.

I’m beginning to learn that God doesn’t let days like these go to waste. I finished my drink and headed to youth group—late, but still present. I sat in the back while the kids listened to Cameron’s lesson, and joined in for the crazy games that followed. Finally, the evening was over, the building was locked, and we were home. As we talked about the time we’d just had with the kids, Cameron made a comment.

“You know,” he said, “God really gave me so much love for those kids tonight.”

It was a simple statement, but after this particularly frustrating day, it was exactly the reminder I needed.

There’s a truth about loving people that I easily overlook: the love that I am able to give to another person is not something that I generate within myself. After the easy love that flows from favorable circumstances, I enter a wasteland of striving and straining and  feeling frustrated at just how quickly my responses to imperfect people turn sour, ugly, and unlovely. When my small, meager love encounters the unlikeable, it withers and pulls back and wants to hide away with solitude and a bowl of ice cream.

That’s why I need His love—the God who is Love, and who gives of Himself so freely when we ask. If He has poured into my heart the gifts and the passion to minister to kids, He will also give me the love with which to respond to them. If He has brought Cameron to this youth group and given him the role of leading it, He will also fill up my husband’s heart with unexplainable love in the midst of chaos. If you struggle with loving in the face of the unlikeable, He will give you love. 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. … We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7,19)

Love comes from God…the kind of love that remains firm, steadfast, and unfailing, even when people don’t  seem very loveable. The next unlikeable circumstance is probably not far off on the horizon. But I am so incredibly thankful to know the One who is love, and promises to be my source. What an immeasurable well of grace, compassion, and patience we have been given in Christ!

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