Loving the unlovable

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Last Wednesday morning was like every other Wednesday morning: I dressed for work and packed everything the baby would need for a day at my in-law’s. Before I pulled out of our driveway, I said our usual prayer for safety on the roads. Then I began to sing some hymns and children’s songs as the baby giggled and “talked” from his rear-facing carseat behind me. The trip was unremarkable until I turned down the one-way frontage road that paralleled the highway.

At every other intersection along the frontage road, there is an exit ramp from the highway. There are signs posted as well as painted on the road that the law declares drivers on the frontage road are to yield to vehicles exiting the highway. As we approached one such intersection, I saw a Jeep exiting the highway and indicating with their turn signal their desire to merge into my lane. Abiding by the law and also to be courteous, I slowed slightly to provide the Jeep enough room to merge.

Almost immediately, I heard the loud, blaring sound of a car horn behind me. It was not a single honk but one long, loud, incessant sound. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw a red car about the same size as my own and just assumed the driver must not have been paying attention or had been following too close so was startled when I braked. I did not think much of it. It was a Wednesday morning and some people are just not morning people.

I kept singing to my baby as I rolled to a stop behind the Jeep. (The traffic light at the intersection ahead of us had turned red.)

The driver of the red car behind me impatiently moved into the turning lane to my right, sped forward, hit the brakes extremely hard to stop next to my car. I crept forward just a little as the Jeep in front of me moved forward as well. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the red car to my right pull up next to me again. That is when I noticed that the turning lane ahead of the young woman driving the red car was completely empty of vehicles, and she could have continued on her drive unimpeded.

Instead, she rolled down her window and proceeded to spew the nastiest, horrible profanity at me so loudly that I could hear every filthy word through my closed windows. I glanced at her and saw the anger in her eyes as she made profane gestures with her hand and continued to cuss and harass me.

I admit that for a very brief moment, as my brain registered what she was actually shouting, a part of me wanted to roll down my passenger window and yell back. However, godly wisdom overruled my human reaction to defend myself against her verbal tirade, and a sense of calm, instead of anger, washed over me. I smiled gently at her and then looked away. I silently prayed for safety for my baby and myself as thoughts of road rage incidents gone horribly wrong raced through my mind. I prayed for our guardian angels to surround us and keep us from harm.

For a very uncomfortable minute or two, we sat side by side at that intersection. My vehicle was the third one back from the light in my lane. There was not a single vehicle ahead of hers in the turning lane, and there was plenty of vehicles lining up behind both of us. The whole time, she was shouting profanities at me, and for what? For obeying the traffic laws and yielding the right of way to the merging Jeep?

When the light turned green, she hit the gas so hard that her tires squealed and proceeded to turn and speed away. The whole encountered lasted no more than three to four minutes, but it made a lasting impression.

As I drove through the green light, her car barreling away, I said a prayer for that angry, aggressive young woman. Granted, it was probably not the most eloquent prayer. I will be honest: a part of me was angry and insulted. However, I do not know what was going on in her life, but somehow, in that moment, she was venting all of her anger and pain at me, a stranger who merely happened to brake at a merging vehicle and then stop at a red light.

The more I contemplated the entire incident and the over-the-top emotional and combative outburst of the young woman, the more I realized that here was a person who had no love, no joy, no hope, no peace in her life.

Here was a person who did not know Jesus nor His love.

In one of His most well-known discourses, often referred to as the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-45, English Standard Version

It is easy, He goes on to say in verses 46-48, to love those who love you in return. It is easy to love our family and friends, people we are familiar with and know well. It is easy to love the nice, kindhearted, friendly people that we meet as we go about our typical day. Many religions, philosophies, and ideologies encourage treating others based on merit or empathy. Even those who do not believe in God are capable of showing love to those who love them in return. In this world marred with sin and selfishness, it is in our broken nature to demonstrate love and kindness to those who we feel deserve it.

But Jesus commands His followers to go farther, to do something that is against our natural instincts. He tells us that we must love our enemies, those who are antagonistic toward us, and pray for those who persecute or attack us. To do as Jesus requires is to step outside our comfort zone and open ourselves up to possible insult or injury at the very times and in the very situations where we would naturally feel compelled to withdraw in order to protect ourselves or preserve our ego. 

Jesus requires us to open up in the very situations where we feel compelled to withdraw. Click To Tweet

We are to love those who do not deserve it, who do not ask for it, and who might even hurt us in return for it. Plainly put, we are called to love the unlovable.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus Christ said to His disciples and, by extension, says to us: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

But what is this love that Jesus preaches and requires of His followers? What does it look like in practice?

This love is not the type of love that we usually think of when we hear the word “love”. It is not romantic in nature, it is not lustful, and it is not begrudging tolerance due to some shared connection. This love is a love without expecting reciprocation or reward. It is patient, kind, contented, humble, modest, and civil. It is self-sacrificing, forgiving, trusting, and compassionate. It does not give up on people, it never loses hope, it never quits. (See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.)

This is the love at the very core of God’s character, the foundation of His government, and the principle that has guided His interactions with His creation. This is the love that Jesus both taught and practiced in His time on earth. This is the love that kept Jesus on the cross, willing to sacrifice His own life to redeem fallen humanity. This is the love that overcame sin and claimed victory over death itself. This is the love that empowered the disciples after Jesus’ ascension in the face of fierce opposition and even death. This is the love that heals the broken, brings hope to the dejected, comfort to the grieving, and worth to the destitute.

How do we come to know this love?

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul gives us a crucial insight to where this love comes from:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” 

— Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV

This love cannot be harnessed by our will-power or self-discipline. It is supernatural and originates from God Himself. It comes only from praying for His Spirit to enter into our hearts and allowing Him to transform our broken, selfish, sinful characters into a reflection of Jesus’ whole, selfless, righteous character. It does not happen instantaneously, but is a gradual process of growth that must be renewed through communing with God on a daily basis through prayer and studying His Word.

In 1 John 4:7-8, we are told very plainly the importance of embracing the love of God. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If we do not understand this godly love and, therefore, do not reflect this love in our words and deeds, then we reveal that we do not truly know God. For a heart given over to the Lord will not harbor animosity towards others, wish for their downfall, revel in their sorrow or pain, or speak harshly out of pride.

The person who has given himself or herself over to the Lord wholly will be growing, day by day, more like Jesus in character and will demonstrate His love through humility and gentleness in their own relationships and interactions with others. No matter the situation or difficulty, no matter how the other person is treating us or what they might be saying to us, we can demonstrate His love in how we respond. Instead of viewing the other person as a threat, we will see them for who they truly are: a lost child who does not know the love of God.

And perhaps God, in His infinite wisdom, has worked it so that in that moment, you have the opportunity to show His love and grace to that person. Perhaps your calm response is the planting of a seed in that person’s mind and heart. We may never know this side of heaven how a gentle word, a smile, or simply not engaging in the way that the world expects may have on an individual’s life trajectory and, ultimately, their salvation. 

This is why prayer is so important in our lives. We need to be communicating with our Lord on a regular basis, conforming our thoughts and will with His will, and always asking for the guidance of His Spirit. For when we go to bended knee (literally or figuratively) and lift a situation or individuals up in earnest and heartfelt prayer to the Lord, He will give us the wisdom and discernment to know what to say when it is time to speak and to know when it is best not to speak at all.

When we have the heart of Jesus and the wisdom of His Spirit, we will recognize that every soul, especially the lost soul, is precious.

When we have the heart of Jesus, we will recognize that every soul is precious. Click To Tweet

Even if that lost soul is blocking traffic at an intersection, spewing profanities at you and your baby for simply following the traffic laws and be courteous towards others. We, who have come to know the love of God, have the honor and privilege of sharing that love with those who so desperately need it. They need to see His love in the way we interact with them, and they need to hear His love in the way we respond to them. For our Lord died for all — every single person who ever lived, is living, or will live on this earth.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

— Romans 8:34-35,37, ESV

Friend, next time you find yourself in a situation where your natural inclination is to attack or attack back or boast or wish harm, say a prayer to the Lord for wisdom and may you be an example of His love and grace to that other person.

Remember, Jesus requires His true followers to step outside of the boundaries of our marred humanity and, through His strength alone (Philippians 4:13), love even the unlovable.

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About Jacquelyn

Jacquelyn Van Sant lives in Chandler, Arizona, with her husband Bradley and their one-year-old son. She works as a web application developer for a large American university and is an active member of the Tempe SDA Church in Tempe, Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys singing, writing, drawing, and hiking. Jacquelyn wrote songs for Christian recording artist Jessica (Fisher) Cyiza's debut album New Life (2011).