Long long ago in my dating years, I remember seeing my (then) boyfriend at a distance. He hadn’t noticed me but I saw him, and frankly, he looked kind of schlumpy. But it was the moment that I realized I loved him because – schlumpy or not – my heart leapt a bit. I saw him as he was and still felt the love.
(Note: he proved to be unworthy and those feelings passed.)
In working with Pastor Search Committees – both as the one seeking a call and a search committee member – there’s often talk about falling in love. Committees fall in love with certain candidates and pastoral candidates fall in love with search committees. There’s a connection. Our hearts leap a little bit.
Falling in love with God’s people is not the same as falling in love with the Church. (Actually, they should be the same because the people are the Church. But we conflate “Church” with institutions, religion, sentimentality, buildings, and family tradition.)
Spiritual maturity involves increasing our capacity for love. I believe that the Spirit transforms us to have the ability to love the unlovable.
You know the ones I’m talking about: that super annoying homeless person, the cranky church officer, the always-negative elder, the mean neighbor. Seeing them through the eyes of Christ is not something we can do on our own. Believe me, there are people who flatten me and I do not want to love them. But I can with God’s help.
Are there specific people or kinds of people we simply cannot bring ourselves to love? (Note: I didn’t say we have to like them.) Maybe they’ve hurt us or they scare us. Maybe they are so foreign to us that we can’t begin to relate.
But loving God’s people (i.e. all people) is essential for a healthy spiritual life. Even the schlumpy, difficult, scary ones. It’s a wonderful feeling when we realize that we love these people.