Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Loving despite . . .

Hi Friends,

I've been thinking this week about how easy it is to be annoyed with people, to dislike, to criticize, to accuse. But God calls us to love. So, how do we love the irritating? In pondering that question, I was reminded of an story I shared a few years ago, and the things I learned from it. It was a good reminder for me, and I hope you'll find it interesting too. Here's what happened and what I learned:

"Love one another" -- it sounds so simple! So, why is it so hard? Let's face it. People are difficult to love. They whine, complain, they rarely listen. And what about all those annoying little habits? No matter how much of a "people person" we may be, there are still those who really get under our skin. For me, Pam was just such a person.

She sat across from me on the trolley at the company outing. A harmless honeybee buzzed down the aisle, and she screamed. I barely stopped myself from rolling my eyes in disgust. Back at work, another person disagreed with her, and she pouted for the rest of the day. Later she complained loudly about the temperature in the office, even though the rest of us were comfortable. In short, everything about her rubbed me the wrong way.

Yet, no matter how much she annoyed me, God kept thrusting us together. And all the time His words nagged at the back of my mind, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20 NIV)

Yikes! Hard words. It wasn't that I hated Pam, but I certainly didn't love her either. How did Jesus love the less than loveable? During His earthly ministry, He was surrounded with annoying people, not the least of which was Peter. Impulsive, emotional, always speaking at the wrong time, Peter would have been a challenge for anyone. Peter was not so different from Pam. Yet Jesus saw more in Peter than his actions warranted. Could I see Pam the way Jesus saw Peter?


What's in a name? In the gospels, Simon Peter resembles more the shifting sand than a firm, immovable rock. Yet, early in their relationship, Jesus renames Simon, saying "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18 NIV) Somehow, Jesus saw past Peter's present faults and shortcomings and found the seed of who Peter would become under the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Then, Jesus chose to address Peter as if he had already become the rock.

What would I call Pam if I saw what she could become under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit? In my mind, I had been calling her "annoyer" and "petty complainer," but what did God see? As I prayed for God to show me one good quality, I began to see that her bothersome habits were partially the result of a sensitive spirit. With God's grace, that sensitivity could be transformed into a Christ-like compassion. So, every time I saw her I began to silently call her "compassion" and think of her as such. With her new 'name' firmly in my mind, I started watching for the glimmer of compassion I knew was in her. Soon, I found myself seeking out her company, and even beginning a real friendship.


As I schooled myself to see Pam as ‘compassion,’ my next task was to learn to see beyond her faults and affirm her potential. Again, I thought of Peter.

I can almost see the scene as they reclined around the table, still scattered with bits of the Passover meal. Twelve disciples, grasping for their fair share, arguing about who was the greatest. And there was Peter, fiercely asserting that he was greater than all the others. But Jesus knew better. Everything that was wrong with Peter would soon come to the forefront when he would deny Jesus three times. But even in the acknowledgement of Peter's imminent failure, Jesus still saw the future "rock" in Peter. In Luke 22:32 (NIV), He says, "But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Jesus didn't say, "Simon, you are such a wishy-washing, impulsive, emotional disciple that you won't even have the backbone to stand by me when I need you the most," (even though that may have been true!). Instead, Jesus prayed that Peter's faith, despite his failure, would become strong and rock-like. Then, Jesus looked beyond Peter's faults and affirmed his potential -- 'Peter, despite your failure, you'll turn back. Then, be a rock to your brothers.'

Could I look beyond Pam's faults and affirm her potential too? For me, it was so natural to dwell on what was wrong with Pam, to constantly ask, "What's the matter with her?," or "Why does she have to act like that?," until I could see nothing else. Even one such thought would poison my interaction with her, dispelling God's love just as surely as if I decided to hate her after all.

I needed to control my thoughts about Pam. As Paul says, "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV) To control my thoughts, especially when she was the most irritating, I began to pray for her to become "compassion," just as Jesus prayed for Peter. For example, when she started to whine about another employee, I tried to squelch my exasperation and instead pray that God would give her understanding. Then, when she was kind to another employee, I tried to make sure that I commented on it. When she was helpful, I took the time to express my appreciation.

Choosing affirmation rather than criticizing began to cause small changes in Pam. Soon, she was complaining less and spending more time trying to be helpful. One day, she stopped me in the hall and asked, "What do you see in me, anyway?"

It was the opportunity I had been waiting for. "I see someone who God loves," I said, "And I see the neat qualities He's placed in you. I wonder, will you let Him make you into the person that both He and I see you could be?"


In Luke 22:31-38 (NIV), after Jesus' resurrection, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. When Peter says yes, Jesus says "Feed my sheep." In this scene, Jesus forgives Peter's past failure and commissions him to become the man that He has seen all along.

Like Jesus, I needed to focus on Pam’s future and help her to become God's vision of her. Instead of saying, "Why don't you do this or that?," I began saying things like, "Mary's having a hard day, let's sit with her at lunch and try to make her feel better," and, "Thank you for telling me about Mike's troubles. How do you think we can help him?" When she complained about the temperature, I would say, "I'm glad you brought that up, let's see how others feel." I was asking her, in a subtle way, and with my help, to be compassionate to others.

These days, Pam sometimes still screams at honeybees, and she still likes the thermostat turned too high. But, she's learning to see herself through God's eyes, and to trust Him to make her into His dream for her. Perhaps someday she'll be like Peter, with a solid, rock-like faith, and the compassion of Christ Himself. And in the meantime, I am learning, little by little, to love her like Jesus loves her.