‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.
I repeated these words in my head over and over again all that day as the music from the neighbors who live behind us blared. I repeated them to myself when I could hear it through our closed windows. I repeated them to myself when it prohibited us from being able to eat dinner outside because, call me crazy, I didn’t want to have to explain what the lyrics of the song ‘Blurred Lines’ mean to my children.
I repeated them to myself when 7 hours later the music was still blaring even though the neighbors weren’t outside anymore.
I repeated them to myself when after I calmly and kindly asked if they could turn the music down they refused to do so.
I repeated them to myself when their children decided to play a screaming ‘game’ so that they could be heard above the music.
And all the while, I was seething inside.
These neighbors had received gifts and meals from us when their babies were born. These neighbors received a check from us to cover the entire expense of repairing a portion of a fence we share since the husband is a contractor and was able to do the work himself.
And yet, when it came down to it, they were going to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted no matter how it affected THEIR neighbors.
It just wasn’t right. It felt so unfair. We are always being so careful about showing respect for our neighbors and making sure our kids aren’t screaming their heads off while people are eating dinner (or ever for that matter!) and we try so hard to be kind and gracious to those around us.
What on earth is the point of this whole ‘loving your neighbors as yourself’ business anyway? Are we just supposed to put up with everything?
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18
I’ve repeated that same mantra in other situations too.
For many years I’ve dealt with a very difficult relationship. And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ translated in my mind to ‘don’t speak up’, ‘don’t defend yourself’, ‘don’t address the issue’, ‘sweep it under the rug’. And the fact that this way of thinking was reinforced by the people closest to the situation didn’t help matters. In fact, all it did was ingrain in me the idea that ‘loving my neighbor’ was the equivalent of being a doormat.
The burden of loving them and pursuing them (no matter how many times I was rejected) rested solely on my shoulders because that’s what it means to really love someone, right?
I’ll never forget the moment when I read this blog post written by Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky. I wept through most of it. I sat there in the quiet of my home and in the deep recesses of my heart, I felt like I was being given permission to let go of the pursuit. To let go of being that doormat for people to wipe their feet on as they passed by. It was truly the first time I felt I fully understood what grace really meant.
“There may be a person or people in your life to whom you have shown grace and from whom grace has not been returned. Over and over again. Or even worse, you have been hurt by them in big ways, causing deep wounds and the need for soul healing. Showing grace towards them does not necessarily mean you are to remain quiet and continue to pursue them and allow the rejection to go on and on. Instead, showing grace means releasing them of the responsibility to meet your needs – perhaps your need to be loved, to be understood, to be right, to be safe – it may mean you are to continue to pursue that person. But it may not.” ~ Emily Freeman
I’ve always had the sense that being a ‘good’ Christian girl means that while I am expected to speak out against the injustice being done to others, I’m not supposed to speak out about any injustice being done to me. It’s not that I was ever actually told that, it’s just that the whole concept of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ has morphed into this idea that we must always, always, always be ‘nice’.
It’s the four letter word that I struggle with the most! Not because I struggle with being nice. In fact, it’s the EXACT opposite. I struggle with being too nice. Too pleasing. Too accommodating. Too big of a doormat.
And the frustration, hurt, confusion and anger (yes anger) builds inside of me.
But, what I’ve realized recently is that I’ve been entirely missing the point of that verse. I’ve been reading it all wrong. Backwards in fact! I’ve only focused on the ‘loving your neighbor’ part and have totally ignored the ‘as yourself’ part.
How are we to love ourselves? Well, we are to love ourselves as God loves us, right? And how does God love us?
“And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
Until we fully grasp the depth of God’s love for us it is absolutely impossible to extend that same kind of love to others.
But, part of grasping the depth of God’s love for us means we must continue growing in our faith. It might even require something of us.
On Sunday our pastor was talking about how closely emotional maturity is linked to spiritual maturity. And being spiritually mature means that we are continually asking Him to reveal to us the sin in our lives. The things that don’t line up with His desires for us.
Loving ourselves means understanding that HIS love for us comes complete with the challenge to grow more like Him.
So, if we are to love others as we love ourselves, this too comes complete with a challenge, right?
The challenge to understand that loving doesn’t always feel ‘nice’. It doesn’t always mean letting people do whatever they want, whenever they want all in the name of ‘loving your neighbor’. Sometimes true ‘loving’ can seem like anything but. But if our definition of love has always centered around the idea of never being challenged or gently called to task or confronted then we are in for a world of hurt.
Can we control what people do? Of course not. Can we speak the truth in love? Yes. Will it always be received? No.
But, part of loving is risking. It’s a risk to stand up for ourselves. It’s a risk to defend the truth. It’s a risk to share how deeply hurt you are. Sometimes the risk pays off. Many times it doesn’t.
And what then is required of us?
To love. To just love them anyway.
We can set boundaries and they might be broken. We can ask someone to turn their music down and they might turn it up. We can extend friendship over and over and over and over again only to have it rejected each time.
But we love them anyway. Do we have to like them? No. Will we want to out our house on the market and get the heck out of Dodge? Maybe! Do we continue to put ourselves in situations ripe for hurt and rejection over and over again? Only if we are gluttons for punishment! 😉
But we are called to love them anyway. Not because we ‘feel’ like it.
But because HE first loved US!