"Yes I know she's annoying you, but we're to love those who annoy. Yes - even now, when they haven't even stopped yet. We're even called to love our enemies - and sometimes our siblings do feel like our enemies."
I'm unsure, even as I speak the words, if they're registering with my child. Unsure if it even matters, because the words on this day are for me. I know it even as they slip from my mouth. Loving the unlovely: this is our purpose, what we're here for.
Fine. But what about when the unlovely are our own children? And we just - God help us - are at the end of ourselves and find we can't do it?
I want to love the unlovely, I do. And I bet you do too. I'm inspired by the call and persuaded it's my mission. I see myself rolling up my sleeves alongside Mother Theresa or Katie Davis, some such noble hero. Changing bedding or offering food in a musty shanty someplace while the sun squints in through a cobwebbed window. I can picture pouring myself out like that- giving all day and crashing hard into my bed at night, buoyed by the knowledge that I've obeyed my master and made life better for someone in need.
The vision can be so compelling, can't it? Loving theoretical people seems so doable, doesn't it?
But. The bed I crash into is not the faraway one I picture but rather my own, in this house, alongside my kids and our own real-time, real-life scenarios of unloveliness. Scenarios of squabbling, of comparison and strife, of ingratitude. Scenarios where the tantrum won't be quelled and the reward chart's stopped working. A scenario, sometimes, in which a child's pushing buttons so adeptly and so consistently that I want to run and hide.
Fact is, some days I don't see the sun squinting through the window, and I don't feel buoyed by the knowledge that anything I've done has made anyone's life better. Did any of the stuff I did - the squabbles I disentangled, the books I read aloud, the games I played - make any difference at all?
Some days this house can feel like a bleak house, and I can feel heavy with the weight of failure. It's harder than it seems it should be. And yet the call, so clear...:
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? ...But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
It's about loving those who aren't loving us back (at least right then): the unlovely. Our unlovely. And I want to press on and through the unloveliness when it comes out in force in my children, but some days it feels like: how?
My friend, a fellow mother of four, emails from twelves time zones away and writes this: "It is hard but I am finding so much life in DOING hard love… loving the undeserving, the ugly, the irritating, the ones who don’t see me at all… who just take. He speaks, 'I see you,' and I can keep going. Knowing I am pleasing Him and my reward is later. So thankful to only really have to live before His eyes."
This is it. She answers the quiet discouragement leaking out of my soul.
There's L I F E in doing hard love... for the people right in front of us. He makes sure of it. We keep asking God to pour the life into us, even as our own life ebbs away. It's a great swap out, and it's scandal - his energy always at the ready to fill our depletion. But this is the "who" of Holy Spirit: filler, energy-giver, sustainer.
Every saint, great and small, has learned this secret and comes back to it again and again: be re-filled with the Spirit. Ask for grace and power to love. Receive. Then lean in and love - yes, even the unlovely (even when it's my kid) - with love that's not my own. Just as I, in my own unloveliness, am loved by him.
He sees us. He gives us what we need to do the job. It's enough.
Love to have you as a reader! To receive post notifications directly to your inbox, sign up here.