A "grinning and bearing it kind of love". You know what I mean, right? The kind where you, with fists clenched and gritted teeth, recite over and over - "I think I can, I think I can" as you will yourself to love those that have offended you. Ever ask yourself, "how do I find love for this person"? Have you ever known a person that was a thorn in the flesh, grated on your nerves, or someone who hurt you deeply?
When I was regularly seeing my counselor, I had some specific occasions where I had experienced what I felt was a major offense by someone in my life. I would be all worked up, but excited about my counseling appointment. She was the one person that I could "righteously" vent to about any one person in my world. The first few times it occurred, I was just sure she was going to help me feel better. I could vent, and she could be shocked with all that they had done. I knew she would be the one to assuage my feelings of hurt and offense, because she would tell me how right I was to feel the way I did and how best to confront them. Well, those first few times were met with a slap in the face. She did nothing that I expected. She put it back on me. Every. Single. Time.
She begin to teach me about expectations, she talked to me about needs and longings and asked who is filling them, she asked hard questions, she pointed me to His Word. And slowly but surely after many, many times of complaining about offense from others, I began to see things differently.
What is one thing that is at the root of many conflicts? If we were to dig deep, which is always necessary when feeling offense or facing conflict, we would find that one consistent issue is that the person on the other end of the offense failed to meet our expectations. We often times have unrealistic, unspoken, and unfair expectations for those around us. And, many times, we can have appropriate expectations of a person and they still fail them simply because...they are human. Either way failed expectations hurt. Always.
If we are following Christ, most of us long to know Christ more. We desire to walk with Him. We long to live in the Spirit, to set our minds on the Spirit. (Read Galatians 5)
Here is what I have learned. When I take my mind off of my Savior, I begin to gratify the desires of the flesh. My own needs and longings separate from the Father, seek to be met and filled. If I don't look to my Father to meet those longings, I will look to the flesh-to those around me-to the things of this world. And when I find that they cannot meet them, I will become disheartened, angry, frustrated, offended, and more. The object or person that failed to meet what I desired or needed becomes the target for my offense.
This can be a spouse, children, friends, family, co-workers, those whom we serve in ministry or rather than people, it can be money, organizations, etc. This happens when we walk according to the flesh rather than the Spirit. When we set our minds on what we think we need or want versus what God says is all we need, we become distracted, discontent.
We look for people or objects to fulfill desires only our Heavenly Father can fill. Unfortunately, because Our Father was meant to meet our deepest longings, people and objects will fail miserably. We are regularly implored by His Word to set our mind and heart on things above, to set our mind on the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to live in the Spirit. We are exhorted to not think on how to gratify the desires of the flesh, and that when our minds become set on the flesh the result is death rather than the life and peace that is offered through a mind and heart set on the Spirit. (Read Romans 8)
No wonder we are angry people. It's no wonder that our relationships are broken and frayed. We have desires to please our Father, yet we yell, demand, and resent. We claim justified offense, and we speak ill words of our families and neighbors.
God forgive us that we have so much desired that they please us and fulfill us in a such a way that causes deep offense when they don't meet those expectations. Such an offense that we struggle to love and show compassion.
Yet, loving kindness and compassion and mercy comes more effortlessly when we put people and objects in their rightful place which is under submission to the Father.
When we surrender these desires and longings to the Father, and we look to Him to meet those-we stop placing unrealistic and unfair expectations on those around us. We realize that they can never meet what we are truly desiring or truly needing. Forgiveness and mercy comes when we realize that their place in our life is under the authority of the Father. God is greater or more able to satisfy us than any living thing or material possession. When He fills every part of our desires and longings, people no longer are objects of need-they are precious gifts from our Father to love as He loves us.
We can say, "Yes, you failed my expectations but because I know you could never meet my deepest needs - I am not looking to you to fulfill those. My Father meets those, and it leaves me satisfied to where I can show mercy and love. You see, you and I are no different. Imperfect and broken, but made whole by a Savior who loves us. If not for the grace of God, I would or have done the same things you have done to hurt me".
This Christ in us. It's not just a "choosing to think positive thoughts" about someone. We are talking about a deep genuine Christ like love for each person. When we find contentment in Christ and we regularly invite Him to fill every part of us - we decrease and He increases. It changes the way we see people. God created each of us beautifully and wonderfully and His image - therefore I can love the person God has created even when it hurts. This comes when we move in the Spirit, and are being guided by the Spirit rather than our flesh.
For me, it's a daily and sometimes moment by moment surrender. Father, help me walk in your Spirit and in life and peace. Help me look to you to fulfill those desires and longings that no one else can. When others fail me in their imperfect nature, help me in my own imperfect nature to show love and kindness. Help me to "By the Spirit who dwells within me, guard the good deposit entrusted to me". (2 Tim 1:14). Help me to flee my "less than desires" and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. (2 Tim 2:18)
We need to stop the "grinning and bearing" kind of love where we show others love and compassion through forced and obligated wills. Our love can come from a genuine heart of compassion and sacrificial grace because it comes from Christ within. With the help of Christ, let us then truly love one another.