The neighborhood I live in is locally known for housing many people with significant mental disabilities. Having worked at the coffee shop nearby, I've quickly gotten to know a number of these people and form relationships on a regular basis.
As I was walking to school earlier this week, I came across one of these gentlemen - whose conversation with me would include one of the most profound statements I've heard in a long time.
My acquaintance, whose name I cannot recall, started talking to me as I was walking by. He asked me a question which I couldn't quite make out, but my reply of "Oh, yeah?" thankfully seemed to be suitable. I wasn't too keen on holding a long conversation at the moment - I had classes to get to.
His next words, however, floored me:
"You see, everyone always sees a relationship as 50-50, but really, it's 100-100."
He continued on and I consented in agreement, and as quickly as the conversation started, he said goodbye and left, leaving me to continue my walk to the college.
I was dumb-founded.
People tend to see relationships as a give-take agreement: you give me what I want and need, and I'll make sure to provide the same for you. We don't often think of it that way, but really, that's what we do. When your friend backs out when you need them most, you want to reciprocate the next time he needs a favor from you. If your spouse is giving you the cold shoulder, you're not inclined to show them love and grace. Our motto, whether international or not, is often "Meet me halfway." If you're reaching out to me, I'll reach out back - but don't expect me to carry all the wait.
That is the way we - along with the rest of the world - relates to others.
And this is where my acquaintance's wisdom is mind-blowing.
Relationships aren't simply about giving and taking. Primarily, relationships are about serving the other individual to the best of our ability for God's glory.
This is where we fail. How often do we form relationships primarily for what we can get out of it? All of our interactions with people - do we truly care about their needs, or are those concerns consistently secondary to our own?
* * *
As Christians, we must go another step further. We are called to live with Christ as our primary focus. This changes how we relate to everything - including how we relate to everyone around us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)
When we love the difficult and continue to strive to show them kindness; when we reach out to the social outcasts despite how it may affect our social standing; when we strive to put our all in a relationship of any kind and purpose through Christ's strength to display to them true love, mercy, and grace - this is how we can show Christ to the world.
You may have bitterness against some; give it up to God and strive to show love.
You may have been hurt by people closest to you; give it up to God and strive to show love.
You may have endured things that you just can't forgive - give it up to God and strive to show love.
Am I undermining the situations you experienced? No. Am I telling you it will be easy? No. Am I excusing any sin on the other party's side or saying to simply be naïve?
What I am say is to trust God with your hurt and obey Him in your future. We are called to love even when it's difficult - but the One who has called us to this knows the frustration, hurt, and pain. When we hated Him, Christ loved us still with a love so vast that He would even die for the whole world who cursed Him.
If the Lord of the universe would love us to that extent, is it too much for Him to ask us to follow in His steps - to live out our faith, trust, and dependency on Him by loving the difficult?