By Marc Rademaker
Upon a scroll of the media right now, it is apparent that we are all feeling the effects of the turbulence that is this year. When seemingly every social issue is bubbling to the surface and bringing every opinion along, it’s so easy to just jump on that runaway car and add noise to the opinion train. What can simplify this torrent of bad news?
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”Romans 13:8
It’s that simple, I guess… Just love.
Honestly, loving seems like a lot more than just that one word. In fact, Jesus died for us because He loved us. If I want to emulate Christ, am I going to have to go all in like that for someone I just unfollowed on Facebook in frustration after reading one too many posts?
Meet Them There
There may be an easier way to think about it. In a recent conversation with my priest, he told me that Jesus moves towards us before we move to Him. In other words, He meets us where we are. This is how I can emulate Christ, by empathizing with someone else. By loving them, willing the good of the other.
In my experience, there are two main types of interactions in which I need to empathize with someone. In the first, I’m interacting with someone with an opposing viewpoint and attempting to understand why they disagree with me. The second scenario is attempting to visualize myself as someone whose experience is different than mine due to race, age, religion, profession etc. and finding the empathy needed to support them.
In either scenario, I am reaching out in empathy to love: to will the good of the other. Now, what’s good for the other may not necessarily be what is best or easiest for me. How often does someone else have something good happen and I think, “Good for you! Now what about me?” More often than not, the “good for you” is sarcastic and I’m looking for a way to replicate that goodness for myself or take it away from them.
If you find yourself, like me, thinking in this way from time to time, let’s try a different approach. I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself, right? Well, every time I think of this, I imagine that my neighbor is me. I think I take it for granted sometimes in this context, because I know my own strengths, advantages, and weaknesses. So if I’m imagining my neighbor as me, I’m really not using empathy at all and still skewing the scenario toward what I would want. Instead, I would challenge you and me to view ourselves as our neighbors, then making the choice to love them as if I were them rather than as if they were me.
Are you following?
In this manner, I’m seeing myself as the person I walk by on the street wearing a mask, scared of the pandemic. I’m seeing myself as the Black man I pass who is protesting systemic racism. I am the child who wants a whole school year in person to play with her friends on the playground and hug her teacher. I’m the farmer who is struggling to sell his crop. I am the concerned member of my opposing political party. I’m the overwhelmed teacher who wants the best for her students. When I see myself as these people, I eliminate the middleman and love them for them. And when I can more easily see myself in others, I tend to more easily see Jesus in them, too. When I become that person, my perspective on how I wish to be loved becomes more closely aligned with their good.
Live for Them, Love Them for Them
Living this practice out comes in easy ways and hard ways. It might be wearing a mask or giving someone space when they are clearly uncomfortable. It might be educating myself on the realities of racism and seriously evaluating where it is found inside of me. It might be a difficult and conflicting conversation with someone I care about. But when love – willing the good of the other – is the reason for these actions, they become easier. Even more than that, they begin to make sense.
We are all responsible for loving our neighbor, with no exceptions. Each one of us has the capacity for an internal review of how we can do that better. Practicing that love makes perfect. Practice seeing yourself in those with different opinions and life experiences. The more we try to do that, the more we can begin to see others in ourselves. Loving is difficult. But isn’t it so much better than being frustrated, or even just being indifferent?
Next time any of us are faced with a situation, a conflict with someone, try taking a step back and approaching it with this mindset. If choosing to enter the conversation, enter it in this way: “I know that we disagree, and I don’t completely understand why you feel the way you do. But I love you, and I want what is best for you and for all. I want to hear what you have to say first, and I also need you to be willing to listen to what I have to say. Even if we still disagree at the end of it, I want the chance for us to really understand each other.”
You owe it to others to love, nothing more. So what can you do to truly love them?
You owe it to others to see yourself as them.
You owe it to yourself to love.