There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”
He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”
– Luke 10: 25-28
What does it mean to love your neighbor? I argue this: to want what is best for them, to treat them justly and well, to keep your heart open to them. To whom do we own this love? In my estimation: everyone. One thing I know for sure: it’s not easy.
I tend toward frustration – it’s terrible to admit, but true. I often don’t want to give the benefit of the doubt, I am quick to offense and judgment, and too easy with a cutting remark. It has taken time and discipline to love my neighbor more. Here is what has helped.
Don’t wall yourself off
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, often talks about being “proximate” to those who are suffering in order to better know and serve them. Simply interacting with others opens my heart. When I spent a summer with Scripture a few years ago and was compelled to take more seriously God’s call to care for the poor, I began having far more interactions with people asking for money at intersections. This continued to change me and what began as an intellectual understanding of God’s command turned into a more affective outpouring of generosity.
Fake it until you make it
Even if you don’t feel love, you can still do love. The works of mercy are a good start, as are most of the other suggestions in the Gospel. No matter how much someone is annoying you in a Facebook thread, show patience and prudence by not taking the bait. Bite your tongue when you can, and if you must speak up, do so with charity. The feeling of affection you can have for people is great, but it’s absence is not an excuse to behave in an unloving way. We have far more control over behavior than over feelings.
Make a choice
My first few years of teaching I took the instruction about maintaining boundaries very seriously, and didn’t allow myself to open up to or connect with my students. It made me a pretty bad teacher. Once I made the choice to care for them more lovingly – within boundaries that were appropriate but not harsh – I grew as an educator.
Pray, pray, pray
One of the least glamourous but most effective ways I have found to grow in love? Pray daily for whomever is testing me. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; just a momentary opening of my heart to the other person and genuine wish for what is best for them. It goes against every bit of the very human satisfaction we feel in being wounded and put-upon, but it works.
The question is do you (do I) want to love your neighbor? I hope so, but I also recognize that being smug, angry, superior, and snarky can feel really satisfying in the short term. So the first commitment we make is to wanting to love, and the rest of the commitments follow.
Additional suggestions? Please share!