Thursday, March 21, 2013

How to love in spite of "unchristian" emotions

What do you do when someone you know, especially a friend, even a christian, grows increasingly unlovable?  How do you still love them when you have increasingly unchristian emotions, like bitterness, frustration, and anger, towards them?  A friend's cry for help over a friend (of my friend), led me to do some thinking about the subject.

Before we go any further, just remember that you know that you know that you know that you know who Jesus is.  And since you know who He is, you know what comes from Him and what is truth.  So don't doubt yourself, and even if you do, look in His word.  The bible will go a long way toward reminding you who He is!

That said, ultimately, you can't fix your friend, no matter what you do - God has to do that, and your firend has to be willing; just remember that he is not your responsibility.  However, I'm pretty sure you still need to love him anyway.  If there's one point marriage counseling and all the marriage advice books pound in one's head, it's that love is not an emotion, it's an action.  Bitterness, however, is an emotion - and you can still feel bitter at someone and love them anyway.  You can't really help emotions - even Jesus had emotions, like anger. 

1. Guard your heart first
So though you can't fix your friend, you can at least take care of yourself.  As a spiritual wreck, you're no good to anybody.  Think of "unchristian" emotions as temptation - the temptation to act in an unloving way.  You can choose to act on them or not.  Remember: being tempted is not a sin (Jesus was tempted but didn't sin; He was angry, but didn't sin in his anger!), it's acting on that temptation that's the sin.  While the bible doesn't say all that much about emotions as such, it does talk about temptation:

A. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make you a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." I Cor: 10:13.  So if you're about to explode, crumble, lash out, or whatever - just get out of there.  The bathroom is a grand excuse when others might fail.  Note, also, it doesn't say anywhere in the bible that God won't give you more than you can handle - He does that all the time, it's why He's here - it proves that HE can handle it.  You just won't be tempted beyond what you can handle. 

B. "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  Matt 26:41.  So one major way to guard yourself is to pray, pray, pray.  Pray that God will guard your heart in this incredibly difficult situation, as well as change his.  Your job is to look after yourself first, because if you are dead, what good are you to anyone else?

C. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."  (James 1:12).  God will bless you for not acting on your frustration and bitterness (and remember, retreat is recommended in the bible, ergo it is not sin when it prevents you from sinning).

2. Show Love Anyway (the tricky part)
It can be super hard to show people love when you're frustrated and they make you unhappy.  I don't know how much time you can spend with your friend and still be whole-hearted, so you have to figure that out yourself, but in what time you can give him, always love, even if you only spend one evening with him every other week. 

Try to show love through what truly makes him tick (not to pander depression neediness, since I don't think that helps overly).  For useful advice, Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages comes to mind; while geared toward married couples, it has sound advice on how to show love to anyone.  The five "languages" are physical touch (hugs are good), quality time (that might be hard when he makes you not want to spend any time with him, but activities that he enjoys that leave less room for talk might work), words of affirmation (honest compliments that you really mean), gifts (self-explanatory), and acts of service (help them out).  Usually people have one or two that are especially meaningful to them.  Sometimes it feels a little clinical when you don't actually like the person in the moment, but you're still showing God's love and not acting on sinful impulses.  It means God is winning in your life, and using you to touch his at the same time!  Win-win, even if it's not the most fun.  And remember, take care of your spiritual health first!

3. When in doubt, Get More Help
Not so much for yourself (well, do that too, whenever you need it), but if there's anyone in a position of higher authority whom your friend respects, see if you can talk them into talking with him.  I'd say that as a friend alongside him, you are too much on the same level as him, but appealing to a respected higher authority might help him.  If nothing else, it should remove some of the burden from your shoulders.   Talk to pastors, professors, grandmas, bosses - anyone your friend looks up to. 

Above all, trust Jesus.  Trust His word.  And pray, pray, pray, and fast for their heart, that they would open it to the love of God, and that that love would be made clear in His actions and your own. 

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