“Love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ve probably heard this phrase, whether you’ve been to church since birth or have never even set foot in church. You may not have realized it was a Bible verse, and that, while it’s a common saying, it’s also incredibly important—especially in 2020. So, if you’ve ever wondered how to love others (even when you’d really rather not), you’re not alone, and this is for you.
I’ve discovered that it’s hardest for me to love others when I don’t love myself. In fact, when I think about loving my neighbor, I often miss the second part—loving them as myself. If I don’t truly love myself first, how can I love someone else—especially if I can’t stand the other person?
And that brings me to my first tip about how to love others, especially when it’s hard:
1. Love yourself by improving your self-talk.
If we truly want to love others, we’ve got to learn to love ourselves, and that starts with our self-talk. When I love myself, my self-talk encourages me and reminds me who I am in Christ. The problem is, I often use venomous words that kill my confidence, erode my self-esteem, and torch my self-perception. I criticize myself with words I would never say to my worst enemy—words that would destroy the strongest of people.
In a time when we’re divided over politics and worried about a global pandemic, it is vitally important that we speak words of love and peace to ourselves. Why? Because internal negativity can erode our peace. If we don’t have peace inside, we can’t pass it out to others. We cannot pour from an empty cup, so we need to consistently fill ourselves with positive messages of hope—or we won’t be able to encourage others. Look at this proverb’s reminder:
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 NIV
When we’re down on ourselves, it’s like living through a time of drought. But when we’re cheerful, it’s good medicine for ourselves and others! So if we want to discover how to love others, we’ve got to start by loving ourselves. And we can build a habit of loving ourselves daily by speaking truth over ourselves. Struggling for what to say about yourself? Find Pastor Craig’s words to live by or some Scripture to remind you who you are in Christ.
2. Love others by listening to understand.
There are people who are waiting for someone to speak life into them. But how can we do that when we don’t know what the person needs to hear? We need to listen.
According to Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we talk.” When we make the time to listen to someone—not to respond, but to understand—we’re loving them.
When we talk with people, our body language makes the biggest impact. In fact, more than half (55 percent) of our feelings about the conversation are communicated this way! Our tone of voice is a distant second, at 38 percent. The last little sliver (7 percent) comes from the words themselves. That means that in conversation, the words we use are the least important part.
3. Be willing to ask questions without knowing all the answers.
It can be tempting to tune people out if we don’t like their answers or if we have a different opinion. But sometimes, we need to listen with no agenda, and just hear their perspective without offering our own. That doesn’t mean we never share our thoughts. But it does mean we share them respectfully and after taking time to consider that we might not have all the answers.
So, if you don’t know something, be willing to ask questions. Be willing to admit that you don’t have everything all figured out. Humility is a key ingredient to loving others because when we’re humble, we recognize that we need one another and that our own perspectives are limited.
Pastor Craig Groeschel says it this way: “We may not agree on everything, but we can always be loving.”
When you’re having tricky discussions about contentious topics, consider it an opportunity to learn. You don’t have to impress others. You do have to love others and serve others. So think about ways you can respect others in your conversations, and consider asking questions as an opportunity to learn a new perspective that you might not have gained otherwise.
4. Keep showing up—especially for people who are different from you.
Jesus called outcasts to follow Him. He sat with people shunned or marginalized by the culture at the time—like women, and poor and uneducated people—and made sure they felt understood and loved. If social media had been a thing back then, they might not have had any followers, and they definitely wouldn’t have been considered influencers. But Jesus valued them, loved them, and saw them. We’re encouraged to do the same.
You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but what about His enemies?” Jesus ate His last supper on earth with Judas—the person who would betray him for a cash reward. If I were Jesus, I’d want to spend my last night with only the people who loved me. But He ate with Judas, knowing full well what he would do. Why? Because Jesus sought love and understanding, regardless of the cost.
We don’t have to like, agree with, or enjoy being around someone to understand them. But when we recognize that the person we disagree with is fearfully and wonderfully made (just as we are), we can start seeing them less like one of “those people” and more like one of God’s people.
Jesus promised that the world would know we’re His followers, not by how loudly we shout our opinions, but by how well we love people (see John 13:35). So, if you’re struggling to know how to love others, remember to love yourself, listen well, ask questions, and keep showing up. And if you need help seeking God to gain a heart of understanding, pray this prayer:
I am just one person, but I know You have called me to love others. I need Your help. Open my eyes to see the people around me, and give me understanding and empathy for them. Help me to love others, especially when it’s difficult for me. Show me how much You love me, and help me to receive that love so I can extend it to others. Give me the courage to ask questions when I don’t understand and to love everyone around me the way You do. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Interested in learning more about how we can love the people we disagree with? Check out this episode of the You’ve Heard It Said podcast:
Find more ways to live unoffended here