Some people are hard to love, aren't they? As soon as you read that sentence, you probably brought somebody to mind--somebody who has mistreated you, ignored you, used you, betrayed you, or hurt you. Maybe this person is even in the circle of people that you call friends and family--those people who are closest to you. This makes the damage even worse, because they are supposed to treat you well, and yet they don't. Perhaps, despite your best efforts, despite your peace offerings, despite yourself-sacrifice, they continue to be selfish. They continue to not only disrespect you, but they treat others terribly. Yes, these people are hard to love.
But loving someone isn't a feeling that happens to you. Love is a choice. Being IN LOVE certainly is a feeling--a powerful one that you feel for somebody who's easy to love. We usually think of being in love as a romantic feeling, but I think you can feel that same kind of strong love for people besides your significant other. For example, you can be in love with your own kids or grandkids--so overwhelmed with love that you see their beauty and perfection all the time. But as beautiful as being in love is, it's different than choosing to love someone who's hard to love.
I want to suggest that when you choose to love someone who's hard to love, you're loving the way God loves. That's agape, or unconditional love. In his Bible paraphrase, "The Message," Eugene Peterson renders Jesus' words in Luke 6:32-38a as:
If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. "I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never - I promise - regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults - unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don't condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back - given back with bonus and blessing.
With the words of Jesus, I want to encourage you to choose to love people who are hard to love. Those people for whom your love doesn't naturally flow. Those are likely people who are different from you are. Or people with whom you have a bad history. Or people who have offended you or hurt you or treated you as irrelevant in their own lives. Choose the way of agape, the way of unconditional love.
I leave you with the words of a poem that is probably falsely attributed to Mother Theresa. Even though, I doubt that she wrote them, they are good words, anyway.
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People need help but will attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.