August 23, 2013 by Jay Kim
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. - Matthew 5:44
Is there a single thing Jesus instructed that’s more antithetical to universally shared human mores than this? I would argue an emphatic NO. This is the worst. The absolute worst.
Love my enemies? Pray for my persecutors? Really? Seriously?
I used to find some solace from the tension of this impossibility in the churched-up, tailor-made, christianized explanation of my youth: You don’t have to like them to love them. I believed that for a long time and a part of me still wants to but I’m not so easily convinced these days. How exactly can I go about loving someone I dislike? It makes sense conceptually, I guess. Loving and liking are clearly different. There are plenty of people I like that I couldn’t confidently say I love. The problem is when I look at it the other way around. I can’t honestly say that I love a single person that I don’t also like – and like a whole hell of a lot, at that – maybe not always but at least generally, most of the time. I get that there are regular exceptions to this rule, particularly with family. Many of us have family we don’t like; so we just love them out of unspoken, familial obligation. To not do so feels wrong. But love as an obligation always has to be put into question, doesn’t it?
Ultimately, my point isn’t to argue whether or not it’s possible to love without liking. My point is, simply, to remind us that trying our best to like people is important. Crucial, even. As Jesus alludes to, love has the incredible power to bridge the divide between enemies. But like has a different power altogether. Like is the road we take toward friendship. Just the other day I was reading a particularly heated dialogue on Twitter between a number of people on a specifically polarizing issue. Everyone was screaming as loud as they could within 140 characters, to make their point. I couldn’t help but chime in with this thought: Sometimes grace requires that we sacrifice making a point for the sake of making a friend.
Friendship is beautiful because it can be shared between all sorts of people in all sorts of places from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of stories. This is one of the beautiful things about maturing. When I was 15, my friends and I were carbon copies of each other. We liked the exact same things and acted the exact same way. Now in my 30′s, most of my friends are nothing like me. Sure, we share many common interests and world views. But my friends are varied and unique and different too. And it’s our differences which add richness and depth to our relationships and to my life as a whole.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes this about friendship:
I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
We don’t need friendships to survive but surviving and living are different things. Life is better when we’re surrounded by people we like. What I do not mean is, let’s just spend time with people we like while ostracizing and ignoring those we don’t. What I do mean is, let’s try to like the people who surround us, whoever they may be. This is particularly difficult for me. There are a number of people in my spheres of life who annoy or irk me. I can’t stand some of them. And I’m sure many of them can’t stand me. Yet here we are, in this thing called life together. But recently, I have been trying to like them more. Surprisingly, my feeble attempts have actually done some wonderfully unexpected things in my heart. I am beginning to see some of these people in a new way. Putting just a little bit of intentional weight behind my pursuit of friendship with them has reminded me of the positives and really enjoyable qualities they possess, most of which I’d neglected or forgotten about. It’s also reminded me of how prone I am to fill my heart with bitterness and vitriol, most of it completely unwarranted and based on grossly exaggerated reasons. The simple act of trying to like people has tinted my view with the colors of beauty and goodness. It’s made our interactions much more enjoyable, filled with more grace and less judgment. I have by no means arrived. But I think I’m getting there. And I’m loving what liking is doing for me.