At the end of a tumultuous year, a year filled with news, noise, a pandemic, and an election, I felt a disease sprouting in my heart, and it was beginning to spread throughout my life.
I didn’t want to accept it at first, because I generally consider myself a loving person. I love my family, my friends, and I love Jesus. But because of those truths, the looming feelings of frustration and an overall mentality of being critical of others began to cause friction in my thought life. Something wasn’t right in my soul.
I was recently talking with a friend about my desire to spend less time on social media, and we both came to the realization that as we scroll through pictures of people we know, love, and care about, the thoughts in our head were anything but loving. They were cynical, and they were dismissive… Especially toward those who held different beliefs than our own.
“She actually believes that? Wow. NEXT.”
“ANOTHER selfie?! NEXT.”
“He voted for him? Give me a break. NEXT.”
In a world where we sit behind screens and make judgements of others with the swipe of our fingers, we are training our hearts to be set on permanent condemnation mode. If we think that these daily thought patterns will have no impact on the health of our soul and the way we love our neighbor, and I mean genuinely love our neighbor, we are sadly mistaken. I know because I felt it firsthand.
Quiet thoughts as I clicked through pictures of friends and strangers morphed into pride and bitterness. And here’s the thing about bitterness, it doesn’t. stop. growing. If it isn’t dug out from the root, it will undoubtedly infect all areas of your life despite your efforts to keep it contained. I found myself thinking the worst of others, assuming the worst-case scenario about their motives, and it became easier and easier to write people off.
Condemning has become so commonplace in our culture of constantly evaluating other humans and their decisions, that many of us accept it as a totally normal and healthy way of life. But I’m writing this blog post because I’m concerned about what this day-in and day-out habit of being the ultimate judge of our neighbor is doing to our soul, and eventually to our relationship with Jesus.
Whether you’ve been following Jesus for years or are just beginning to learn about who Jesus is, you are probably familiar with the idea that love is the most foundational point of what Jesus taught. I’ve known this my entire life, and yet I still allowed hate to sneak in because I wasn’t guarding my thoughts. I was allowing culture to tell me that it is okay to be continuously critical of others, as long as you are justified in your anger. We have to start challenging this.
Please take the time to slowly read this quote from Jonathan Edwards
“What a watch and guard should Christians keep against envy, and malice, and every kind of bitterness of spirit towards their neighbors! For these things are the very reverse of the real essence of Christianity” … “A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God.”
Now, read it again.
Look, I’m not writing this from a place of having it all together. In fact, I am often very bad at loving those I disagree with. If I needed the reminder, then maybe you do, too.
Am I saying that we cannot disagree with others and that we should accept everything we see on social media as truth? Absolutely not! But, I’m worried that at the heart level, at the root of our beliefs, our motivations are shifting from love to hate, from a passion for truth to a passion for simply being right. That isn’t noble.
One of the most radical things Jesus said in his most popular sermons was to love our enemies. What really sets us apart as people who have decided to live Second is that we truly, genuinely love our enemies. Put more plainly, we love those that are not easy to love.
If you relate to this feeling of bitterness toward others in your heart, mind, and soul, you aren’t alone. It’s spreading like wildfire in this digital age. So, what do you do about it?
Most importantly, when it gets especially difficult to love someone, reflect on what Jesus did for you on the cross when you did not deserve it. He chose to die for you so that you could live eternally with him. He knew you would desert him, deny him, and choose yourself over him time and time again. But he did it anyway. Think about this amazing love every single day, and I promise you that loving others will become easier.
If you’ve read this entire article thinking about someone else that needs to read this, I would like to gently push back on that train of thought. I have a feeling that after the year we’ve experienced, we could all personally do better in this area, and the moment we start pointing the finger, we’ve already taken two steps back.
It’s hard. I get it. It’s so hard that we can’t do it on our own strength. But because of the grace that Jesus offers us every morning, with his help and the gift of His spirit living inside of us, it can be done. Remember, that which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God. If we want to live Second, putting God and others before ourselves, we have no choice but to pursue deep, actual love for our neighbors. Each and every one of them. No exceptions.
If you’d like to hear another story about loving your enemies, check out Michael and Tiffany’s story.