You know that often quoted phrase of Mother Teresa’s about forgiving people anyway? About trying anyway? It starts off reminding us (as if we need a reminder) that people are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. In my head the next part is always, “love them anyway.” Such a phrase or mantra makes sense when we think about the people we randomly come in contact with. The guy who cut you off on the freeway. The person who took the cab you clearly flagged down. The disgruntled customer service person. But what happens when the person you are called to love ‘anyway’ is the person you see every day, your parent, your sibling or your spouse?
I often think that it is easier to ‘forgive and love anyway’ the random stranger. You’ll likely never see them again, so forgive them and move on. Done and done. But the person next to you? The one you love deeply who just snapped at you, hung up on you in anger or spoke the words that were like a sledgehammer to your heart? Call me crazy, but often times those people are harder to forgive. Why? Because they know us better. It is easier to forgive the stranger who doesn’t know you than it is to forgive the person who does. These people we trust – the ones closest to us – are harder to forgive precisely because we’ve let them in, we’ve let our guard down and shared our deepest selves with them. Naturally when we feel hurt or betrayed by them, the wound goes deeper and it often feels like our vulnerability with them is being taken advantage of or used against us.
Nevertheless we are challenged to love them anyway.
I know, some days that sounds like a second sucker-punch to the gut. Love them anyway? But…but…I know. I get it. Taking the road of ‘they hurt me, so I’m mentally/emotionally/spiritually/physically checking out for a while’ is the road I take far too often in my life. Just because it is the road more traveled by doesn’t make it the right road. Love. Them. Anyway.
People often say that when you are angry you should count to ten, slowly and as calmly as possible. When you find you need to love anyway (read: always), but are struggling to actually do so, count to ten. With each number name, out loud if necessary, one thing you love, appreciate or admire about the person you are struggling to love. Take as long as you need to. Count as high as you need to in order to love anyway.
The Benedictine monks that ran my college (Belmont Abbey) had a wonderful practice of hospitality in that they would greet each guest in persona Christi, or as if the guest were Christ Himself. When we struggle to love each other we can count to ten and remember that Christ – just as much as He is in you and me – is in the person we are struggling to love, be it the random stranger or our closest friend. If that doesn’t work, remember that Christ loves you anyway, despite your sins, despite your struggle and despite the ways you’ve hurt Him. Love like Him. Love them anyway.