Good morning! Last week I share a nugget of truth about knowing yourself from The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, a 14th century German monk. I thought this week I might share another. His writing is so rich and deep, I could share his teachings for weeks and still have so much more to cover.
It’s not difficult to love the lovely
In a section entitled, On the Good and Peaceful Man, a Kempis writes,
It is not great matter to associate with the good and gentle, for this is naturally pleasant to everyone. All men are glad to live at peace, and prefer those who are of their own way of thinking (71).
Such simple statements, but they cut right to the core. What valuable truth does a Kempis illuminate here? Simply that it is easy to get along with easy people, those who are quiet-spirited or who hold opinions similar to our own. I should not pat myself on the back for loving those who are easily loved, the sweet, the kind, the agreeable. Anyone could love such lovely people.
Yet we are called to live at peace with the unlovely
So Thomas (we’re on a first name basis now), what are you really trying to tell me?
…to be able to live at peace among hard, obstinate, and undisciplined people and those who oppose us, is a great grace, and a most commendable and manly achievement (71).
Darn. I’m supposed to live at peace with hard people? With the obstinate and undisciplined? I should love and get along with the difficult personality on the church committee I belong to? The one who is like a dog with a bone about her own plans, who just won’t drop an issue, ever? And the lazy cashier who is as slow as molasses. I should be patient with her and not roll my eyes at her ineptness? And the guy who always shoots down my great ideas and tries to talk everyone else into his point of view? Him too? Somehow living at peace with someone seems much harder than love. I can say I love someone, and who can question me, but living at peace requires specific, obvious action. It’s much harder.
Sometimes I’m unlovely
To rub salt in my great, gaping wound, Thomas reminds me that I have faults too, ones I’ve not yet overcome.
Strive to be patient; bear with the faults and frailties of others, for you, too, have many faults which others have to bear. If you cannot mold yourself as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking? For we require other people to be perfect, but do not correct our own faults (44).
Ouch. Is this me God? Do I expect more of others than I do of myself? Oh for more humility, that I might see myself as I truly am (Know Thyself) and patiently love and accept people wherever they are at.
How to live at peace with difficult people
Let’s face it. This life skill is hard. It’s a discipline that develops over time with practice and prayer. Needing patient love for the unlovely is the perfect time to go to God and admit that we are weak and need his strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Go to him and ask for help.
It’s also the time to begin taking steps toward becoming the loving and accepting person we want to be. Decide to take one intentional step of peace. Extend an olive branch by praising the hard person, by smiling at their idea or point of view, or by simply holding our tongue. One small step will lead to others.
And finally, don’t feel bad about establishing good, healthy boundaries. Yes, God puts grace-growers in our life for a reason, but not so we can be taken advantage of or hurt. Truth spoken in a loving tone with a loving attitude to a difficult person is a good thing, for you and the other person.
When others observe us loving the difficult among us with patience and kindness, they will be profoundly moved. This kind of love is uncommon. When people see it or experience it for themselves, they want to know how it’s possible. Because ultimately it’s God’s love in us that allows us to love others well, we can point to him as the source. For he is the source of all good things.