It’s easy to love people when they’re being loveable, but what about when the loving gets tough?
Sometimes loving the people in your life will be downright hard.
It might be hard because circumstances make it that way, or because the people themselves do. Sometimes it’s hard because our own human selfishness gets in the way.
We’d all like to think that “true” love should be easy, but any mother who’s dealt with an angry or rebellious teenager can tell you that loving them is often tough, and sometimes heartbreaking. Most married couples will freely admit that at times they struggle to love each other in the ways that they should. These struggles are hard, but they also have a lot to teach us.
In the book Sacred Marriage, author Gary Thomas argues that struggling through difficult relationships offers unparalleled opportunities for spiritual growth. In contrast, those who constantly seek out whatever situations and relationships are easiest will remain immature in their faith and their lives.
To illustrate his point, Thomas examines the story of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and their difficult marriage. It seems that Mary Todd was known for her frightening temper, demanding nature, and profligate spending sprees, and at times even wrestled with mental stability. Through it all, President Lincoln strove to love her and to continue to hold their marriage together.
Thomas suggests that the act of struggling through a difficult relationship helped to build the character and fortitude Lincoln would need in order to hold the nation together during the civil war. Of course, no one can read President Lincoln’s mind, but as Thomas puts it:
“It is easy to see how a man who might quit on a difficult marriage would not have the character to hold together a crumbling nation. Lincoln was virtually obsessed with saving the Union; what better training ground than the difficult marriage that required such tenacity from him?”
I really love this point of view on difficult relationships because we’re all unlovable at times. The truth is, all relationships worth having will go through rough patches. You simply can’t put two sinful people together and expect smooth sailing! We all have to choose whether and how to love each other through those times.
I love my kids and would gladly lay my life down for them, but my relationship with each of them has included plenty of ups and downs. At various times we’ve struggled through fights, tears, hurts, ailments, disappointments, resentments, and broken promises. Looking back, I can see how my relationships have grown through those times, and how I’ve grown personally and spiritually. Making that choice to love over and over again requires me to acknowledge my own failings and to lean more and more on God’s strength.
If you’re struggling to love a friend or family member right now, it’s worth remembering that at some point or another, they’ve also struggled to love you. Seeing those struggles in terms of God’s desire for our spiritual growth will help provide purpose and resolve when the loving gets tough.
Have your difficult relationships made you stronger?