Why It’s So Hard To Love Others

I used to think alcoholics lay around on park benches in trench coats with brown paper bags clutched to their wheezing chests. Or that they teetered on bar stools until closing time while their wives, vacantly clutching a cigarette and staring at an empty dining chair, explained to the children daddy is working late again. I saw all this on TV, so it must be true. Alcoholics were not us; they were others. That was until my husband became an alcoholic.

My husband didn’t frequent bars or park benches. My husband did not even think he could have been an alcoholic before he went to an AA meeting. There he met people who were not park bench dwellers or bar stool teeterers. They were secretaries, real estate agents and builders with careers, families and home loans. They were not others. They were just like him.

We would all like to think we are not one of those “others”. But we are all others to someone. We all are good and bad, strangers and friends, aliens and natives. And because we all are others, when we judge others, we judge ourselves.

Jesus told us to love other people in the same way we love ourselves. When we do this, they stop being others, and start being one anothers. This phrase “one another” appears 43 times in the New Testament. One anothers are not the same thing as others. The very word “other” denotes difference. “One another” means simply another one of what ourselves are. If we can see everyone else as we ourselves are, in fact, as God sees us all, then it becomes much harder to judge who is worthy of our preference and regard and who is not.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to love people. It’s that we have this others mentality in the first place. Others has come not to mean other people, it has come to mean other sexual preferences, other religions, other genders, other ways of seeing and being which are different from our own. We look around us and see not one hundred people who need love and regard, but one hundred reasons not to love or regard people.

Why wait until people change to be more like you to love and regard them? Why wait until they put more on or take more away? Why wait until they walk your way or talk your way?

Jesus didn’t say “love others as I loved you”. He said “love one another as I have loved you”. In Jesus eyes, there were no others, only people, just like himself – one anothers.

Who are the others? In fact, we see people as we are, not as they are. When there is a mote in the eye, it makes the seer think the problem is a beam floating out there in space. No wonder the world looks like such a mess.

From Burial to Banqueting Table.

I want to tell those of you who don’t believe a person can be transformed, or that people don’t or can’t change, you need to come and see what God has done at my house.

Point in case; on Tuesday night, we had six adults besides ourselves, two teenagers and four children at our house for dinner, and my husband Ben was there the whole time. You would have to know what life was like before to understand how this is different. We didn’t have folks to our house for dinner before, because Ben would be present with us for about one minute and forty five seconds total. He would be a no show at his own dinner party.

As we were getting ready for bed after Tuesdays dinner, Ben congratulated me on successfully cooking a lamb roast for fourteen people, saying, “Well, that was a success!” I froze. A success? Since when did you consider having a dozen people in the house would constitute success? Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?

You see, Ben once was a master of the duck and weave. He was, as we used to joke, a professional skulker. He was in hiding. God was looking around, calling out to Ben for a long time, just like He did Adam in the Garden, “Where are you?” Ben, like Adam, did not want to be found.

Adam hid because he was ashamed. Shame will drive a sane person underground, and have him behave like a mad recluse. The shameful hide from any situation where they are forced to pretend to be anything better than the filthy, helpless sinner they know themselves to be. The will sabotaged by secret sins, they know their facade will not hold up under the scrutiny of accountability, or friendship. Those filled with shame avoid relationship, for fear they will fail others the way they have failed themselves.

What cured my husbands’ debilitating shame? He stopped hiding and allowed God to find him. I know it was frightening for him. Ben was trained to believe that God is an iron-fisted Father quick to anger and slow to forgive. Ben knew He could not pay the price he believed God would exact for his wrongdoings.

The thing is that Ben is not a bad guy. He never robbed a bank, or killed a man. He has been a faithful husband and gentle father. Ben’s wrongdoings were no worse than any mans; merely springing from an inability to deal with his own weaknesses and shortcomings, and which brought him undone.

When I became ill with cancer, Ben suffered terribly with anxiety and guilt because of what our family went through. He hurt. And he had no way to get God into that hurting part, or draw on God’s strength to get him through it. He believed God was waggling his head, telling him to smarten up and get a backbone. He was ashamed of his own weakness, and he hid. God said “Where are you, Ben?” and Ben couldn’t hear Him, because he was down the back yard with a cigarette and a six pack of beer, medicating his shame.

In rehab, Ben learned to hear God’s voice. He learned to put out a hand and draw on God’s strength when his own failed. He learned to stay in the room, even with the shame, until he was loved enough to know it was okay, God wasn’t going anywhere. When Ben finally peered out from between his fingers he found God waiting for him. Here, Ben, this is some righteousness Jesus organised earlier, I think this will fit you fine.

I have seen my husband rise up from a long sleep of self-hate and humiliation, and sit up to God’s banqueting table. He is making a pig of himself I can tell you. The empathy I see in my husbands’ eyes as he tells me about the people God brings across his path makes me fall back in wonder. How God can take a man who emptied himself out in self-disgust, and fill him with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.

A pastor once told me, “People change, but not that much.” Sorry, I don’t believe that. Fear and guilt stunt the soul – but mercy draws the withered ones stumbling forth for their healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, but God wants us free in the light.

Change is possible. It can happen. A man can come back to life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Don’t give up hope. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. The good thing about this was that I truly let him go to God. I was prepared to be an Abigail before Him. Ben was lost, but was also beyond the reach of my rejection, hurt and demands for restitution. But he came back. He was truly raised from the dead.

Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I can’t help myself. Those friends and family who saw me last year will understand how what we now call normal around here is such a miracle. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any idea why I was staring at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband.

You can read Ben’s own account of his journey through alcoholism and recovery here.