How do I love someone I can’t stand?

Dear Father Joe: I know Jesus says we have to love everybody, but I really can’t stand one of the people I work with; we simply can’t work together. I’ve prayed about it, but no matter how hard I pray, I get angry just thinking of them. How can I love them?

First things first, you are not alone! This is a very common problem that, I would imagine, everyone experiences at some point.

As Christians, we recognize how utterly important it is that we love. When Jesus was giving his last series of speeches before his Passion and death, he reiterated this over and over: “This I command you, love one another.” I think most of us know that, but we forget the end of that sentence: “like I love you.”

Jesus isn’t simply giving us a command to love. He is telling us that our love needs to change and grow so that it looks just like his love – powerful stuff. If we don’t embrace that, we end up slapping the “love” label on everything we agree with and everything we want, until we hit the brick wall of people we don’t like. Then things can get very, very confusing.

So, let’s go step by step and see if we can’t figure out a way to love people we don’t like.

It seems to me that the first step has to do with that distinction – love vs. like. In that distinction, we find something I assume you’ll view as good news: As far as I can recall, Jesus never commanded any of us to like anyone.

To like someone normally indicates that we want to be around them. Maybe they make us happy, maybe we share hobbies or have complementary personalities – who knows? Whatever it is, there are people we run into or work with whom we want to be around. These are people we like.

Love, however, is something different.

When we are called to love one another as Christ loves us, then we want to make sure that we are adapting what we feel, what we want, to what Christ shows us. Love is not a feeling, it’s a commitment. I think the best way to think of it is this: When we love someone, we desire what is best for them. When we love someone, we act and move in a way that helps them get to heaven.

When you think of your co-worker, you feel irritation, anger, discomfort – things like that. That’s OK; you can’t help it. What you want to do is make sure that those feelings do not compel you to sabotage them or be apathetic when they need your assistance or support.

To be clear, you do not have to choose to be around them. You don’t have to pretend you like them. You don’t have to volunteer to hang out with them or be “besties.” What your faith in Jesus requires is that you love them.

What I’d like to do now is offer you some suggestions as to ways you can love them without liking them.

First, I want to be clear about an important distinction. It may be that the reason we don’t like someone is because they are wicked or they act wickedly. If that is the case, we simply avoid them and make sure we don’t put ourselves in a position to be hurt by them. Keep the treasure that is you safe from evil, narcissistic people – I believe that is common sense. What I am dealing with here are the people we don’t like simply because our personalities clash, or they have different priorities than us, or different world views. I invite you to remember that your dislike doesn’t mean they are bad, dishonest, evil or any such thing. What we don’t want to do is pretend that our personality conflict means anything of value. Until the person we do not like proves that they are evil or untrustworthy, we should be awfully careful not to pretend that our dislike has any real value. We should be careful not to ascribe awful motives to the persons actions or decisions.

Second, make sure you are meek in regard to them. To be meek means to refuse to do harm, and that is what you need to do. Remember – you don’t have to volunteer to be around them any more than your work requires. You don’t have to give them your time or your inner self in the same way you do a friend. You just need to make sure that you are not letting your personality conflict interfere with their life. Don’t sabotage them, don’t undermine them.

Third, no gossip. Don’t talk about them behind their back or get dragged into collecting horror stories about them. Don’t spread malicious talk or speculation.

Finally, pray for their well-being and salvation. Ask God every day to bless them and guide them home to the kingdom of heaven. When they irritate you or get on your nerves, ask God to soothe you and to strengthen your commitment to act for their benefit.

So there it is! A guide to help us to love those we do not like.

May God bless our efforts to be the people he created us to be. Enjoy another day in God’s presence.