One year at camp one of my campers told me he couldn’t sit next to the young lady he was assigned to at the end-of-camp banquet.
“We just don’t get along,” he told me.
“Let’s sit down and talk about this,” I answered, and I shared with him a personal story.
One winter night, many years ago, after spending time with a schoolmate whom we’ll call Ed, I turned to my dad as we walked toward his truck and said to him, “There aren’t many people I don’t get along with, but Ed is the most annoying guy I’ve ever met. I just can’t stand him.”
My dad and I both helped out with my high school robotics team. In the evenings, the students on the team would cut metal frames, put wheels on axles, wire up circuit boards and motors, and work together to build a robot.
But this kid, Ed, would often disagree with group consensus and do his own thing.
“No Ed, we can’t put sharp edges on the frame even if it would look cool. It’s a safety hazard.” Later we would find sharp edges anyway.
One time I was using a tool, looked away, then looked back, and the tool was gone.
“Ed, can I have that tool back? I was in the middle of something.”
“No. I’m using it!”
So was I, I thought.
So, my comment to my dad about Ed being annoying was not altogether unwarranted. Yet, my other Father in heaven must have been listening and decided to act.
The next summer, Ed and I ended up in a small office working together on a project five days a week for ten weeks—just the two of us.
Loving our enemies
“And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” (Matthew 5:47).
Jesus told us to love our enemies. Maybe that doesn’t seem as relevant today as it did in the past. We don’t have Pharisees literally plotting to kill us like Jesus did. But perhaps we have people making our lives difficult at school or at work or in church. The idea of loving people like that might seem like an aspiration we will reach eventually, but for now simply isn’t realistic.
Throughout the pandemic, I ran into people with differing viewpoints and ideas for how to navigate the unprecedented time. Some of these conversations got my heart rate up as we didn’t see eye to eye. Sometimes comments people made seemed so insensitive or foolish that it made me angry. But despite these feelings, I tried to be understanding no matter what and learned some lessons along the way.
Imagine a jar on a top shelf that is just out of reach. You shrug and say, “Not worth it. I don’t even know what’s inside that jar.” And you turn your attention to the more reachable jars. Is this how we view the things in our kitchen? Is this how we view our relationships?
Sometimes it takes effort to reach out and understand the way another person thinks. We may not know what is inside that top shelf jar and we will never know if we don’t reach. What if it contained the missing ingredient to the greatest recipe we have ever made? Or perhaps it truly was nothing we needed, but by practicing reaching, we are prepared for the day we encounter an almost impossible jar. Maybe that jar, which really does contain an idea that will change our life for the better, we can access because we are used to reaching—rather than staying in our comfort zone on the lower shelves.
Will we ask God to help us reach the people who might change our life, rather than shutting ourselves into the space of our own heads? Sometimes another person’s viewpoint might be hard to understand. If you disagree, you have to intentionally reach and try to understand where they are coming from.
Recognizing the fool
If we focus only on our own viewpoint (avoiding the jars out of reach), we will be able to effectively interact with those who agree with us. However, we will come in conflict with those who don’t.
With a narrow view on the world, those who fall outside our view will seem like irrational fools. The irony is that viewing others as foolish and wrong may be a good sign we are the ones who are the fools: “A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Proverbs 18:2). Those with wisdom warn: “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12:16); “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man” (Proverbs 30:2).
It’s good to acknowledge that we don’t understand everything, because it will actually help us learn to understand a vast world which is too big to fully know.
“I’ve always felt that a person’s intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic.”
“There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:5-8).
Our ability to effectively understand and interact with others peacefully is based on our ability to create an accurate mental model of the world and people’s many viewpoints. The more we do this, the more we see an intricacy in God’s plan and the beauty of diversity within a body. We will see as God sees. All these perspectives we come in contact with have some value and if we are willing to listen, we will find the pieces we had never considered before—pieces of a whole and absolute truth.
The second part of Proverbs 11:14 reads: “But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Someone who has a different viewpoint than you do may also have wisdom in areas that you haven’t developed yet. It’s important to be willing to think expansively and seek to understand where people are coming from—while always holding everything up against the light of biblical truth, and always allowing the Spirit to guide us.
In a tight space
The summer after my comment to my dad about Ed being annoying, I started an apprenticeship at my dad’s company. I worked in another division of the company than him, but every day I would ride with him to work, and walk over to a small office with two desks in it— one for me, and one for Ed.
Yes, of all the people in the world who applied for this apprenticeship program, and of the approximately 50 companies choosing from the applicant pool, my dad’s company chose Ed and me—and only Ed and me.
Our mentors, the ones guiding us through the apprenticeship that summer, commented on how drastically different Ed and I were. I was much more methodical and wanted to learn about what I was working with before jumping in. Ed jumped into things without any thought at all. Over the weeks working with him, I realized his approach was effective in some situations. And to my surprise, we gradually became friends.
We had a shared interest in photography and I was impressed with some of his photographs. On days when we had nothing to do, we went for long walks around the work campus together, just chatting and exploring. At the end of the ten weeks, the most annoying person I had ever met had become a friend.
This is the story I told my camper. Then I gave him a choice: he could back out of sitting next to this young lady he didn’t get along with, or, if he went through with it, I’d make sure he had his best friend at the table too. I encouraged him to think about it and pray about it. After a short leave away from the rest of the dorm to pray, he returned to tell me he’d go through with it.
Change starts with self
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3.
“I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.”—Bob Goff
We can’t expect everyone to change for us, not even to understand us. The only thing we can really do is try to understand others and, with the help of God, change ourselves. When others see us making the effort to reach them, they may just do the same in return. This is what Jesus did. He set the ultimate example by humbling himself to the point of death. He came to meet us at our level, in the hopes that we would meet Him at His. Therefore, as Christians, we should live a life of growth, learning to reach out to others as Jesus did for us.
If you feel isolated and like no one gets you, rather than becoming frustrated, try to remember that others may feel the same way. Reach for them, bridge that gap, and say, “I see where you’re coming from.”
Letting them walk away
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” Romans 12:18.
We are told by Paul to try to live peaceably with everyone—as much as depends upon us. In this statement we see where our responsibility begins (with ourself) and where it ends—with the other person. Sometimes, as hard as we might try, we may never be able to connect with another person. I’ve had to learn how to forgive people but at times, just leave them be.
One of my coworkers once told me that he loved calling people and talking to them on the phone. He has many people on his call list—more than he can cycle through frequently. So, when someone isn’t showing reciprocity or at the very least, appreciation, he lowers their name on the calling list and talks to others more.
We have a limited set of time on this earth. It’s important to flex our love muscle, but it’s also important to recognize when to let someone walk away. Sometimes leaving a person in peace is the way to retain peace. After knowing you’ve done what you can to create peace, it may be best to let them be. And investing too much time in a relationship which is going nowhere can mean investing too little time in a relationship that would.
Jesus, who was perfect, walked with Judas for years but then came to the point where He dismissed Judas: “What you do, do quickly” (John 13:27). Judas was not forced out, he walked out that door. Love hard, but know when to let them walk away. You can’t control people, but you can love them.
The camper returned after the banquet and told me that it actually went well. There was no animosity between him and this young lady and he was glad he went through with it.
A great peace comes from making amends with someone you were previously at odds with. Not only do we find peace, but we find a greater understanding of the world and the people in it. Ever since that summer with Ed, I have seen greater value in trying to create friendships where they are hard. In my personal experience, as I keep reaching for the jars, the recipes—the mixtures of friends and people living around me—grows greater, and so does my understanding of the greatness of God’s Kingdom and what He is building by bridging the gaps between these varied personalities and people. Through understanding others, we can learn to humbly recognize how small each of us is in a vast sea of people, ideas and perspectives—even among those who have God’s Spirit. It is through this type of thinking that we can learn the practical value of loving our enemies.