I had the pleasure of talking with relationship experts Bill and Pam Farrell on a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast [Rebuilding Intimacy in Marriage – Episode 96]. While they do such great work on helping couples keep the love in their marriage, our conversation made me wonder about ways to love someone who is hard to love.
It’s easy to love our spouses, children, relatives, or friends, but what about those who rub us the wrong way or disagree with us?
Jesus said in Luke 6:32, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Later in that same chapter, He challenged us, “But love your enemies, do good to them” (Luke 6:35). Learning how to love those who are hard to love requires both a choice and intentionality.
We all know people like that, don’t we? People in our lives who just seem a bit “prickly” and hard to love because of their attitude, words, or actions. So, as we consider those around us during the holiday that emphasizes our love for others, we must ask the question: how do we love someone who is hard to love?
Scripture advises, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:24 ESV). What does that look like practically speaking?
There can be any number of reasons why certain people are harder to love than others:
- Sometimes people emote attitudes that make them hard to love.
- Some people believe they are unlovable and subconsciously set themselves on a path akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Some are afraid of being hurt by loving others so they resist receiving love.
- Sometimes we see traits of ourselves in others that we don’t like and we resist getting close and expressing love to them.
- Sometimes we mistake unlovable behaviors for hard to love individuals.
The truth is, God doesn’t give us the option to choose whether to extend love to another or not. Simply because God has loved us when we were not deserving of love, we must extend the same love to others who are hard to love.
Ways to show love to someone who is hard to love
1. Remember that God loves each of us just the same. So that “hard to love person” is loved by their creator as much as we are. We are all sinners in need of God’s saving grace, which levels the playing field. If God is willing to love us even when we are hard to love, what right do we have to deny others love?
2. Sometimes the best thing we can do to show love to those who are hard to love is to pray for them often and ask God to help us see them through His eyes. We are encouraged in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” It’s difficult to continue having negative feelings toward those we deem hard to love when we are committed to praying for them and asking God to give us His perspective.
3. I don’t love having to admit this, but I’m not always very loveable myself, especially toward those I claim to love the most. When we humble ourselves and remember that Jesus said that he who had not sinned can cast the first stone, we can offer the same grace, forgiveness, and compassion that we have needed.
When we will put ourselves in another’s shoes and treat them the way we would desire to be treated, our love for them will grow. Romans 12:3 tells us, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of ourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”
4. When we come across those who are harder to love, we must remember who our battle is really against. Each of us displays attitudes, behaviors, opinions, and words that God would frown upon. Even Paul asks the question, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I admit that the law is good. In that case, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15-17).
So when we are faced with showing love to someone who is hard to love, we have to remember that their behavior is being influenced by someone other than God.
Ephesians 6:12 reminds us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Because of this, I have found that when I separate the person from their behavior, knowing it is being influenced by the enemy of our soul, then it becomes easier for me to extend forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love.
5. Even the most hard person to love becomes more innately loveable when we get to know their story. There is always a reason why we respond the way we do. Colossians 3:12-13 encourages us, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
6. Often, our behavior is a culmination not just of what we are facing in the moment, but of past experiences impacting current situations. When we are faced with loving someone who is hard to love, it often helps if we remember that their thoughts, attitudes, opinions, and behavior that we see on the outside not only reflects them in the moment, but is also a reflection of their inner past hurts, wounds, and brokenness.
Pain, wounds, and feelings of brokenness can impact us for many years after an event. Our own behavior as well as that of others is not merely a reflection of the present, but also past hurts and wounds. When we remember that that is what we are observing in the moment, it can be so much easier to have compassion on someone who has so clearly been hurt.
7. Because the words and behaviors exhibited are not only a result of others’ wounding but our own, sometimes it is better not to engage in a debate when it would not come from a loving spirit. Sometimes choosing not to respond is the most loving response we can offer someone in the moment. Christ conveyed this when He offered, “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also” (Matthew 9:35 NLT). While some would view not responding to mean you are in agreement, another way to consider this is that you care enough about the other person not to engage in a conversation that might do more harm.
8. Jesus showed us how to love perfectly. Even when he didn’t love the behavior, he loved the person. He modeled sacrificial love to us…a love that went out of his way. When someone is hard to love, sometimes the best way to express love for that person is to choose to offer the best of ourselves, our intentions, our time, and even our belongings. This would be consistent with Jesus’s command, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).
Jesus modeled perfect love for us. Perfect love is sacrificial. It goes above and beyond what is required. It remembers that in extending love to others, we demonstrate our love for God.
9. Sometimes hard to love people always seem to be argumentative or picking for a fight. We don’t have to participate in every argument we are invited to. Often, the most loving thing we can do is to walk away rather than expressing love in the moment.
If you asked my children to tell you the principles I have most tried to instill in them, one would most assuredly say, “As far as it be unto you, keep the peace” (Romans 12:18). They would also likely tell you that our words are so powerful that they can bless or curse others, and we should use them as a blessing to love others well. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21 NIV).
10. Offer them forgiveness. It is very difficult to extend love and forgiveness to those who have hurt us most, but not doing so will simply harden our heart and instill bitterness and resentment within ourselves. Not forgiving others may not hurt or impact the hard to love party at all, but it will most certainly negatively impact us. Yet, choosing to forgive another, even when they haven’t and may never ask for our forgiveness is a road to freedom and peace within ourselves, and love for them.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). By forgiving others, we empty our own heart of the poisonous bitterness that will accumulate and will most certainly negatively impact our relationship with God and others.
Scripture clearly explains that when we choose not to forgive others, God will choose not to forgive us. It is a choice that not only impacts our fate, but that of those God brings across our path to bestow His love on. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15 NIV).
11. Sometimes choosing to love someone who is hard to love requires us to consider another person’s needs or condition. When we think back on the story of the good Samaritan, others passed by the man without hesitating to think what that man needed or how they could help. Luke 10:33 (NIV) explains “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.”
Have we ever felt like that man along the side of the road did? Pained, dismissed, forgotten, rejected? Or even like the despised Samaritan did? Our responsibility doesn’t rest on the other person’s response, but in our behavior toward them. In the KJV, the passage reads, “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him” (emphasis mine), which indicated that the Samaritan met the man where he was, and went above and beyond either what was normal or comfortable in order to meet the needs of another man.
12. Consider the hard to love individual like a child. Now hear me out on this. I don’t intend for that to sound derogatory. But if we consider that we are all children of God, and He came to save us all, and that Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14 NIV).
When we remember that even these hard to love individuals are God’s children, children who are learning and growing and becoming more like Him just as we are, it can be so much easier to extend love to them, just as we want God to do for us, especially on our most unlovable days.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for how to love those who are hard to love in the comments below.
Remember Dear One, Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)
This is such a powerful, healing, practical, post. I had a psychologist tell me, “Remember you may have been just like them if you had not decided to get help in healing your wounds. Sometimes the small steps toward love include pity, then compassion.”
Thank you Jayna. We all have and we can all be the difficult ones from time to time. We must extend the same grace that God has extended to us. Because of Him, Hope Prevails!
It’s not easy to love unloveable people. Usually I avoid them. I don’t like confrontations. But if possible, I try to be pleasant and nice. I just don’t expect much from them and I know I can’t change them by what I do.
Love this and you! xo
You bless me, Lyli! Thank you!
I sometimes have to remember that I can be unlovable too. I can be difficult and yet my Father loves me very much. That always gives me perspective. This has been a very powerful message today and a good reminder that we are called to love and I think these are great ways to help us do that. I appreciate this very much. Thank you.
I completely agree. It helps me very much to keep things in perspective when I recognize how unlovable I can be at times, yet God’s love is unending, and He forgives me repeatedly. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Sorry, forgot to mention I was coming to you from Theocentric Thursdays. Blessings to you.
This is so contrary to the message the world gives. It is a message that I find helpful, and I like that this post is practical as well as spiritual.
I’m so glad you found it helpful Leslie. I personally can’t separate the practical from the spiritual. He’s my answer to everything. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
As I was reading your post, I was thinking, “Oh, I want to highlight that and mention in my reply to you.” But the more I read, I realized I would end up cutting and pasting your entire post to comment back to you. lol.
To sum up, all of your insights were an encouragement to me and spurred me on in the situation I find myself in with loving a difficult person.
Thanks for sharing!
Karen, oh how your words bless me. This was not the easiest post to write, nor the easiest for us to do. But we all have those in our life who will challenge us when it comes to fulfilling the command to love others. But it helps me to remember that there are many times when I am the one who is difficult to love, and yet God has not withheld His love from me. Since I am created in His image, and commanded to do so, I can love because of Him. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Oh, Dr Michelle! What another beautiful, moving post.
I have a few people close to me who are this person. And know what? I’m often this person! Hard to love, prickly, and completely imperfect.
So thankful for God’s grace, and also for His followers who can extend His love and grace as well. <3
I had many posts that I considered as my featured this week, for Grace & Truth, but you have them all beat.
Thanks for linking up with us this week, and you'll see your post on my blog tomorrow.
God bless and love you, sister!
Your sweet words bless me. I’m thrilled you’ve returned for another part of my heart. You are so right…many people are this person, and all to often, I am this person. But God’s love and grace is still faithfully extended to each of us, despite our prickly and imperfect parts! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
What an important topic to discuss, we all have someone in our lives that are a challenge to deal with. Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup. Pinning to our linkup board and hope you join this week’s linkup that just went live!
You’re so right…we will always have those in our lives that are more challenging to show love to. But it always helps me to remember that I’m sure some have thought the same thing as me. What amazes me is how God loves us ALL! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
As always, God’ timing is perfect…this message! I was feeling a bit frustrated with someone who isn’t the easiest to love and prayed about it. This message reinforces what I know to be true and reminded me that I too may not always be easy to love. Your words are a gift straight from Heaven. Thank you for being obedient and allowing God to use you to help so many.
Can you tell me what to do in a situation where i have did everything i can to be loving and kind to them and they sic their dog on me and then as i stand totally humiliated with a snarling dog with its snout under my crotch they are laughing their faces off at me. And actually rolling on the ground kicking their legs up in the air laughing like theirs no tommorrow. What would you do with that. These are people who teach sunday school and help out at church camps.
Oh Teresa, your comment hurts my heart for you. I’m so sorry you’ve been treated that way. I just cannot imagine the pain and humiliation you’ve faced. Whether we like it or not, we have to forgive. BUT THEN sometimes the most loving thing we can do is separate ourselves from other’s toxic behavior, and pray for them. God does not expect you to stay in an abusive relationship, but he does expect us to pray, forgive, and release them into His hands.