Monday, July 9, 2012

Loving the Difficult Ones

There are people in my life who are a chore for me to be around. I feel exhausted when I speak with them.  At times, I avoid interacting with them. I screen my calls.  I intentionally cut conversations short. The unspoken prayer my actions suggest would seem to be, "God, send me to a foreign land, but please don't make me spend any more time with that person."

God doesn't treat us this way; quite the opposite. Ezekiel 34:11 reads, "For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out." He pursues people who others might overlook, ignore or avoid.

John 5 tells the story of Jesus' interaction with a man at Bethesda, a pool at the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. We can gather that there must have been assumed healing properties when the water was stirred up because in John 5:3, "a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed" lay in the colonnades. When the water was stirred, people would go down into the water.

The story, however, is not about Bethesda. It is about Jesus seeking out one of his sheep at the Sheep Gate. We know that Jesus was in Jerusalem during a feast of the Jews (Jn. 5:1), but rather than hobnobbing with the well-to-dos, he was with the "blind, lame and paralyzed." Despite the crowd of broken people, Jesus' focus seems to have been on one man--a man "who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years" (Jn. 5:5). By the culture’s standard, a reject among rejects. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, he responded, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me" (Jn. 5:7). Life was a struggle for this man; it had been for 38 years. We can envision that he was facing life alone. Rather than lending a hand, people brushed him aside, stepping over him on their own way. Not only was he broken and alone, he had no hope for anything better. Then, with a simple command from Jesus, "get up, take your bed, and walk" (v. 8), the man without hope was given a renewed hope--he passed from sickness to health, from death to life.

It would have been easy for Jesus to step over this man like everyone else had. He had disciples to teach, prayers to offer, and Pharisees to rebuke. I suspect the man would not have taken any notice. So many people had ignored him in the past, what was one more? But Jesus didn't ignore him. He saw instead a man who was ignored even by society's weakest members and he offered healing.

As Christians, we are called to do the same. Matthew 25:40-46 reads "'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left,‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

How do we, as counselors, love the least of these?
  • Pray for wisdom--in knowing how to approach people that make you uncomfortable. Pray for forgiveness--for not loving others as Christ loved you. Pray for revelation--for eyes that see hurting people as Christ would see them.
  • Actively seek out difficult people. Ed Welch, of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation calls this “moving toward” others. There are people, in the church, in our neighborhoods, and in our waiting rooms who actively send the message to stay away. Welch suggests that you lovingly move toward them anyway. Lovingly pursuing others may bear much fruit.
  • In the midst of your interactions with others, remember that you are a forgiven child of God. He drew you out of the mire when you too were undesirable (Psalm 40).
  • Remember that Christ is the source of ultimate satisfaction. He quenches your soul. He gives you streams of living water (John 4) which can refresh even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  • Don’t love people only because you expect them to change. They may not. That doesn’t change your call to love them.
  • Pray again.
We are the difficult people.
We do not fit in.
We stand out, awkwardly.
And we annoy you, perplex you, vex you.
We try your patience.
We loathe being this way,
but we cannot help it.

We raise the bar of love.
We call forth new patience,
new kindness.

"Love never fails,"
but many fail us.
We are too damned hard to deal with.
We stand out by falling down.

We raise the bar of love.
Our hurt hurts you.

Let that hurt help
Let that aching pain raise the bar of love
So high
So high
That only grace can raise it.

The shape of our Cross is sharp;
it cuts away life.

What is the shape of your Cross
before our Cross?

-Philosopher Doug Groothuis

Jason Kanz, Ph.D.
Clinical Neuropsychologist
Marshfield Clinic

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