I just got back from Colorado, where I saw a lot of cacti that look like this:
My friend Jill, who I stayed with, tells me if you brush up against them, you get little cactus spines sticking all over your leg or your hand or your whatever in a most uncomfortable manner. Through great skill or dumb luck I managed to avoid this experience and escaped spine-free from my desert jaunts.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my naturally prickly personality. There’ve been times in my life when I honestly wasn’t very easy to get to know. Maybe it was my introverted personality. Maybe it was the way I was raised. Or maybe it was a subtly sinful attitude I was hardly aware of: I was waiting to see who I really thought was worthy of my time and attention.
In reality, it was probably some mix of these things. I really was shy, and it took me a while to warm up to new people and experiences.
Gradually, I’ve come to see what a gift it is when others accept and welcome me without reservation, treating me like a friend from the beginning, without waiting for me to prove myself. It’s sparked a desire in me to extend the same gift to others: the gift of friendship without requirements, without expectation of worthiness first.
My friend Kristen comes to mind in particular. She treats everyone she meets with great kindness. I remember asking her one time, “Doesn’t it exhaust you? Don’t you feel like your store of love is going to run out?” I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it seemed like a new concept to her, that one could run out of love, like one runs out of money, or time.
I, on the other hand, was always storing my emotional exertion. I got drained easily, so I kept it close for just a few special people.
In the more recent past, God has convicted my heart about this. The idea started to grow in me: instead of holding people at arm’s length, I was going to like everyone.
Not just act like I liked everyone.
I know people always say you don’t have to like everyone; you just have to love them. But isn’t part of loving intentionally trying to find and encourage the good in others? Doesn’t it mean trying my darndest to see the beautiful and the image of God in every person I meet? To dig it out with whatever wits I happen to have about me that day? (Which some days is not very much, I admit!)
It’s been an interesting path, and a challenging one. It’s also really rewarding. Sometimes you find the best friends in the most unexpected places. I’ve realized I don’t want to miss out on relationships of great value because I wait too long to show love. I don’t want to miss opportunities to see people blossom into their best selves because they don’t feel safe in my company. It’s simple to be a prickly person–but giving love freely is much more rewarding.
With some people it’s easy.
With some people it’s not.
Maybe it’s their naturally introverted personality. Maybe it’s the way they were raised. Or maybe it’s that subtly sinful attitude: they’re waiting to see if I’m worthy of their time and attention.
Maybe they think I’m too young or too old or too single or too female.
Whatever it is, I’m trying to remember the people who showed me great love when I was a prickly, hard-to-know person. (People like my friends Jill, and Kristen, and many others!) I’m pretty sure they were following the Master in this area.
We love because he first loved us.
I John 4:19