I recently met with someone and—what can I say?—I I just didn’t like him very much. Oh, it wasn’t his bad breath (I didn’t get close enough to find out) and he wasn’t terribly obnoxious.
I just didn’t like him very much. And I felt bad about it.
And, no, he isn’t a reader of this blog. So if you’re a reader, it’s safe to meet with me. (Unless, perhaps, you just don’t like me very much.)
“Well, I love her, but I don’t like her very much.”
I thought, “I know exactly what she means. I love this guy; it’s not my fault I don’t like him very much.” I felt much better about myself and thought,
“Yes, that’s me. I’m a loving kind of guy. I obey Christ’s command to love my neighbor even though he’s a bit boring. I like me!”
And then, as these thoughts raced through my mind, I began to dislike myself. As you read my thoughts (above,) perhaps you began to think of me, “What a jerk!”.
Now I’m thinking, “I love me, but I don’t like me very much.”
Why don’t we like some people?
Maybe we share no interests. They like football. We like ballet. They like Comic books. We like William Faulkner. There’s no common ground. But I remember a friend I liked in college. He loved opera (a good enough reason to dislike him) and I liked James Taylor.
He liked Pagliacci (Italian for Clowns) and I liked Gorilla (Italian for Gorilla). But my friend’s low-brow musical tastes weren’t hopeless. He shared my dislike for The Monkees (Italian for Sappy Boy Band).
The differences made our friendship better. Times together were interesting. His fascination with opera was almost contagious. (But not quite.) Some of my friendships are with similar people but many of my friendships are with people completely different. Sometimes opposites attract.
Life would be boring indeed if every human was a clone of me. Or of you.
So maybe it’s the similarities
I once returned from a meeting and complained to my wife about its leader. He had repeated, rephrased, or clarified virtually every comment made.
If I said, “That’s a good idea,” he’d clarify, “Sam is in favor.” If someone said, I’ don’t get the point,” he’d rephrase, “Sally needs clarification.” It was like we were all idiots, too dumb to speak or too stupid to understand. I didn’t like him much. (But I still loved him.)
I shared all this with my wife. She responded, “Sam, you do that all the time.” I rephrased, “Do you mean I frequently clarify comments?” She retorted, “You’re doing it right now!” I clarified, “So is this another example of how I do it?”
She groaned, “Argh!” (Italian for, “I love him but I don’t like him very much right now”). Sometimes we see a bit of ourselves in others, and we don’t like it.
Some people are just harder to like than others, like the person who dominates every discussion without needing to take a breath (how they do it is a medical secret). Or they’re irritating, insensitive, overly-sensitive, or whiners.
Their faults scream out while their worth whispers. Their blemishes bellow while their warmth whimpers. In the scales of likeability, their faults outweigh their merits.
It’s admirable to love the unlovely, to cook their meals, mow their lawns, and listen to their complaints. But I wonder if it isn’t more virtuous to learn to like the unlikeable. It is no virtue of mine to like someone who is charming (Matt. 7:11).
But how do we do it?
Let me be honest. I don’t know. But I want to learn. I think it involves seeing beneath irritating externals to discover hidden inner-beauty. It’s like searching for a treasure of gold in a field of weeds, then letting those treasures outweigh the faults.
What if God spoke to me clear as a bell, “Sam, I love you ever so much, but I don’t really like you”? I’d feel gypped. Somehow God’s “loving” me always felt like he also enjoyed being with me. If God doesn’t like me, does he really love me?
When Jesus was in agony in the garden, his often irritating disciples fell asleep. He finds something good, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Seeing past their faults, he unearths something good that he is birthing in them. Letting the new virtues outweigh the obvious faults, he says, “You’re my friends; I love you. And I like you.”
He says the same to you and me.
Not everyone can be our BFF (Italian for Best Friends Forever). But my best friends see my faults (and me theirs) better than anyone. Our liking each other despite those faults is one of our best ways of loving each other.
Liking (or loving) the charming is easy. Anyone can do it. Learning to like (and love) the unlikeable takes spiritual heart change, new spiritual eyes of the heart to see beyond the obvious faults and to treasure the new man or woman God is making them to be.
Arrivederci (Italian for “See you later”),
P.S. My Italian rephrasing is mostly done for your multi-cultural education. (You’re welcome.) And partly because my wife and I leave tomorrow for Italy to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary.
I hope I don’t rephrase her comments too often. She won’t like it.