It’s easy to love people far away

August 14, 2008 | 23 comments

Earlier this week, I had a falling out with a relative. We haven’t spoken since. I’ve been praying about this (though my prayers are admittedly along the lines of “DID YOU SEE THAT?! I am NOT going to apologize. I did not do ANYTHING wrong…”), and I keep getting this nagging feeling that I’m supposed to do something here, and it’s not whine about it more to my husband. As much as it galls me to admit it, I think I’m called to humble myself and re-initiate conversation, even though some pretty bizarre/rude/untrue insults were said to me and it’s my opinion that the other party is 100% in the wrong.

Interestingly, about a month ago a similar situation played out with this same person and I was actually able to immediately call them and offer an olive branch, even though, once again, it was my opinion that I’d been gravely insulted for no reason. The person admitted that they were just upset about something else and we had a beautiful, love-filled conversation about how much we cared about one another. But that was back before the spiritual dry spell. Now my attitude is that I have checked the “forgiveness and humility” box once and now I’m over it. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? We turn the other cheek once to prove to God we’re serious and then he’ll prevent annoying things from happening to us forever more?

Anyway, every time I try to forget about the whole thing and go back to sulking, this quote from Mother Teresa keeps coming to mind:

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

I’m sort of a living testament to the first part of this quote right now. I would happily go on a mission to feed the poor, to spread the Gospel in hostile territory, to state unpopular opinions for Christ, give gobs of money to charity (if I had it), defend the truth of Christianity to a group of atheists, write and talk and think about how great God is…anything, anything but actually showing love to someone close to me who is on my last nerve.

I think this is yet another manifestation of the “start by carrying the crosses you already have” lesson, one that Tienne was talking about recently. To act in humility, love and charity when you don’t want to, when it’s not fun, when you don’t even feel God’s presence there with you…that’s hard! That’s painful! That’s inconvenient! …And that’s Christianity.


  1. Alan

    May God give you strength to act with love.
    Today’s Gospel reading seems tailor made for your situation.
    Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
    “Lord, if my brother sins against me,
    how often must I forgive him?
    As many as seven times?”
    Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

  2. Jack

    Interesting. If you recall, I had a pretty bad conversation with my mom earlier this week:

    NOt 5 minutes before I checked your blog I hung up with her after a ‘good’ conversation. I don’t think we have made up, but earlier today I had the nagging feeling that I had to make the first move, that I had to be humble and walk in the path of love. It’s working, so far…


  3. Sara

    Oh, I feel your pain! It is so hard to deal with that sort of thing. When my mom was sick and my sister was her sole caregiver, and extremely stressed out, she would let it all out on me. She would yell at me and tell me all the things I was doing wrong and had always done wrong. It was mortifying to listen to (and know that my mom had to listen to her saying these terrible things).

    Every time it happened, I apologized for whatever she thought I had done. Talk about humbling! Even though she was mostly wrong, I knew that she believed what she was saying, and that there may have been some small grain of truth that she stretched out of proportion in her mind.

    It’s a terrible situation to be in, but if you don’t reach out, who will?

  4. Andie

    I once confessed to a priest that I was struggling with forgiving someone who had wronged me. This very orthodox, holy priest told me that our hurt and pain has several layers and because of that, we have to forgive several times. This made me feel better because I thought that I was failing to forgive, when in reality, I was forgiving, but had to do so several times to heal each layer, if you will. God bless you. This part of human relationships is so difficult.

  5. Sara

    In many of my experiences, an act of love has involved an act of will. God gives me the grace to do the right thing, but I don’t always like it or see the benefit – until much later. It helps me to remember that Christ did nothing wrong, but He still humbled Himself for our sake. He turned every suffering into another expression of love and mercy – not because He had warm fuzzy feelings about it but because this was what needed to happen for healing to occur.

  6. Elizabeth

    I was in a very similar situation 3 years ago. Those I polled (haha) agreed with me that I was right and the other person was wrong. Still, I couldn’t escape the nagging, heavy feeling that I needed to be the first to apologize. I made the call. It was not received. I was ignored. It was heartbreaking. Finally, I got an email saying all was forgiven. Really? Because I would have rather heard it personally. We still have not talked. It took me a long time to recover. However, Christmas cards have resumed and I have heard (through the grapevine) that she has truly forgiven me.

    I made my peace the best way I knew how. I made an unequivocal apology. Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes it doesn’t end perfectly. But taking the place of humility will absolve you of further guilt.

    See? There I go preaching agin! I am SO SORRY Jennifer! 🙂

  7. Bender

    We turn the other cheek once to prove to God we’re serious and then he’ll prevent annoying things from happening to us forever more?

    Nope, it’s not just the one time because we are going to be slapped again and again and again and again and again. No matter how many times you might be patient with someone or forgive them for some wrong, they will do it again. Or if not them, then someone else will do it again. We suffer a million and one indignities in a lifetime and our reward as Christians is that we get to take it again and again.

    I think this is yet another manifestation of the “start by carrying the crosses you already have” lesson

    Yes, that is it exactly. But carrying the cross means more than carrying something that is really heavy and cumbersome. The cross was and is, as a historical matter, the symbol of humiliation, of indignity, of pain inflicted on you. Carrying the cross means more than simply accepting a burden, it means getting slapped, spit on, laughed at, kicked, whipped, ridiculed. It means being hated and dispised even when you are entirely innocent and just.

    As a practical (and charitable) matter, sometimes it is best to let things cool down a bit, and even when communications resume, to speak of other things for a while before coming back to this sore spot (or even just simply secretly forgiving and letting it drop without ever seeking redress). But simply because you might get angry or annoyed with someone, even if you don’t like them for a time, that does not mean that you do not love them. Love and like are two different animals.

    Indeed, in my own personal experience, dealing with someone who had hurt me intensely and who had made me very angry, etc. taught me more about what “love” really is than being with someone whom I really liked and adored. In such a situation, it is real easy to say “to hell with you” and walk away forever, and it requires you to actually choose to love them. It is then that you learn that love is not some accident, some thing that “just happens” or not. You have to make a conscious decision that you will love this person — unconditionally. You might not like them at that particular moment, or you may never like them, ever. I mean, there is no particular reason that we should like our relatives. Some of them might be real mean and miserable sons of bitches, thoroughly unlikeable and with nothing in common with us except parts of our DNA. But we can still love them nonetheless.

    If you want proof of God, or more particularly, of the Holy Spirit, here it is, because that is something that we could never do on our own all by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit, not us, that allows us to do that. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to do the impossible, to love even those we do not particularly like, to forgive those who have injured us to the core, to be patient with those who annoy us to no end. Such things are impossible for something that is merely the accidental product of evolution, but because there is God, the impossible is made possible.

  8. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    What a great post!

    Perhaps God is going to use this to help you get over your “spiritual dry spell”.

    It’s always interesting to see how God takes these moments in our lives and uses them to bring us closer to him.

    I will be praying for your today.

  9. jack

    You have to take the love to where the hurt is. Sounds like this relative has a lot of hurt. It’s easy to shower love on sweet little children or the memory of your favorite saintly grandparent, etc. It’s hard to shower love on the broken people in front of you who keep taking up space in YOUR home and trying YOUR patience and stealing YOUR time.

  10. Meta

    Ditto to Alan.

  11. Anonymous


    Do you have an e-mail where you can be contacted?

  12. Jennifer F.

    These comments are so helpful — thank you! And thank you for your prayers as well.

    Anon – my email address is on my profile here. (I don’t want to type it out because of spam). 🙂

  13. Dorothy

    Bless you, my child. A priest gave me a copy of your article in America and from that I located your blog. I am 85 years old but a new blogger and didn’t have a clue as to what that RSS thing was. You have the privilege of being the first blog I have subscribed to. I, too, muse on God love you and shower his grace on your work. (Remember, Mother Teresa had a 50 year “dry spell” after she got her working orders from God!”

  14. Ginkgo100

    Like a lot of other commenters, I'm feeling your post hitting close to my heart right now, as I'm currently suffering from a spat with a long-time friend — and like you with your relative, I've convinced myself that it's All His Fault.

    Your post also reminds me of the words of Linus Van Pelt: "I love mankind – it's people I can't stand!"

  15. Betsy

    Oh my gosh, Jen, I have so been there. I don’t know how it will work out for you, but for me, it began an amazing period of freedom when I learned to press through the pain and anger and act biblically. You’ve read my testimony and seen how I went through an amazing time of God speaking to me and empowering me. But it was during the dry spells that we really get “close” as I obey in the midst of pain.

    Specifically, I remember a time when I was so angry at someone for hurting me (again, they were soooo wrong!) and I had this feeling deep inside like I was suddenly in danger. I “heard” this little voice that warned me that I was in dangerous territory now, that God wasn’t going to cover me in this anger like He had been doing. I feel like it was the Spirit warning me. I remember it so clearly. It was as if I heard the words, “Forgive now.”

    I didn’t forgive. I stayed angry and enjoyed it. This ushered in a period of serious depression for about two days. It was so clearly linked to my refusal to forgive when I had the chance. I later had to get on my face and ask God to lift the depression, which He did, so kindly. But I learned an important lesson.

    Basically, what I learned was this: Christ soooooo often covers our sins that we don’t even recognize it. But when the time is right, the Spirit leads us to deal with our sins seriously. In those times, it’s really, really tough to fight our sins. But it’s the death blow that takes the most energy and brings the most freedom!

  16. kris

    great post…so good to think thru this stuff. Ya know, I have gone thru some weird God-tests w/relationships in the past year. SOOO often I feel like I’m failing the ongoing TEST, but then I realize – that by simply taking it to Him and examining it under the “Lord, what do YOU want me to do here?” – that I am winning the race He’s marked out for me…even when I get off course. I think that even tho we fail and have to deal with and shrug off bitterness on the way, He is glorified when we come to Him for the answers ya know? The OLD ME wouldnt have done that…I wouldve rationalized what I deemed RIGHT based on my perspective and assumed God was on my side! Something I did learn (and I”m NOT saying you are to learn the same) tho recently, is that humility in Christ does NOT mean getting trampled over and over. There came a time for me to forgive the unforgiveable…overcome bitterness…and then “shake the dust off my sandals” and move on. I had to walk away (pretty much) from a close relationship bc I realized I was getting RUN OVER often bc I was trying to forgive and be a “good Christian”. All I was doing was getting stuck in a toxic cycle…in fact, I even begged Him to tell me if I was to confront the person and I felt an overwhelming answer of “no – just move on”. So…in sayingi ALL this – never stop seeking Him…and dont forget when you pray about it all (spiritual drought or not!) – to stop and listen, too. That was the key for me. Love readingyour insight…

  17. razzler

    Oh I so feel your pain. A very similar thing happened to me a few months ago with a member of my family. I spent 2 weeks telling God how it wasn’t my fault and I so did not have to put up with that sort of thing – but then He told me to apologise anyway. My gasp may have been audible.

    I could only do it because my identity is in Christ. Therefore, I do not need to justify myself to anyone – and I can even go a step further and apologise to someone when they have hurt me, in order to restore a broken relationship.

    Prayers and blessings.

  18. Abigail

    I love that Mother Theresa quote!

    My husband add his own post-script. “Mother Theresa was able to pour love unto the poor of Calcutta BECAUSE her mother poured love into her.”

    It’s sort of like, first things first. First, the family needs to be healed and remade into a place of peace and love. Then the children can take that love and pour it out into the world.

    Some days it’s hard to realize that I’m on the first wave. I’m the mom that stays close to home and while my little sister in the Peace Corps gets the more glamorous job of passing out bed nets in Africa. Then after my husband quotes his special post-script to me, I feel better about the hidden life of loving well those closest to me.

  19. lyrl

    I don’t know that relationships that cause us pain have to be invited into our lives.

    My relationship with my father was important to me. I went to counseling, he went to counseling, I tried to offer more of myself into the relationship… it was so painful.

    After a decade of the pain outweighing any positives, I called it quits. We have minimal communication and visits, but it just cannot be healthy to subject oneself to that kind of hurt over and over and over again, with no end in sight.

    Many fulfilling relationships can only be had by going through difficult times. But just because something is difficult does not mean that doing it will have positive results.


    Good luck. I hope you can salvage your relationship. There’s nothing like humbling oneself and opening oneself up to the same person who has just recently hurt you, only to have that person do it again.

    I’ve had similar situations occur but sometimes, you can’t make it all right. Sometimes, as much as you hate the idea, you have to say goodbye. Because sometimes the other party likes hurting you and has no intention of using you as the backboard for all the wrongs life through at that person.

    Yes, eventually you may have to forgive, let the event go, and then let the person go. Sometimes you can make the first move, you can offer forgiveness, you can offer reconciliation, but it’s in the other person’s ballpark to make the changes. You know?

  21. Not Strictly Spiritual

    Wow, it’s as if you’re writing about my life. I have had a situation like this in my life for THREE YEARS. A relative has been incredibly unreasonable, hurtful, insulting, downright cruel, and for no reason. None of what he claims is true, and it’s completing confusing because how do you rectify a wrong that never happened. I tried. I thought the Christian to do was to call up and say that we should wipe the slate clean and start over. I had planned to invite this person to Easter dinner. When he realized that I was not going to admit that all the cruel things he said about me were true, he hung up. It is one of the saddest things I have ever experienced, and I’m really at a loss for how to fix it.

  22. Sibyl

    Still, It's OK to say, 'Ouch!' when you are hurt. It does a disservice to people when they do not know the effects of their actions on others. You are being loving and acting in their best interest when you let them know in a kind and gentle way how what they have done or said has hurt you. Minimizing and ignoring your injury is not according to Matthew 18.

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