Plan to love

January 20, 2010 | 36 comments

A few months ago I attended a “How to be a More Loving Christian” seminar at our parish. (That’s not exactly what it was called, but that’s the basic gist of it.) It was a meal, followed by a talk, then some discussion.

Before I got in line to get food from the buffet, I looked for a place to set down my purse and notepad to reserve seats for my husband and myself. I scanned the room. All the tables were over half full, except for one that had plenty of seats available. I started in that direction, but stopped when I saw who was sitting there.

Alone at the table was a man with a very disheveled appearance, so much so that I thought he might be homeless. Without thinking through it all that much, I turned and set my stuff down at another table with more, ah, appealing-looking people.

I got in line for food, but as I stood there, my decision began to gnaw at me. I looked over at the man sitting alone at the table, thought about what I did, and realized:

I did it. I did that thing I said I’d never do.

Back at the beginning of my conversion, when I was starting to visit churches for the first time in my life, one of the things that always puzzled me was when Christians would be rude to each other in the parking lots after the service. I didn’t see it often, but when I did I was utterly perplexed. Sure, I understood that even devout Christians aren’t going to be able to be perfectly loving 100% of the time…but couldn’t they at least wait until they were off the church premises?!

“I don’t get it, ” I told my husband after seeing a lady honk and make an angry gesture at another car while trying to get out of a church parking lot. “Do they secretly not believe the ‘Gospel’ stuff that they talk about in church? Or they don’t interpret Jesus’ command to love your neighbor literally?”

My husband didn’t seem all that surprised by it, but I thought it was a shocking level of hypocrisy. I told myself that if I were to get involved with this religion, I’d never be that person. I might not be perfect, but I wouldn’t have such a deep disconnect from my beliefs and my actions that I couldn’t remember it for 15 minutes after church.

Yet there I was, on the church grounds, opting out of an opportunity to show love to a lonely person because I had — to put it bluntly — deemed him “undesirable.” The weight of the irony got even more crushing when I considered that the topic of the talk was “How to be a More Loving Christian.”

I planned to remedy my mistake, but luckily my fellow parishioners are not the spiritual trolls that I am; by the time I got through the food line there wasn’t a seat left at the man’s table, and a couple young men were involved in an animated discussion with him.

When I got home that night, I spent a lot of time thinking about how that had happened. How had I fallen into such an obvious, glaring disconnect between my beliefs and my actions, especially since I had specifically promised myself that I’d never do that? It didn’t take much deep thought to realize:

I had planned to do something other than love.

You see, I had plans for that night. Important ones! There were a few semi-urgent things that my husband and I needed to talk about, and with all the chaos at the house we hadn’t had a chance to catch up in a few days. I had planned to use the mealtime and other breaks at the seminar for us to chat. When I saw the man in the bedraggled clothes and uncombed hair at the table, I worried that his behavior might be unpredictable (was he mentally ill? maybe just quirky? how would he interact with us?) and I didn’t want to endanger my chat with my husband. It all happened in a split-second of subconscious thought, but that was my reasoning.

Thinking of the parking lot example, I realized that, now that the newness of my beliefs have worn off, I too have been guilty of somewhat rude behavior (and very rude thoughts) while trying to get home from Mass. And it’s always because of plans. We need to hurry home for the kids’ naps, to turn off the sprinklers, to make it to the takeout place before they stop serving breakfast, and so on. There’s always a “good reason.”

Obviously, planning your day is a good thing to do. Having goals and a list of what I want to accomplish each day is super important for keeping me motivated and (somewhat) organized. But as I thought back on that evening at the seminar and all the other examples of my actions not backing up what I claim to believe, I realized that making those things my highest priority directly leads to unintentionally hypocritical behavior — because all too often, I’m faced with a choice between getting done what I wanted to do or treating another human being with kindness, and I can’t do both.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do in light of this realization is to look at my daily to-do lists in a new way. I’m trying to find that balance between being motivated about getting things done, yet having my number one plan be simply to take every opportunity to love.



  1. Kika

    I am going to re-read and then read yet again this post. I have been letting an overwhelming schedule turn me into an unlovely person at home. I have not been acting like the person I want to be and I feel saddened and ashamed that I can so quickly revert back to "that person". Too many Plans and busyness are not an excuse to act without love or gentleness or kindness or patience… Thanks for a challenging and honest post.

  2. Anonymous

    Try "Treasure in Clay" by Archb.Fulton J.Sheen for a non-fiction book.

  3. Kat

    oh my gosh. this really hit home and gave me alot to think about. thanks for sharing.

  4. Jessica

    So good, and so very familiar with where I am too. I chose "love" as my word for the year, realizing how little I really understand about love, and how many choices I make (like the one you described) are unloving but I don't even realize it. I have been praying, as well, for God to lead me in giving the most love each day. It is much more rewarding than my to-do list! Great post.

  5. Jamie

    This is so timely — thank you.

    It is crunch time for me with my dissertation and my daughter is sick. I was struggling with the feeling that I have too much to do today, but this post reminds me: the top priority is loving my little girl who doesn't want to be put down for an instant.

  6. Michelle

    Thanks for your honest post! I know I fall into this as well…and you're right…being busy or stressed is not an excuse not to try to be patient and kind and loving…

  7. sarah

    But weren't your plans concerned with mindfully nurturing the love between you and your husband, the solidity of your family? It wasn't that you didn't want to sit next to the man because he might smell bad, but that you were protecting something genuinely important. I believe if that man had stood next to you in the queue, you would have smiled at him, perhaps chatted with him. But I don't think you are a spiritual troll for protecting semi-urgent time with your husband.

    I do get the point of your post though. One day I was in Mass and a similar man sat next to me. That week I'd been cross about people wanting to do away with the sign of peace, and now I found myself in the position of having to shake this dirty smelly man's hand. I did remind myself, "this is how Christ may appear to me, to draw forth extraordinary love from me," and I did feel fellowship and love for him – but I also washed my hands after church. Hmmm.

  8. Anne

    So interesting. I admire your honesty and the fact that you are always calling yourself on where you need to improve to become a better Christian. You give us all a great example to look up to.

  9. autumnesf

    Could have written this myself. Love is my word of the year also. It was last year and I felt like I did so much growing that I use it again this year. Great post!

  10. Faith

    Looking at the picture of the to do list at the top of your excellent post, I was reminded of something my 8 yo daughter did this a.m. My 11 yo son put a little sticky notepad on the desktop screen of my laptop to help me remember things. This morning my 8 yo typed into it: 1. love becky.

    Doesn't really have anything to do with your post (which as usual was right on target!) but I thought it was cute enough to share!

  11. T. Paine

    You made a very human mistake. I suspect it is one that you wouldn't make again if found in those same circumstances. You strike me as having a very loving Christian demeanor, from your writings and would remember this self-realized lesson the next time.

    Thank you for the reminder too! I know I struggle often to be kind to those that I might deem "undesirable" or "different" from me.

    Often times, when overcoming that initial thought, I have found that I have met some very interesting people and even made some good friends with those that I would not have "normally" associated with otherwise.

  12. cindy kay

    Super insights. This reminds me of a situation I was in years ago when my kids were young. I was trying every day to keep my house clean and get my stuff done and I would end up yelling at my kids. At the end of the day, I had a clean house and a checked-off to-do list, but an unhappy family.

    Then one day I read the verse where Jesus told the Pharisees that they tithed mint and cumin but they ignored the weightier matters of justice and mercy. That's what I was doing: busy with important stuff while letting the more important stuff get away. And then I realized– what does it profit a woman to have a clean house and hurt children and a bad conscience?

    That revelation made a huge difference in how I approached my life, and the "stuff" usually managed to get done anyway, or at least enough of it, and my kids and husband were a lot happier. And, really, so was I.

  13. The Homemaker

    Wow! Thank you for being so transparent! I am always blessed by your writing and your cut to the heart honesty. I was practically born on a church pew, so for people like me it's important to hear stories of conversion like yours. Your post today reminds me of Sunday's sermon… maybe God is trying to tell me something! In case you would like to listen it's here: Galations 6 is the lesson mentioned!

  14. ...

    Amen to your to do list;)…it is so easy to get distracted from what it is really all about.

  15. "Cottage By The Sea"

    What a beautiful post. I'm going to have my kids read it tonight. It says everything I am trying to teach them and everything I am trying to accomplish by my own behavior. Thanks and Blessings, Tia

  16. Jenell Brooks

    I had just planned to talk to my children about this during our " back to school" dinner, grace nd inclusion and love, and mercy… but you post made me flashback to several recent instances, where I may not have practiced, what I was about to preach to those little ears. thank you!

  17. Carol Conway-Fleisher

    wow. This really hit home with me. I have been guitly of this more times than I care to admit. Thanks for the reminder to "plan to love." You're blog is great! Keep up the great work.

  18. esther

    I really appreciate your honesty and maybe even more than that I appreciate that you are open to seeing your own inabilities at loving perfectly. Praying that we all would grow in our ability to see and love the way Jesus has taught us to.

  19. Christian H

    You know what? If I was throwing a "How to be a more loving Christian" seminar, I would plant a homeless-looking person at a table as a sort of interactive demonstration. Or something like that. Oo! If I was the speaker, I'd dress like I was homeless and sit by myself at a table. Then, when everyone was wondering who the speaker was, the host would introduce me: I'd get up and perhaps the audience's mental shift would help get the point across before I even said a word.

    WV: edefi. It sounds like edify. Huh.

  20. Roxane B. Salonen

    "…all too often, I'm faced with a choice between getting done what I wanted to do or treating another human being with kindness, and I can't do both." Very striking, Jen. Still thinking about it, and wanting to make a change with you. Wow. Good post.

  21. Cheryl

    I totally agree with Sarah. Be careful to also love your husband. Had I been in this situation, knowing that quality time for my husband and me is at a premium, he would most likely have felt snubbed by me if I had chosen to sit with the man who was alone and "do ministry" instead of investing some time in our relationship. You are at times too hard on yourself.

  22. Little M

    Man oh man I need to be reminded of this hourly. I let my "plans" get top priority -so much so that I miss out on a lot of good opportunities. I'm learning though. Thanks for the reminder.

  23. Colleen

    Wow, I am totally convicted. Thank you!

  24. peaceliving

    I know I've been to your blog before (I think I read your conversion story) but I'm "re-finding" you today and enjoying it. This post is a good reminder.

  25. Cait

    awesome post.

  26. deanna

    I work in my parish and this falling behind on my to do list happens all the time. But a big part of why I like my job is that I get to be a part of people's lives. I can't choose when that happens, so I've learned to put much less on my list.

  27. Sibyl

    Jennifer, Don't beat yourself up. Plan ahead next time…BUT it makes perfect sense would not be wise to set your purse down beside a homeless person in a city church – unless – it only contained lipstick and aspirin and your money, credit cards, car keys were in your pocket. In NYC, they carry their purses and packages to the Communion rail.

    What if your purse had been gone when you returned from the cafeteria line?

  28. Graceful

    I really appreciate your honesty here. I feel like this is the reaction I would have had…but I don't know if I would have been brave enough to admit it, to myself or others. I admire that!

  29. Melissa D

    This post concerns me a little because it seems to miss that no matter how much we plan or focus, perfect love just isn't in us. We don't have it. We can mimic it on the outside or attempt to generate it (spontaneously or via plans), but it's only found in God HImself, and found in us as He is in us.

    Plan or not, be busy or not. We still need to live *by* another life, not just imitate another life or re-focus on another way of life or behavior. This is what "I am the vine, you are the branches…" means to me in the outworking of our faith.

    Maybe I just need to re-read — did I miss something?

  30. Rachel Gray

    WOW, so true. Any time I'm snappish with others, it's because I'm focused on what I'm trying to do and forgetting that being loving is more important. If I had more time to think about my actions, I might do better. But so often I have to react in a split second and so what comes out is whatever priority is uppermost in my mind.

  31. mary L

    Jen, it was as if you had read my thoughts exactly. Like Kika, I will re-read this again and try to remember it again and again. Because I often forget.



  32. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly

    Thank you for your honesty, Jen. That one of many things I love about your writing and your topics: You're not afraid to show your humanness.

    I still get annoyed by people in the parking lot after Mass. How can people be so blatantly rude right after the Holy Eucharist???

    Of course, then there's me – this oh-so-loving-mom who shouts from the roof (blog) tops that we must teach our children empathy by being sensitive to their needs and even handling their most ridiculous behaviors with gentle firmness (blah, blah, blah) – this morning. We were running late. I do not like to run late. I always have PLANS to be on time. So this loving mom turned into a shrieking mad woman. If I had chosen to show love to my own family instead of clinging to my plans to always be punctual, then our I guarantee my examination of conscience tonight wouldn't sting as much. I judge others for being rude to a stranger in a parking lot; yet, I showed rudeness to the ones I love the most. Tsk, tsk.

    Thanks for the reminder. I'm going to work on trying to not be so stinkin' anal and to plan to love above all else.

    God bless!

  33. TXMom2B

    I wouldn't beat yourself up about it. We all have different charisms given to us by the Holy Spirit, and we're all called in different ways. I'm guessing that the Holy Spirit wasn't calling you to spend time with that particular person, and called others instead. You weren't rude to him, after all. The Body of Christ stepped up. They talked to him, you wrote about it, and everyone showed love in the way they're called. Not that you will never be called in that way, just that God clearly had other dinner companions in mind for that particular person that night.

  34. Josie

    This is a really powerful sentence, "I'm faced with a choice between getting done what I wanted to do or treating another human being with kindness, and I can't do both."

    Even in lighter times I see this in myself-even worse then sometimes. Yesterday, my husband took the kids out for several hours, so I decided I would finally turn on my sewing machine (I don't know how to sew) and try to make that apron I've been wanting to make for years. It seemed awesome and a God given luxury for a tired mom…for the first few hours it was bliss. Then, they all came home and even as they tried to tell me excitely about their outing (which left me that alone time that I should have been thankful for), I continued to try to sew and rush through my conversations with them. Didn't they see I was doing something, I thought? Here I could have put it all down to greet them with joy after such a gift of a break-their joyful sweet little faces and voices so excited, and I was snappy and grumpy and irritated. Lovely. Talk about not living the Gospel-and this was my family!

  35. Anonymous

    I was annoyed at this anecdote, frankly, on behalf of that man. It sounded patronizing.

    From a disheveled appearance you assumed all sorts of things about him, including that he was in deep need of your charity.

    It's possible that the reason his table became full was because his friends had arrived. People could have chosen to sit there out of sincere liking and respect — not out of duty, as you imply.

    If you had sat at his table, you might have crowded out people who genuinely enjoy his company. In that case, he might have been cordial to you, but that could have been him extending charity to you.



  1. Compassion in the Classroom « Itching Footnotes - [...] As Jennifer wrote, “[All] too often, I’m faced with a choice between getting done what I wanted to do…

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