Extra Grace Required
A message flashed across my phone screen. I saw who it was and found myself sighing heavily, almost rolling my eyes. Not how I wanted to respond at all. Not how I ever want to respond when I see a message or hear my phone ringing. I want to be caring, loving and compassionate to everyone, not resentful or dreading the reason that they might be reaching out to me.
This is not the type of person I want to be. Scowling at my phone the moment I see a message from someone is not loving my neighbour as I am commanded to. Even if they are someone who is harder to love. Even if they are someone who doesn’t realise the burdens they place on others or the demands that they have for the people around them.
Hard to love people exist. They are the people who have a lot going on in their lives or have had a lot going on in the past and will often try to give these burdens to others because they do not know how to carry them. Every now and again they enter our lives and if we are not wise in the way we love and support them they can start to cling tight to us, perhaps even becoming demanding or draining for us. That is when we find ourselves trying to not resent them as we catch ourselves scowling at our phones wondering if we should answer or what to say in response.
These feelings may grow into something that we could call resentment but we never would let that show. We continue to give, to serve and to love these people without paying attention to the cost on ourselves or the other relationships that we have.
What do we do? We know that cannot simply cut these people out of our lives, the very fact that they are hard to love most probably means that they are in the most need of love. How do we continue to wisely love them and care for them in a way that is healthy for us and for them?
Extra Grace Required
My mum read this phrase in a book once as it was discussing the hard to love people in our lives. Extra grace required. That is what it is. Grace fuels the love and care that we have for everyone in our lives. The love and care that we show to our family members, friends and everyone else is there because of the love that God has shown to us as his people.
We are able to love because God has first loved us. 1 John 4 explains this in more detail. Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love… Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (v. 7-8, 11). That love that we know and that we are able to give to others is only possible because we know the love of God. God loves us so very much and that is not because of anything that we have done, in fact it is despite what we have done. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That is grace.
As we position ourselves under the waterfall of God’s grace, that grace flows through us into the lives of those around us. That grace fuels our love for those around us, including our love for those who are hard to love. It can be easy to love those who we have a natural affinity for, who share our interests or who really care for us. When it comes to those people in our lives who may be hard to love, we do not have any excuses to love them any less. God has loved us when we were at our absolute worst. He calls us to love as he has loved. As we put this into perspective we realise that we are conduits of God’s love and that God is using us in the lives of hard to love people so that they may experience his love.
As we spend time in scripture, meditating on God’s word and communing with him and his people that he has placed in our lives, we are able to grow in the way that we love others.
Put Boundaries in Place
Living as a conduit of God’s love and grace doesn’t mean that we allow these hard to love people to storm all over our lives. We are fallible. There are times that our relationships with someone who is in need of extra grace can come at the cost of other relationships in our lives, even at times taking away from our relationship with God. When this happens, we often find it very hard to continue to love this person because they continue to take from us and the relationships that typically give are slowly eroding.
Wisely loving people, means that we need to put boundaries in place. Boundaries will be different for each of us and may also vary from person to person. Some examples of boundaries may include:
- Texting is only for organising how to spend time face to face and not for any other purposes.
- You will only spend time with them one on one, with a specific time limit.
- OR, you will only spend time with them if at least one other person is present.
- They are not allowed in your home, instead you will only spend time together in public places.
- You will only talk for 10mins on the phone.
- You won’t lend them any more money and/or they need to pay the money they owe you first.
- They can have dinner with your family once every fortnight.
Boundaries exist in most of our relationships. For most people, they intuitively recognise our boundaries, and do the same in response. Or they will be listened to when we casually mention them in conversation. For example saying “I don’t really message that much so don’t expect me to respond quickly”, will mean that they tend to not just message you when they are bored or have a question but instead learn that you prefer to have conversations face to face. There is not much conscious thought or conversation about what boundaries are because they often take the form of mutual respect. In these relationships, we don’t feel guilty if we have to say no or not now.
For those who are hard to love, they are often craving love and without realising it they will continue to push against our boundaries. This is often when we start to reflect in more detail about what our boundaries are. It is in these relationships that we will need to be more assertive and explicit about our boundaries. This requires a lot of wisdom to do this well and to communicate clearly that we are doing it for the benefit of the relationship. It also can require strength to continue to maintain those boundaries as they may still push against them.
Love and Wisdom
Hard-to-love people, or extra-grace-required people may present challenges in the relationships we have with them. However, we know that we have a model of love and wisdom for moving through life and the relationships we have from our Saviour Jesus. As we continue to grow in relationship with him we will be able to continue to grow in relationship with these people also.
 For those of you who know the author, the above story is fictitious and not relating to a specific experience. Instead it is a collection of different experiences.