Have you ever had an individual in your life that you have found to be hard to love?
I'm not referring to romantic or even brotherly love.
I'm talking about the unconditional agape kind-of-love that God has for ALL his children.
Perhaps their personality simply rubs you the wrong way.
Perhaps their morals & convictions are completely contrary to your own.
Perhaps they are rude and vindictive.
Perhaps they say and do unkind things to you.
Or perhaps you simply have nothing in common.
Whatever the reason...you struggle to love them as Jesus expects you to.
I recently had a conversation with a friend in which we both admitted to having difficulty loving someone in our lives. For me, this person is not someone I would generally be friends with but I am certain that God is asking me to love her regardless of how difficult I find it to be. We ended our conversation both in recognition that God needs to do a mighty work in each of our hearts before we could love these two people like He intends.
I walked away knowing God's expectation of me.
But I still had doubts that I could ever meet those expectations.
And very quickly, John Kemper's face came to mind.
Kemper, as I came to call him, was a co-worker of mine when I taught middle school several years back. We both taught the same grade. In fact, our rooms were directly next to each other. He was my team leader and I was expected to collaborate with him professionally.
Yet, he was so very different from me and I found myself struggling to love him, even like him. It wasn't the 25 year age difference, nor the fact that he was a man, nor his homosexual lifestyle that made it difficult for me.
It was his personality...very strong, crass, and sometimes offensive. He was rather skeptical of most people and had an opinion about everyone and everything. His philosophy on teaching was quite different from mine as well. We just didn't click.
But from the onset of our relationship I knew God was expecting me to show this man His love.
And putting on the good Christian face, I did my best...which turned out to not be so great.
It wasn't great because it wasn't real.
I didn't actually love Kemper with the heart of Christ.
I tried to contrive love for him; willing myself to feel it.
It didn't work.
Frankly, I still couldn't stand the guy.
And then finally when my own attempts at loving him ran dry, I had a little pow-wow with Jesus.
It went something like this,
"Okay if you want me to love Kemper, then You are going to have to fill my heart with love for him. I can't do the human fake-love stuff anymore. I need the real thing. I need Your love for him."
Slowly and perfectly, God did just what I asked.
There are no words to describe the love God gave me for this man.
It was so incredibly divine, so incredibly genuine, so incredibly beautiful that describing it would do it no justice.
I spent the next three years showing the love of Jesus to Kemper.
We formed a friendship that frankly to an outsider probably appeared rather strange. We laughed and enjoyed each other. We had incredible God conversations. And I grew to respect him and cherish those unique qualities that initally drove me nuts.
God enabled me to see Kemper through His eyes, and with each view, His love for this man grew and grew inside my heart.
Kemper was diagnosed with HIV during the first year of our frienship. As his health deteriorated, he retired from teaching mid-way through our second year of friendship. I visited him several times a month in his home. We took walks together and shared many-a lunches. I had Grayden, my first child, during this time. Oh how he loved and adored Grayden.
He came to know Christ during the course of this time and God began to do a huge work in his heart.
About the time Grayden turned 6 months, Kemper found out he had cancer in his lymphnodes. I wrote and mailed him a letter every day for the 30 days of his chemo treatment. He would write me back. I still have all the letters. Mid-way through treatment and our letter writing, I went to visit him.
He was very weak.
And he was scared.
We cried and we laughed together.
I prayed and prayed with him.
We read Scripture.
And I genuinely, from the bottom of my soul, loved him with the love of Jesus.
It was beautiful.
Kemper died the day Grayden turned one. I called him and the friend who he lived with spoke the words I had been dreading for months, "He's gone, Renee."
God had filled my heart with such incredible love for this man that my life was changed forever. And it was nothing I had done. Nothing.
If you had asked me the day I met Kemper whether or not I thought I could ever love him, I would have laughed in your face. We were so different and, for me, he was hard to love.
But God did something great in me. Something only He can do. He filled me with His agape love that surpassed any difference between Kemper and I. And that love drove me to do things I never thought I could have done.
It is quite often that I miss Kemper.
And it is even more often that God puts his face in my mind just to remind me that I CAN love whoever He asks me to...because He'll give me all the love that I need.
Friends, our God is abounding in love [Psalm 86:15] and He longs to share it and fill us with it.
Jesus gave us this command. He said (and still says),
"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." [John 13:34-35]
We are His vessel to show His love.
So to me, and to my friend (if you're reading), and to ALL of you who are reading this...there is no one too difficult in our lives to love. God will show us how. God will fill us with His love. His abounding, unconditional, gracious agape love. And in turn, we will give a love we never knew we could give.
I've never told my children the story of my friendship with Kemper. I'm waiting for the perfect, God-given moment.
Perhaps that moment will come when I see one of them struggling with all their might to love a difficult or different person that God has asked them to.
Whenever I do feel led to tell them about my dear friend Kemper, I hope and pray that as they hear about what God did in my heart that their faith will grow exponentially in regards to what God's love can do in and through them.
Join me today and let's pray that our children are filled with the love of Jesus for even the most difficult of people.
Jesus, You give perfect love. And this love is abounding and gracious regardless of who receives it. Today I see Kemper's face and I hear your tender reminder that You will fill me with love for even the most difficult people in my life because Your love is greater than any obstacle or difference we might have. I thank you for doing a miracle in my heart in regards to Kemper and for our friendship. I long to see him again someday and worship You together in Heaven.
So, I am drawn to also pray that my children will never rule out loving different or difficult people in their lives. I pray that when they find themselves really struggling to give the love of Christ to someone in their life, that they would be filled to overflow with Your beautiful agape love. May they love others as You have loved them. May they view others with Your loving eyes and heart. And may their lives be forever changed by watching You do a huge loving work in and through them!