In what I find to be the most challenging yet most essential teaching in the Bible, Jesus tells his disciples:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
Don’t be confused. There is a big difference between loving someone and being nice to someone. Anyone can force himself to be nice to others–even to the people he hates. Jesus says, however, we must “love one another.”
Not because we have to or because we’re afraid God will punish us. Christian love is not just about outward acts of kindness. In our hearts, we must also feel the love of God inpsiring us to love others with joy and selflessness.
Love comes from within.
But what if we really don’t like a person?
How do we love someone we definitely do not even like?
The answer is a lesson I learned from my friend Mike Hayes.
Today is the eleventh anniversary of Mike’s passing. I’m sad to say that I wasted two years of my life misjudging him. As you will read below, Mike was an incredible guy once you got to know him. He was one of the most inspirational men I have met in my life.
Mike taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I misjudged Mike and I regret it dearly.
For two years I was barely even nice to Mike. I was begrudgingly kind at best.
Learn to Love One Another
Instead of forcing yourself to be nice to someone you don’t like or trying to drum up pleasant feelings about someone who annoys the heck out of you, take a different approach.
Ask questions. Go deeper. Find a common ground.
Mike never found the physical healing he so desperately needed in his battle with cancer. He was, however, able to help us discover the healing we desperately needed in our spiritual lives.
The door to inner healing is open when another person meets us at a level of weakness and vulnerability that unites us. Mike’s willingness to be weak, vulnerable, and yet so full of joy led me and so many others on a path towards healing grace.
The following is an excerpt from my book, To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach. This story was included in a series of challenges in a chapter titled, “Be Evangelized.” The only way for us to evangelize others is for us to be evangelized ourselves. This always means an encounter with Christ that leads us to conversion. My encounter with Christ, through Mike Hayes, taught me that we all need to seek out the humanity in others in order to see them for who they truly are.
Thanks Mike . . .
Challenge: See Others for Who They Really Are
It is a knee-jerk reaction. We cannot really control it. Very often we react to an encounter with another person feeling threatened by their presence or put off by their personality. We don’t like them and we don’t know why.
Throughout my life, God has consistently shown me the failure of operating in this way. In my freshman English class in college, for example, I couldn’t stand one of my classmates. He talked all the time and always seemed like he was trying to be smarter than he really was. I never liked him and never got to know him during that semester. Much to my chagrin, the next year he became one of my roommate’s best friends. A year later, he started getting involved in our campus ministry retreats and events. That’s when I finally got to know him and heard his stories of struggles in college and in high school.
Mike, the guy I despised in my freshman English class, became one of the most inspirational people I have ever met in my life. I invited him to join the retreat team with me and got to know him well during our weekly meetings preparing all of the retreats at Miami University. Mike had a pretty hard life. He started college with an awful roommate situation as a freshman, rooming with a guy who was verbally abusive and downright mean to him. Throughout his life Mike battled Crohn’s disease, and then later during his college years he suffered from an acute form of stomach cancer. During our senior year, he took a full load of classes even while undergoing chemo and literally carrying a makeshift stomach in a backpack. His senior year culminated in an inspirational event where he spoke to hundreds of students on the stage of Miami’s performing arts center. Mike inspired so many of the people he met. This little scrawny young man had big dreams and a big impact on the people around him and his legacy lives on today. The year after we graduated, my friend Mike lost his battle with cancer.
Poor Judgment of Character
I wish I could say my story with Mike changed the way I see people, but I still suffer from poor judgment of other souls. If I could have just set aside my personal opinions and gotten to know Mike during freshman and sophomore years, I could have experienced two additional years of close friendship with him. I should have learned my lesson, but I still react in fear and judgment and even dislike people I meet sometimes. That kind of reaction is always deceiving. You never know how a person might be able to touch your life if you but get to know him.
Think for a moment about the last time someone who was poor or homeless came up to you on the street and asked you for money. What did you say or do in response? Even more importantly, though, what did you feel? Did you feel compassion and love or annoyance and fear? It is the feeling inside that really matters more than what we say or do. It is the feeling that matters to us as evangelizing disciples seeking to heal those on the margins, proclaim the Good News to the crowds, and teach other disciples.
Often, the people we like the least are also the people we know the least. I disliked Mike for the first two years I knew him. Even after I got to know him socially, I didn’t like him. Our campus minister had asked me to invite him on the retreat team long before I did it. It wasn’t until after I heard him share his testimony that I finally saw him for who he really was. By opening up his heart through his story, my heart and mind were opened, too. Mike became a friend.
This is not a challenge about giving money to the poor or doing nice things for people you dislike. There is a very good chance that those things will happen, but that is not the goal. The goal is to get to know people we may dislike so we can see them for who they really are. The next time you encounter someone who puts you off somehow, instead make the effort to get to know him. The challenge I’m proposing to you is to ask questions. Ask deep questions about a person’s life and life story. Ask uncomfortable questions.
If the person doesn’t feel like answering, that’s okay. The point is to open up the possibility of a deeper, more personal relationship with someone whom we may be misjudging. Asking questions is the best place to start. Ask about a person’s family or about memories she had growing up as a kid. Ask him how he is doing and what kinds of things he likes to do. We need to focus on our hearts before our actions. Our actions should be an extension of what we believe and feel in our hearts. It should be a result of an openness we have to the love of God working in our lives, even in people we at first don’t like.
Donations may be made to the Michael Hayes Memorial fund here.