The Valuable Lesson I Learned...

I learned a long time ago that there is a big difference between liking people and loving them. Jesus instructed us to love others, even our enemies. I sure don't like my enemies, but I'm supposed to love them.

Liking someone is an emotional response. It is a feeling. When someone says, "I like her," he or she can always finish the sentence if asked why. "I like her because..." or "I like him because..."

The tough part is that we can't control our emotions. We can control how we choose to express those emotions, but not the feelings themselves. A healthy can person can be angry and still choose to act lovingly. A sad person can choose to do the things that need to be done at the moment, not because of how he or she feels, but in spite of it.

A feeling is a reaction. Maybe that's one reason why Jesus didn't say, "Like your enemies." He had insight into the human psyche. He knew that liking or not liking someone was not always in our immediate control.

I've learned that love is, among other things, an action. I can love someone I don't necessarily like. I can do something or act toward that person in a certain way because I know it is the right thing to do even if I don't feel warm and fuzzy doing it.

So here's my working definition of love: Love is the commitment to treat a person with dignity and kindness regardless of how you feel about him or her.

It is much easier to love lovable people. Just about anybody can do that. But to love the unlovable--those people of poor behavior or negative circumstance--is the tough challenge of life.

Mother Teresa loved the lepers and the poor and the downcast of the world, and we consider her a saint.

Jesus loved the sinner just as much as he loved the religious people of his day. He hung out with sinners, attended to their needs, and loved them without ever compromising his own integrity.

Marva Collins sticks in my mind as a woman who truly loved her students. Years ago she started a program in Chicago called Westside Prep and vowed that she would not let her students fail. Do you think any of those students ever frustrated or angered her? Of course they did, but she loved them anyway.

My wife, Darla, loves me even when she doesn't "like" me. And rare as it may be, when I don't have warm, fuzzy feelings for her, I still love her.

We love our two boys completely even when we don't like their behavior.

The more you love others--do those things that treat them with dignity, that serve and enrich their lives--the easier it is to like them. People become more lovable when they are loved.