By Roger Kruse
I still remember the annual excitement of preparing my Valentine’s Day cards for each member in my class in elementary school. Mostly they were just simple tear out cards that I put each of my classmate’s name on and then my own. It was fun to exchange cards and be reminded that mutual “love” and kindness was an important part of life. Everyone got a card. No one was excluded. It didn’t matter who was popular, good looking, or who wasn’t. Each student was recognized.
That has been an important lesson for me throughout life. I have learned that I can maintain a positive respect and appreciation for each and every person I meet, not just my friends. Of course, some people can make it difficult for us to do that. Some folks can be loud, puffed up, opinionated, or even unkind. Others may just have personalities or interests that are different from our own. The challenge is for us to maintain an attitude of acceptance and kindness toward them. I am not suggesting that bad behavior should be overlooked. However, usually behind a person’s fault is a particular need. He or she may have personal doubts, fears, and insecurities that have produced a distorted self-image. Sometimes, it just takes someone to patiently persevere with a person’s rough edges, and a new friend is made!
During my adult years I have become friends with many different kinds of people. Some I would not normally be drawn to. Yet circumstances have put us in the same place at the same time. As I maintain an open and positive demeanor and look for touch points of common interest, a relationship begins to grow. Sometimes friendships have developed that have become especially appreciated and even cherished. I can even recall relationships that went very poorly at one point, including some animosity and bad feelings. Nevertheless, through humility, confession, forgiveness, and an effort toward reconciliation, an “enemy” became a trusted friend! Jesus told us that loving our “enemies” was an important demonstration of the authenticity of our love. When we make an effort to love the difficult folks in life, we reveal a love like God Himself! None of us measure up or deserve the love of our Savior. Yet the Bible says that while we were still his enemies, Jesus died for us. The love of God reaches out to us even when we ignore, reject, or run away from Him. The original Greek word for love is agape, which describes a love that persists in spite of the faults or failures of the one being loved. It is a love extended without conditions or strings attached. You and I don’t naturally possess such a love. However, the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to everyone who has faith in Jesus, brings that love into our hearts.
The landscape of our American life and culture is becoming increasingly mean-spirited and disrespectful. It saddens me that we are losing common decency in some of our everyday exchanges. You and I can help stem that tide in our own lives and relationships. A loving word, a smile, extra patience, or a blessing can start in motion a succession of kindnesses. Extra effort to communicate respectfully and with a forgiving spirit will open the door for God to heal and restore fractured relationships. “Be My Valentine” need not be a just a slogan reserved for one day out of the year. Love is essential to authentic faith and Christ-like and living.
Roger Kruse is a work in progress. Learning to love others is a challenge that never goes away. It helps to remember that “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.”