After traveling many places and making many friends with people from wildly different backgrounds and cultures, I asked myself: "What worked everywhere?" I took time to examine the patterns and behaviors that seemed to break down the real and imagined walls that naturally separate me from others. At the end of the day, I discovered it was really just love. Love breaks down walls. So, here are 4 great ways to actually and practically love people:
Ask, don't assume! Ask questions. Ask good questions. Ask non-googleable questions. Ask because you actually care and really want to know. Ask to learn about the other. Ask to clarify misunderstanding. Do not guess and assume you just know. Asking questions draws the other out and allows them to form their own story instead of you assuming you already know it. A good question can feel like a rare gift. Proverbs 20:5 says that they heart of a person is like a deep well; one who has insight draws it out.
Listen, don't lecture! If you ask good questions, but don't practice deep listening, you haven't loved, you've patronized. Secondly, lectures belong in a classroom...leave them there. They do not belong in interpersonal relationships. Hold your convictions, don't distribute them. We hold our beliefs, we distribute mercy, grace and compassion. No one else is nearly as concerned with your opinions as you think they are. Listen well, listen deep, listen long, listen for what is said, listen for what isn't. Often the thing you waited most patiently to hear is the thing that impacts you most deeply.
Authenticity, not acting! From the home of Syrian refugees to a village in rural western Kenya to the Maasai of Tanzania to the Afrikaners of South Africa, real works. In America, real works. People do not feel loved when you hide and deceive. However, everyone values truth...it is part of the God image in all of creation. Be real and people feel loved. Be fake and people feel handled and mistreated. Truth is attractive and honesty builds trust. Entrusting people with who you actually are is a brilliant way to communicate love.
Compassion, not comfort! As I said before, we hold our convictions, we distribute compassion and grace. It is an unavoidable reality that people hard to love are hard to be around. Hence, your comfort cannot be your priority. Love is a stronger and better cause than comfort and ease. If followers of Jesus want to actually emulate Jesus, we better get way more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Now, go try these four. You'll be astounded at how well they work together.