“I have to love you but I don’t have to like you.” Have you ever heard this bit of Christian lore? It’s been around for quite a while. Like a lot of proverbial wisdom it contains significant truth and can be helpful. But like many proverbs it only shares part of the truth and needs other truths to balance it out.
Here’s what I appreciate about this saying: it reminds me that my emotions don’t have to dictate whether or not I show love to another person. That’s useful. It means that I can still pray for and show kindness to someone I’m not enjoying or even respecting at the moment. It helps us, thank God, to keep a marriage intact despite its ups and downs. This truth brings us freedom and empowerment and glorifies God.
My concern with this statement occurs when it becomes a cop-out for half-hearted love. Sometimes showing love without like is the best we can do and it’s usually better than nothing. But loving without liking has its distinct drawbacks. Who wants to be loved by someone who finds us distasteful? How encouraging is that? Would you like to be given a warm sandwich or a helping hand by a good Samaritan with disgust in their eyes, or even just a distant coolness? These favors leave a lingering bitter taste, don’t they? And that’s the problem. Love without like is resembles a frozen steak. With effort you can eat it, and even gain some nourishment, but how much enjoyment and comfort will it bring? A warm steak is a delight, but a frozen steak is, at best, a cold necessity garnished with indignity. Love without like is not compelling.
On the other hand, who has the most positive influence on our lives? To whom are we most drawn? Isn’t the people who like us? Haven’t you felt your barricades begin to go down when someone looks at you with warmth in their eyes; when they see you and a genuine smile steals across their face? This is why children and dogs grab us by the heart. They’re so good at liking.
So what am I suggesting? I’m suggesting that we actively attempt to both love and like others whenever possible. You may respond: “I’m sorry, but there are just some people I like and some who don’t appeal to me. How can I change that?” I know what you mean, believe me. Even as I write this I’m showing love to a few folks who’ve never managed to win my heart.
Let me offer some suggestions
· I increase my ability to like others when I obey love as a commandment, but pursue like as a preferable option
The Bible commands us to love others, even our enemies (Matt. 5:43, 44). Does God command us to like everyone? Not specifically, though we can often see the warmth of affection flowing through Scriptural love. Peter, for example, tells us to “love one another deeply from the heart” 1 Pet. 1:22). And Paul says, regarding the Thessalonians that he was“. . . like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much. . .” (1 Thes. 2:7,8). Liking others definitely increases the impact of our living actions and is worth pursuing.
So how can we increase our ability to like as well as to love?
· I increase my ability to like others by broadening this goal to include other forms of positive regard
I chose the word “like” because it’s used in the phrase I’m discussing. I wonder, though, if what we’re considering is broader than the word “like”. What I mean here might be more like “positive regard” and could include a range of positive possibilities such as: affection, respect, valuing, caring about, honoring , appreciating, enjoying and so on. I used the word “like” because I believed, and still believe that affection/enjoymentarepowerful gifts to give another person. But when these aren’t happening, these other forms of positive regard still add impact to our loving actions. And these latter traits are based more on a biblical understanding of the worth of people and less on their actual likability or performance.
· I increase my ability to like others by realizing that I can like someone without appreciating everything about them.
Liking is not an all or nothing proposition. You can enjoy the neighbor for his funny stories without appreciating his tendency to drink too much. Or respect a co-worker for their excellent work ethic without especially enjoying their personality. This leads to the next observation:
· I increase my ability to like others by seeing God’s beauty in them
God created human beings. Even in our fallen state we are still genius works of art. I was recently watching one adult after another coo over a baby; charmed by all his beautiful babyness. We’re made in God’s image; and even in its tarnished state that image still flashes out if we have eyes to see it. Hard work, loyalty, affection, creativity, beauty, humor – there’s so much to enjoy. Or we can miss the beauty by fixating on the flaws.
· I increase my ability to like others by realizing how amazing it is that others like me
Others cut us a lot of slack too. You know that, don’t you? Each of us, without grace, could easily be put into the “unlikable” bin. I, for one, am amazed that my wife still likes this sinful, balding, overweight, overly-serious middle-aged husband (this is a shortened list, too). People have overlooked or accepted a lot in us so why not do the same for others?
· I can increase my ability to like othersby realizing that liking doesn’t prohibit me from expressing dislike as well
I can like someone without always being forced to wear a happy face around them. Liking and rebuking can easily co-exist. No contradiction here. In fact, the more I appreciate you, the more I will care about your welfare. Paul could be tough as nails on his beloved churches (Gal. 3:1). I would say, in fact, that affection which avoids all confrontation is actually liking without loving – definitely not a spiritually helpful combination.
· I can increase my ability to like others by practice
Again, I’m using “like” broadly. Substitute-appreciate, value, honor or another positive regard word if you’d like. Our response to others is often more about us than it is about them. It’s more about our basic attitudes and expectations toward others. Are we easy to please? Quick to enjoy? Gracious? Grateful? Focused more on ourselves or on others? Do we deeply care about those around us? Can we see something good in each person? Do we tend to focus more on what we don’t like in others than on what we do? I remember, in my first church, commenting about how kind one family, the Bensons, had been to me. The person talking with me replied: “No offense, Pastor, but the Bensons are kind to every pastor we have.” Oh. . . May the Lord give all of us an extra measure of Bensonitis.