I was sitting in the front row, almost center. On either side of me sat a dozen women, with another row full behind me. Some rocked back and forth with babies cradled in their arms. Others sat quietly with wrinkled hands clasped delicately in their laps. And a few gingerly flipped through the scriptures open on their knee.
The hum of whispered chatter that begins the ladies’ meeting on Sundays is one of the happiest sounds I think I know.
Class began and the woman beside me read, “…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
That’s hard sometimes. To love your neighbor, that is. All of them. And without equivocation. Especially the prickly ones.
But as I thought about it, I came to some conclusions.
Loving your neighbor requires that you get outside yourself. You have to sidestep your bubble of life and extend your reach beyond your daily task list. I think we get so caught up in our “busy,” our “hurry,” our “need,” that we don’t see each other sometimes. Sure our eyes generally register that another human being is somewhere within the vicinity of our sight. But. We’ve got to start seeing each other. We’ve got to start looking the people in front of us in the eye, and seek to understand what’s behind the blue, or the brown, or the green. We’ve got to push the edges of our spheres out a bit and position ourselves inside opportunities to love another soul.
Loving your neighbor is easier when you know their story. Each of us is a vast library of collected works. We are chapters upon chapters of events and experiences and education. Some good. Some bad. Some happy. Some sad. And the sum of those stories equals our “why’s” for doing what we do, acting the way we act, thinking the way we think, and saying the things we say. But I have learned that love comes more easily and swiftly when you know those stories. Because the stories bring understanding. And understanding brings compassion. Yes. Loving someone is easier when you know their story.
Loving your neighbor is impossible without extending grace. No one is perfect. People don’t always say what you’d wish they’d say, or do what you wish they’d do. Sometimes they say hurtful things. Sometimes they say stupid things. Sometimes they don’t say anything—when they probably ought to. But. People are human. People forget. People don’t always know. So perhaps a better response to those disappointments or frustrations or annoyances is to simply give someone the benefit of the doubt. To remember that we’re all just trying to do our best. That sometimes our best comes out a mess. And just extend grace.
At the end of the lesson, the teacher made a passing comment that I think went mostly unnoticed, but was perhaps the most profound sentiment of the class. She said, “God makes amazing people.”
And I think she’s right.
God does make amazing people. And to love them is not just a commandment. It is a privilege.