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Loving the Unlovable

Mother Teresa had a prayer she spoke each day that enabled her to minister effectively:

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”

Mother Teresa understood that when we serve others, we’re serving Jesus. The trouble is that often the people we are called to serve don’t look very much like what we might expect Jesus to look like. This prayer helped keep Mother Teresa oriented to the deeper reality that Jesus expressed when he said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

To acquire and retain the ability to see through Jesus’ “unattractive disguises” when dealing with challenging people, many find it helpful to whisper the name “Jesus” over and over. This prayer reminds them that they are serving Jesus, regardless of how the other person may be acting toward them. Many also find it helpful to whisper a prayer similar to what Mother Teresa prayed, asking God to show them a glimpse of this presence behind the disguise of a person who is irritable, exacting, or unreasonable.

Admittedly this can be very challenging, especially when we encounter difficult people who trigger feelings of disgust or hostility within, as their disguise goes beyond irritable, exacting, or unreasonable. They are cruel, vindictive, racist, violent, or self-righteous. They may be greedy, petty, or perverted. When we encounter such people, they will likely stir up strong negative emotions.

With people like this, I find it helpful to envision them as the innocent child they once were. People aren’t born cruel, vindictive, racist, violent, or self-righteous. Life in the demonically oppressed world we live in makes people this way. Not that people don’t bear some of responsibility for who they become, for amid all the things that influence us, we have an element of free will. Yet only the omniscient Creator and Judge of the earth can know the extent to which each person is responsible for their actions and the extent to which they are a victim. Our job is to leave all judgment to God (Rom 12:19-20) and to live in love (Eph 5:1-2). To relinquish all judgment and remain constant in this humble, compassionate frame of mind, I find it helpful to envision hard-to-love people as little children. Then I’m better able to see through the unattractive disguises and catch a glimpse of Jesus behind their ugly actions.

Ask God to give you eyes to see the unsurpassable worth he sees in the difficult person you’re interacting with. And remind yourself that, appearances notwithstanding, the person you’re dealing with is for you, at this moment, the single most important person in the world. Nothing matters more than reflecting God’s love to this child of God in the present moment, for the person is one for whom Jesus died.

—Adapted from Present Perfect, pages 126-129

Photo credit: Close to Home via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

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