“In West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days.” Well, technically it was west of Philadelphia in a little town called Folsom, but I prefer to sing the song as it is written. Being born into a preacher’s family and traveling our beautiful country sharing the gospel with my family, I would go on to live in 5 more states with the last one being Texas, where I now call home.
I tell people that being born a preacher’s daughter is the toughest and most challenging job that I have ever had for which I never applied, but boy, am I grateful for the opportunities that this position has brought. Through being a preacher’s daughter I have learned so many things that I never would have learned otherwise, and I have developed a deep love and care for people that I can’t really put into words.
I was raised differently than most kids. By the time I was 12, I had lived in 4 different states and attended 5 different schools. I had traveled to all 50 states with my family sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and had met people from truly all walks of life. Nursing homes, funeral homes, and other people’s homes were my hangouts. People who were different, visiting, or lonely were the people that I wanted to include and get to know the very most. Being a Christian meant being kind, loving, flexible, and different, and being different was okay.
For 25 years these ideas had been what I had always known. I never felt the need to be “popular” because I always knew that being a Christian was going to be different. I was always a leader, always wanting to teach and serve in any way that I could. I was always an includer, always looking for the person who was sitting alone or looking lonely. I was always feeling positive and excited about using my gifts and talents for God, always looking for a way that I could go and be light in another person’s life…until just a few years ago when I found myself on the opposite side of the fence.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I belonged. I didn’t feel like I could be a leader, an includer, or a light because I didn’t feel included and was in need of an encouraging light myself. I didn’t feel like all of my talents were being used or that all of my energy for God could be given because I was having trouble finding a place and a way to give it. I constantly felt awkward, uncomfortable, and different, and every time I spoke up or shared my thoughts, I found myself wishing I just hadn’t said anything at all. Sundays and Wednesdays were filled with tears, and I constantly felt alone in a crowded room.
Now a few years later, I look back and reflect on that difficult period of my life, and I realize what I felt: “loved” but not liked. And even though there were many people trying to make me feel both loved and liked, it was the message of a few that took dominion over my heart.
So what do I mean by “loved” but not liked? As Christians, we are told to love everyone—our neighbors, our enemies, those who persecute us, etc. We are told to pray for everyone, to bless everyone, and to let other people know that we are Christians by how much we love them. And if asked if we love everyone, we would not hesitate to say, “Of course,” but while we may claim to love everyone, we don’t always do a very good job of liking everyone or making them feel like we truly love them.
My question for us today is this: how can we truly love others if we don’t actually like them? How can other people feel loved and included if we won’t even wish them a “Happy Birthday” on social media, but we claim to love them? We purposefully won’t “like” their posts on Facebook, but we claim to love them. We try to compete with them in every possible way of life, but we claim to love them. Just the sound of their names creates knots in our stomachs and discomfort in our hearts, but we claim to love them. We don’t like them, but we love them.
We teach our girls not to be a rival with another girl like Penninah was to Hannah (1 Samuel 1), but then we ourselves cater to unspoken rivalries and competitions with other women, afraid that their lights might shine brighter than ours. We teach our boys not to be a rival with another boy like Saul was to David (1 Samuel 18) and that it’s not about how powerful and successful we are but about whether or not we fear and serve the Lord, but then we chase worldly power and success while claiming to seek after God.
We risk our physical comfort far more than we ever risk our social comfort. We will visit and serve third-world countries. We will take cold showers and sleep on hard beds, all in the name of Christ. We will do anything to carry out the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20), except if you ask us to pair up with someone we don’t know in Bible class or ask us to go out to lunch with a group other than our clique or ask us to make peace with and confront someone who has sinned against us and caused us deep pain. We teach our children that going on mission trips is fun but sitting by a visitor is awkward and unpopular, not with our words but with our actions.
As a speech-language pathologist, communication is my job, and I study and teach methods to improve communication every day. And it’s our nonverbal communication that speaks so much louder than our words, so when we tell a visitor, “Hello, we are so glad that you are here,” and then turn away from him and go join our group, the second message is the one that the visitor receives. When we congratulate someone verbally or tell her how happy we are for her and then sulk and ignore that person because secretly we are threatened or jealous, it is the second message that is received. When we claim to love someone or to love everyone but treat that person like we don’t like him or her, that person will never know that we are a Christian or come to know Christ by our love.
So do I think that we have to feel warm and fuzzy and delighted with every, single person that we meet? Of course not. But do I feel like we need to be keenly aware of the actual message that we are sending and that maybe our poor job of liking people is affecting our job of loving them? Absolutely!
If we truly sought to fulfill the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and go into all the world even if it meant stepping out of our clique or sitting on a different pew, if we invited people into our lives and hearts instead of just to events on Facebook, if we truly didn’t care if someone else got the credit or if that person’s light outshone ours from time to time, if we truly did nothing selfishly and considered everyone else to be more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), if we created opportunities for other people to use their talents and gifts in the way that God created them to (Matthew 25:14-30), if we truly prayed for our enemies and did good to those who hurt us (Matthew 5:43-48), if we truly acted justly and loved mercy and walked humbly (Micah 6:8), maybe this world would know that we are Christians by our love…and our like.