Q: Given how argumentative people have become over the last few years, how is your book Loving People Who Are Hard to Love a much-needed message for today, and what do you think is the misstep most believers make when it comes to loving when it’s difficult?
A: God put it on my heart to write this book because it seems that there is more anger, hatred, violence, lack of peace, lack of real love, and more turmoil than ever before. I’m in my seventies now and have noticed that in every decade there have been problems like this, but the situations we face today are even more serious than I’ve experienced before in my lifetime.
There’s no easy answer to the challenges we have to deal with in our society, but each one of us must do what we can to change what we can change. I love what Martin Luther King Jr said: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” This means we must learn to live in peace and walk in love, including people who are hard to love.
I’ve said often that love is not just a theory or a warm, fuzzy feeling; it’s how we treat people. The truth is unless we become really good at not being easily offended and extending forgiveness to those who hurt us, there really isn’t any hope for peace and unity in this world. This is not easy, and many times we decide to follow our feelings rather than do what is right because it’s hard.
God gives us His grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to do hard things. But we have to be willing and determined to do our part to be peacemakers and to make loving others a priority whether we feel like it or not.
I’m so passionate about sharing this message because I’ve been there, and I know how much better life can be when we learn how to walk in love with people who are hard to love. It’s why I’m really excited to share more about it at our women’s conference this year.
Q: What’s the difference between unconditional and conditional love?
A: God’s love is unconditional love, and 1 Corinthians 13 gives us His description of what it looks like in practice. For example, love is not selfish or self-centered, and it doesn’t have to be right. As a matter of fact, love sacrifices its right to be right. It is not impatient or harsh. It does not gossip, criticize, or spread rumors about the faults and sins of others, but it covers them and prays for their forgiveness and change of heart. The Bible also says that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Conditional love is the opposite of God’s love, and it’s based on certain conditions. For example, someone may say they love you but if you disappoint them or don’t give them their way all the time, they end up rejecting you. It’s controlling and manipulative, because the motive behind it is focused on getting what you need, rather than giving someone what they need without strings attached.
Human love without God is conditional love. We all need God’s grace—His help and power working in us—to love others unselfishly, with no pretense of expecting something in return. The reason for this is we can’t give something away that we don’t have ourselves. So if God is not your source of love—if you don’t have a personal relationship with Him that is actively growing on a daily basis—then you won’t have the ability to love people unconditionally.
Q: Joyce, you say that we will always have opportunities to get offended with others. Explain what you mean by this and how self-awareness is key to learning how to love others.
A: The world we live in is imperfect, and we all have flaws and weaknesses that can cause us to be offended every day, such as selfishness, self-centeredness, and pride. It seems people get angry so easily by little things that don’t really matter that much; maybe they got the wrong order at a restaurant or someone cut them off on the highway. And it’s easy to get aggravated with people around us when they are irritable or upset, especially by things that seem ridiculous to us.
The apostle Paul writes that love is not easily offended, nor is it “touchy” (1 Corinthians 13:5 AMPC). This is because love is not focused on itself. Anytime we are overly focused on how we feel, we are likely to find a reason to feel hurt, offended, angry, bitter, or resentful.
If we believe the best of people, rather than being suspicious of them, it’s much easier to not be easily offended. We can waste many days of our lives being offended by someone who doesn’t even know how we feel or realize they’ve offended us.
Q: You also acknowledge offense as a hindrance or stumbling block. How can we address offenses in a godly way so that they don’t trap us?
A: The simple answer is to choose godly wisdom above emotion. There are many emotions that we can experience throughout the day, and we have to be careful about following our feelings because they are usually fickle. Wise people do what is right no matter how they feel in the moment. I like to say that wisdom means doing now what you will be happy with later on.
Psalm 119:165 (NIV) says, “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” In other words, people who love God and love His Word make an effort to let nothing offend them or make them stumble. They know the power of a peaceful life, and they want to love everyone because this is what God wants us to do.
Spending time studying God’s Word and in prayer every day is key to understanding God’s wisdom and having His grace to love others the way He loves us. No matter how hard it may seem to love the people in your life, remember that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 NIV). And whatever God asks us to do, He will always give us the ability to do it with His help.
Q: What does it mean to “disagree agreeably,” and how is this an important part of healthy relationships?
A: Respecting everyone’s right to their own opinion is an important key to loving people. When we try to convince people to change their mind and agree with us, if we continue doing it long enough, it usually ends in anger. People want freedom; they don’t want control and manipulation.
Life is too short to argue and be angry and unforgiving. We don’t all agree, but we can learn to disagree agreeably.
In the earlier years of our marriage, I could not understand how my husband, Dave, could think the way he did when his perspective or opinions did not agree with mine. But I have since learned that we all see things from different perspectives.
If we want to have peace in our relationships, respecting everyone’s right to their own opinion is very important. When we respect that right, we don’t argue with them about what they think, or make comments that make them feel that something is wrong with them because they feel the way they do. We may have discussions over topics or situations about which we don’t agree, but a discussion is not the same as an argument.
The bottom line is it’s okay to discuss anything as long as we can do it peacefully and respectfully. Sometimes it’s best just to talk about subjects we can agree on and avoid ones we don’t. We can agree to disagree and not discuss it.
Q: When we choose to love our enemies and forgive them, we’re actually choosing to help ourselves… Talk to us about that.
A: It’s impossible to love people and have healthy relationships unless we are generous with forgiveness. No one is perfect, and there is no perfect relationship on this earth. We all disappoint, hurt or offend others at times, just as we get hurt or offended by others.
It’s so important to be quick to forgive—to let go of offenses instead of carrying the burden of anger, bitterness, resentment and every other negative attitude they cause us to have. The Bible is very clear about how love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV), and “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15 NIV).
When we choose not to forgive others, we’re actually hurting ourselves more than we’re hurting the people who offended us because we’re holding on to sin that separates us from God. I’m not saying that we’re no longer in relationship with Him, but we can’t be intimate with Jesus and angry with others. In fact, it’s possible to hinder our relationship with God so much that we live miserable lives without any peace, joy or love.
Q: In your book, you say, “Everyone is hard to love some of the time.” How can accepting this truth make our lives and relationships easier?
A: We all have weaknesses and make mistakes in this life. Jesus is the only one who has walked this earth who never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). So if we are going to love anyone, we must accept that they will be flawed people who are hard to love at times. And we need to remember that we also have faults and can be hard to love. When we understand this, it’s easier to be forgiving when others hurt us.
God’s love is the greatest thing in the world, and it changes everything! Think about this: How different would our world be today if people truly loved one another? This thought makes me more determined to have more of God’s love in my heart so I can love people more—the way He loves me!
I’ve decided that while I can’t know or be responsible for what everyone else does, I am going to love people. And by God’s grace, this includes people who are hard to love. I want to encourage as many people as I possibly can to make the same decision. Because if we do, it will impact our world in a very positive way.
Q: Have you ever had to love someone who was hard to love? How were you able to do this in your situation?
A: Probably the greatest challenge I’ve had is loving my parents. I grew up in an abusive home; my father sexually abused me and my mother didn’t do anything about it because she was afraid of him and didn’t think she could handle the scandal of divorce and being a single mother. So I never had safe, loving relationships with them, and as soon as I was old enough to move out and be on my own, I left home.
Years later when Dave and I were married and they had come to the point that they needed help with their care, God spoke to my heart that He wanted us to take care of them. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Dave was very supportive of me, and I was able to do what God put in my heart to do for them because He gave me the grace to do it. It wasn’t fun and I didn’t have any feelings of love for them in the process, but love is not just a theory or words; it’s action and how we treat people.
God is so faithful, and He honored our obedience. I can honestly say that I don’t believe I’d be doing this ministry today if I had not trusted God and done what He wanted me to do in that situation. And amazing things have happened through it all! God healed wounds in my soul that seemed impossible to heal. My father eventually repented of the abuse he had done to me and asked my forgiveness. He was born again at the age of 83 and I baptized him. The good that God has done is greater than the hurt, pain and damage that happened through the abuse all those years!
Q: Why is self-acceptance so important to our ability to love others?
A: When people don’t like themselves, they are unhappy, they don’t have peace, and they struggle with insecurity. I lived like this for many years until I began to really understand how much God loves me. I’ll always be growing in my relationship with Him and discovering more about His love, but I can honestly say I have total confidence that He loves me unconditionally and accepts me as I am right now. The Holy Spirit is always working in me, helping me become more like Jesus, but I enjoy where I am on the way to where I’m going in my daily journey with God because I know He loves me.
Until we experience God’s love for us, we can’t really love ourselves. I’m not talking about being “in love” with yourself and having a selfish, self-centered focus. God wants us to have a healthy attitude about ourselves and know that He created us, we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14), and He has good plans for our lives (Ephesians 2:8-10).
When we have peace with God and ourselves, then we can love others the way God loves us. We can be patient and encourage others because we realize that we all do things wrong, but we also do things right. And we can see each other the way God sees us because as believers in Christ, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16 NIV).
Q: Most of the time, we aren’t going to feel like loving difficult people. How can we learn to push past our emotions and choose love?
A: There are some simple, practical steps we can take to walk in love with others when we don’t feel like it. The best way to start is to pray regularly for God to give you the grace to do it. We have to trust Him to help us do this because in our own strength, we will get weary and give up.
We also need to pray specifically for the people in our lives who are hard to love. Ask God to bless them, to reveal truth so they can be changed by Him. Just as God has loved you and helped you become more like Jesus, He wants to do the same thing for them.
The key to loving people who are hard to love is having a strong desire to do it for God, out of obedience to Him. I know this from my experience with my parents, who abused me in many ways throughout the years I was growing up. They never gave me a reason to love them, so when God asked me to take care of them in their old age, it was one of the most difficult times for me to say yes to Him. But it helped me to realize that it wasn’t even close to how difficult it must have been for Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.
I do want to say here that God isn’t asking us to let people abuse us, but He is asking us not to give up on them simply because they are difficult to deal with. There are times when we cannot be with certain people because they are abusive, but we can still pray for them and love them in ways that won’t put us in harm’s way.
The bottom line is having a desire to please God doesn’t mean we will enjoy loving people who are hard to love. In fact, when we decide to love people who are hard to love, feelings of love may rarely be present. (And we all can act in ways that make us hard to love at times. J) But remember, love is much more than a feeling; it is how we treat people.
Q: How can we maintain a godly attitude when we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone’s angry outburst, whether it’s justified or not?
A: There is so much I can say about this because there are many reasons people are angry, and the circumstances behind their behavior determine the best way to respond. When you understand where someone’s anger is coming from, it helps you determine the best way to respond to them. I often say that hurting people hurt people. And when those hurts aren’t healed by God, they get deeper over time and the impact shows in the way we treat others.
When you know someone is acting out in anger because they are hurting, it makes it easier to see them the way God does and have compassion for them. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to let them hurt us or others, but it does give us wisdom in the way we react. I love Proverbs 15:1, which says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). This scripture is saying that returning anger when anger comes your way only makes it worse, but remaining calm and gentle—even when you need to be firm—is able to put out the fire of anger.
There are also times when anger is rooted in fear—fear that you won’t get what you want, fear of being mistreated, fear of financial lack, and the list goes on. We can all relate to this in some way in our own lives. When someone’s anger toward you is caused by fear, remember that 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear” (NKJV). Trust God to help you respond with His love, whether you give words of comfort or encouragement or you simply listen and give them a shoulder to cry on.
Q: Joyce, you say it’s vital that we know how to “adapt” and “adjust” ourselves to other people. What do you mean by this, and are there any exceptions?
A: Romans 12:16 says, “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty…but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits” (AMPC). When I first became aware of this scripture, I was a young Christian, trying to learn how to have a good attitude when I didn’t get my way. I struggled with this because I had a strong, selfish personality, and I didn’t trust people much because of the abuse I had experienced growing up.
But I eventually came to the point where I was so weary living like this, and I was willing to do whatever I had to do to have peace in my life. I discovered that God’s peace is more valuable than getting my way, and that means learning to adapt myself to others sometimes. The truth is, adapting and adjusting to other people’s needs and desires at times is a powerful way to show my love for God and for them.
There are times when people may want us to do things that go against God’s Word and the way we know He wants us to live. In those situations, it’s not loving to encourage or participate in the things they want to do. But whenever we can adapt or adjust to give someone what they prefer or need without compromising what we know is right, we’re loving them the way God loves us.
Q :Many of us are constantly trying to change others and we don’t even realize it… Talk to us about that and how this brings nothing but frustration to our lives and relationships.
A: I know what this is like because at one time in my life, I was unhappy with just about everyone around me! I thought my husband, Dave, needed to change, my four children needed to change, and anyone else who I didn’t get along with needed to change and be more like me. But as I began to seriously study God’s Word and grow in my relationship with Jesus, my eyes were opened to the truth about how it was just causing frustration.
God showed me that in order to love people, I had to learn to accept them as they are, rather than expect them to be like me. I’m not talking about accepting sin or encouraging people to live in ways that don’t line up with the ways God wants us to live. I am talking about not trying to change people into something or someone other than who God made them to be. This is vitally important to develop healthy relationships.
God loves and accepts us. He takes us the way we are and helps us get to where we need to be, but He does it with gentleness, kindness, and patience. God has changed me in so many ways over the years, and I’m grateful that He helped me see how my critical, judgmental attitudes of others blinded me to my own faults.
When you’re frustrated because you’re trying to change someone, the best thing you can do is pray about changes you think God needs to make in other people and do it with all humility, just in case you are wrong about them. Then work with the Holy Spirit to become the person God wants you to be and give unconditional love and acceptance to everyone else.
Trying to change other people is hard and it just brings frustration because it never works. I’m telling you from personal experience that the best way to overcome this is to enjoy the God-given differences in others and leave the rest to God!
Joyce will be sharing more on this very important topic at the 40th anniversary of her Love Life Women’s Conference September 22-24 in St. Louis, MO and online. Learn more at JoyceMeyer.org/LoveLife.