Spiritual Practice: Loving Difficult People

man wearing white dress shirt with black necktie

 

We all have people we would not spend time with if we were given a choice. But because of work, family, or social obligations, we need to do so occasionally. How do we love difficult people?

First, I believe it’s good to know that we don’t need to “like” everyone we meet. There are people you just won’t like, and there are people who won’t like you, and it’s okay. But love is different. We are called if we are to walk in the way of love, to love everyone. What does that look like? How do we do it?

We must first love ourselves, which can be hard to do. But it is part of the greatest wisdom, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as YOURSELF (Mark 12:30-31). How do we get there?  We choose to press into our belief we are completely, unconditionally loved by God. One way to do so includes sitting in the presence of the divine while listening to and feeling God’s love for us until we begin to absorb and believe it. That work, between us and God, creates pathways for us to truly love our neighbor, even the difficult ones.

My hubby and I have been listening to the podcast for Richard Rohr’s new book, The Universal Christ. The podcast is called, Another Name for Every Thing, and it is fantastic! During these interviews with Fr. Richard, they talk a lot about this concept of seeing yourself loved by God. Within the divine gaze, there is no good or bad, right or wrong, approval or disapproval. We just are. We are loved.

woman taking selfie

We can also pray a blessing on difficult people as suggested in the beatitudes, “Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you” Matthew 5:44.

I love the scene from Fiddler on the Roof where someone asks the Rabbi if he had a blessing for the Czar. The Rabbi replies, “Lord, bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!” And sometimes that is the best we can do. From the view of the universal Christ, it is good to remember that there is no “us or them,” there is only “we.” If we can try and put on the lens of love, we can usually find compassion for a difficult person. If they are unliked by nearly everyone, something bad must have happened for them to become who they are, right? So, we can pray for their healing, softening, loneliness.

Ultimately, when we feel triggered by another person’s actions, words or behavior, it’s probably about us. The hard work is really pressing into what buttons they are pushing in us that are making us uncomfortable. Is being trapped in a social stimulation with someone who is ranting about politics pushing your buttons because as a child you were trapped in abusive situations? It’s a good opportunity for self-reflection and it’s fodder for your time with your spiritual director or therapist.

Truthfully, it’s good to love difficult people, but it is – difficult. So, don’t beat yourself up too hard. “Failing” to be gracious and merciful toward another is an excellent opportunity to admit we are still growing and ask God for help along the way. Just try your best and do some reflection afterward — and try to do better tomorrow.

 

Have you had success in loving difficult people? I’d love to hear your stories and what has worked for you.

Photo of a man by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com
Photo of a woman by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Spiritual Practice: Aging Well

Aging

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging lately because, well, I am aging. I don’t feel any older inside, but the years keep adding up.

How do we look at aging as a spiritual practice?

I’ve watched my husband wrestle with these questions as he turned sixty-five and the warranty on his body seems to have expired. Suddenly he needs cataract surgery and hearing aids. With his spiritual director, he has come to a “letting go,” and “embracing of,” stance. You gotta understand. My husband is tall, handsome, with a full head of brown hair. He gets flirted with constantly and is often confused as our granddaughters’ father. These aging issues should feel like a personal affront to him, yet he is choosing to let go of what he has no control over and embrace the process of aging, looking for its gifts. And for him, these gifts are well worth the losses of aging.

This attitude seems to be the key in the books I’m reading on aging. Also, growing older does not mean stopping living.

parker plamer

Parker Palmer, in his fantastic book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes a series of essays about the aging process. I love this book for his warmth, honesty, and humor. One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“Old age is no time to hunker down unless disability demands it. Old is just another word for nothing left to lose, a time of life to take bigger risks on behalf of the common good.” Pg.2

Palmer speaks a lot about the importance of gratitude and the ability, to tell the truth in love, no longer needing to posture or pretend. That is beautiful. He also says we need to embrace everything inside us, our true selves and our shadows, with grace and love. This leads to our wholeness.

falling upward

That reminded me of a book by Richard Rohr, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,” in which he describes one of the main tasks of the second half of life as sifting through the first half and making sense of it, learning its lessons, facing our shadows.  Rohr says this process is not necessarily about aging but after suffering a loss, any of us can begin this process of facing the difficult truths about ourselves, though some choose not to. As we do, we become wise instead of bitter. Parker agrees, saying these traumas can either break our heart apart or break it open to love more.  (pg. 161)

women rowing

Another book that has helped me is, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” In this book, Mary Pipher uses case studies describing how different women have navigated the aging process. She writes a lot about gratitude and the inner work of aging:

“This may be the most important thing – that we learn to grant ourselves mercy. That we forgive ourselves, that we accept our pain, mistakes, and vulnerability, and somehow manage to love ourselves and our own lives…It is only when we grant ourselves mercy that we can extend mercy to others.” Pg. 158

What I’m learning so far is that aging is about grieving and letting go of the physical losses we can’t control and working hard on the things we can control. Processing our lives, integrating our lessons, and being honest with ourselves about ourselves in grace and love. As we do this difficult inner work it frees us to give back to the world. It allows us, as Parker Palmer says, to “take bigger risks for the common good.”

What are you learning about the process of aging? Are there books you’d like to share?

 

 

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Spiritual Practice: Reading

books

Sometimes the best spiritual practices are the ones that we don’t even notice because we do them naturally. Reading is like that for me, although I was a reluctant reader as a child. One day my best friend, Julia, introduced me to “horse books.” It was all I needed to become a lifelong lover of reading!

Fast forward twenty years and I had moved with my new husband to Reno, Nevada and it was like moving from a spiritual ocean in California to a spiritual (as well as physical) desert. Before, I had an abundance of older men and women who were mentors to me, but in Reno, those folks were hard to come by. So, I fell into being mentored through books. Hundreds of fantastic authors were right at my fingertips, and reading as a spiritual discipline is a practice I continue today.

Asking me for a favorite book is like asking me who is my favorite child, Instead, I’ll just mention the non-fiction books I’ve been reading in the last few months that have been spiritually significant to me:

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama.         

     

This book is put together from a week of interviews where the two men, in their eighties, sit together and talk about joy. It is fun (especially on audio) because you get a sense of their personalities as well as their profound spiritual depth. This depth has sprung from lives of suffering, and yet their pain has somehow blossomed into incredible joy for both men. In the back of the book, many examples of spiritual practices are listed for you to try (and you know I like that!).

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen.

I may have mentioned this in two blogs already so I won’t belabor the point except to say, READ IT! It is easy to read but hard to live out. It is based on Rembrandt’s painting of the story of the prodigal son from the Bible and it is deeply moving.

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr.

Richard is not an easy read, more like a seven-course meal than fast food, but worth the time. Thankfully our spirituality grows and changes over time and God just continues to get bigger and more inclusive. This little book gives me words for what is happening to me and it tells me I’m not alone.

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, by Phyllis Tickle.

This is another book that gives words to my experience. Phyllis says that every 500 years, God has a ‘yard sale.’ All the old religious systems are tossed out to make way for a new move of the spirit. She shares the history and the cultural factors in each 500-year shift and points out why our current faith and culture are in such turmoil now. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s good news folks! Again, not a light read but worth the effort.

Lastly, what am I reading right now?

Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling.

I will do an entire blog on the Enneagram as a spiritual practice next time, but let’s just say that if you are interested in learning more about this ancient tool that will give you incredible insight into your true and false self, and help you grow toward your true self, this is the book for you. It is easy to read, full of helpful stories, and demonstrates great insight.

So, pick any book that promises you spiritual growth and dig in. You might not agree with all of it, but the exercise of thinking through deep topics, will stretch your spiritual muscles and help you grow.

As always, if you are interested in a FICTION book to help you grow spiritually, please check out my latest book. “The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.”

Until next time, let me know what you’re reading! Jacci

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