You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
I remember a moment in early 2017 when I heard some words that changed my life. I was still struggling with the emotions and the division I felt in my own personal life from the aftermath of the election. At that time, my daily ritual involved food and paint and lots of podcasts, very little else. It was a perfectly cozy bubble, my own little world. So, I sat there in my painting studio listening to people of faith talk about how to handle division within faith communities. I wanted answers, I wanted to know what the magic words were so that I could explain to the beloved misguided people in my life just why and how they needed to tweak their thinking and maybe even their hearts. I wanted to help them see and understand how to best love their neighbors. Then I heard it. Something to the tune of, “If the words ‘I just don’t understand how they….’ come out of your mouth, the problem is you.”
This statement put me in quite the predicament. If I’m being honest, I’d much rather learn pretty words and historical facts to help others see how well thought out and loving my theology is than to understand how and why we disagree. Understanding their point of view requires that I honestly observe my own prejudices, my own biases. It requires that I see the pretentiousness in believing that my understanding of the divine, that my way of interacting with the world, is the right way. Loving my neighbor as I love myself means that I have to first turn inward and love myself enough to be honest, to recognize that I will never have all of the answers. Indeed, why would I worship a God that I could ever fully comprehend? Loving myself means that I let go of the fear that I could actually be misguided (gasp) in some ways. It means that I lean into the lived experiences of others so that I can gain wisdom and insight into understanding just why we don’t agree and, more importantly, where we do agree.
In those moments when we truly just don’t understand how somebody else can believe what they believe or do the things they do, try. In the journey to loving our neighbors as ourselves, seek first to understand — love will follow.
Reflect: What topics do you find the most difficult to discuss with others who have opposing opinions? What would these conversations look like if they were more intentional, if you went in with the desire to understand? How would it affect your witness if you learned to sit with difficult conversations and topics, to not feel the need to explain your every opinion when you disagree with someone?
Prayer: Change me God, humble me. If I get in the way of your love, move me. Help me to see myself as I am and how to be more like you. Amen