“Love thy neighbor” is wonderful as a heavenly theory. But it is hell on wheels to practice. Oh, it sounds good, but when you start thinking about the implications of what this means, it is hard to swallow. Sure, loving “people” is easy. We will all do what we can do for the common good. The community at large is a snap to love. But loving particular people, specific people, well, we would rather not, thank you very much. There are individuals we all know who just wear us out. When you see them coming up the walk, park in the driveway, or note their number on the caller ID, it is all you can do not to take a handful of tranquilizers, chased with a fifth of bourbon, and crawl into bed for three days. They are emotional vacuum cleaners that just suck the life out of you. Love these people? You have got to be kidding! These hard to love people are the Pig Pens of life.
Do you remember Pig Pen from Charlie Brown and the Peanuts? When ever he walked into a room he brought with him this huge, noxious, boiling cloud. And if someone got too close to him, even in conversation, they were overwhelmed by the fog and stench of it all. He smelled bad. He loved garbage. He would not wash behind his ears or anywhere else for that matter. I always wondered, “Why won’t his mother clean that boy up?” I heard it all the time growing up: “There’s no shame in being poor, son, but even a poor man can take a bath.” So come on Pig Pen, help yourself out a little bit. But maybe what God is saying when he tells us to love others is just that: Love them. Don’t try to clean them up. Don’t try to fix them, as if you could. Don’t analyze or diagnose them, just love them.
Yes, even when they stink. Even when their phone call, as Anne Lamott says, weighs a ton to pick up. Even when the murkiness and drama of their life suffocates you. Even when you find it impossible, because you often will, love them: No more, no less, no substitute. But here is the good news: It’s not you who has to do the heavy lifting. Love for the unlovable is not something you muster up. You can’t love by trying harder. You love by emptying yourself of you – the true ambition of the Christ-centered life – and allowing all that God is to flow out of you. It’s that simple and that profound. Our biggest apprehension should not be “Can I really love like Jesus,” because the answer is “No.” The challenge before us is to get out of the way, and let God do what God does. All we have to have is an open heart and home to those around us.
“Sounds good,” you might say. “But what can I really do for others? There is so much trouble and chaos in the world, whatever I do is nothing more than a Band-Aid over a gunshot wound. Does it really matter?” Well, a Band-Aid is not always a bad thing. Often imitated but never duplicated, Johnson & Johnson has sold more than 120 billion of those little wonderful things. Whenever a tiny solution is offered in the face of some huge problem, the solution is often criticized as too little, and sometimes that criticism is correct, but not always. Band-Aids are inexpensive and versatile. They can be carried and applied by anyone: No medical training is required. And as Malcolm Gladwell says, “Band-Aids have allowed millions of people to keep working or playing or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid is sometimes the best kind of solution out there.”
Pick up the 2000 pound phone call. You might save the person’s life on the other end. Go sit with that eccentric friend who rambles on and on about nothing but seems to need your attention more than others. Put your arms around Pig Pen and hug him tight, even if you have to pinch your nose shut to do it. Let that broken-hearted man or woman into your own heart. It might be just enough to keep them on their feet and in the game.