How to Love Your Difficult Neighbor

Cecil TaylorBy Cecil Taylor5 Minutes

A reader reached out to me to excitedly tell me that a recommended technique in my book, Live Like You’re Loved, had made a difference in her life. She and her neighbor had a stormy, contentious history, but three months after beginning to apply this technique, she reported, “My neighbor and I are now buddies!”

I was delighted but not surprised, because this technique is actually the way God designed us to love everybody—even the difficult people in our lives.

I discovered the specifics of this technique myself in a moment of desperation. I had a really difficult person in my life, and it seemed none of our engagements ever went well. We truly didn’t like each other very much. But here I was, about to engage this person again.

My prayerful cry for help went like this: “God, if it’s up to me to love this person, it’s not going to go well. I don’t have it in me. But I know that you love them. Instead of relying on my love, please love this person through me. Let me be the instrument for you to love them.”

I wouldn’t say that any magic happened in this next encounter, but it went better. I was kinder, more patient. Over time, I kept praying that prayer whenever we were getting together. I noticed that my loving actions, instigated by God, started feeling more natural. It began to feel as if I had mustered some love for this person myself.

Later still, my wife pointed out something. “Have you noticed that they are finally starting to respond to your loving actions?” It was true. Little by little, the relationship had changed. We never became buddies, but there was some level of love, some level of trust, some level of tolerance and patience between us.

A scriptural truth was playing out. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, but that instruction is paired with the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we establish a love relationship with God, we also open a portal to be able to love our neighbor. Loving others shouldn’t be a grit-your-teeth activity. God designs it so that when we love God and accept God’s love in return, His love can flow through us to others.

In fact, serving as a portal for God’s love fits into the larger idea of how we represent Christ as His ambassadors, as expressed in 2 Corinthians 5: 20-21:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God’s loving appeal flows through us to our neighbors, as a result of our own reconciliation to God. In becoming the righteousness of God, we love perfectly as God does, if only for a moment in these imperfect bodies.

In the case of my reader, I want to understand what beautiful moment might have led to this new friendship. The reader said there was no single moment, rather an accumulation of small moments that started to soften her own heart before softening her difficult neighbor’s as well. She said, “I had to change first before I could send God’s love that she received.”

Oh, that we could all understand this principle and apply it in our lives! The world would be a different place as the kingdom is revealed, small moment by small moment.