I used to read eagerly the magazine and newspaper articles that advised how to get along with difficult people, how to remove them from one's life, how to discourage them from harassing oneself, how to come to terms with them if they were relatives or parents or spouse, that sort of thing. After awhile I quit reading those articles because none of them ever offered the answer I wanted to find: how to love them despite not liking them.
This is a question that people often ask me: how do I love so and so when I don't even like him/her? In my first pastorate, we had a loyal but very difficult person whose presence in the congregation galled nearly everyone. S/he hogged the microphone at joys and concerns every Sunday. S/he had ideas that nobody felt would work. S/he wanted to run certain committees. S/he had an insatiable need for attention. S/he was eccentric to the point of irrationality. And on and on.
And s/he loved us. S/he didn't realize that others didn't like him/her; s/he was not socially perceptive enough to see that s/he rubbed people wrong. And s/he loved us. S/he gave generously to the congregation's budget, freely gave of time and energy, helped out wherever help was needed, all the time irritating and annoying people with his/her eccentricities and neediness. And all the time, s/he loved us, even though few loved him/her.
There were mitigating factors---a difficult past, an accident or illness---but none of it seemed to excuse the constant annoyance of his/her presence. During our first year together, six different congregants came to ask me that question: how do you love someone you don't even like?
I wondered too, because this person was also a problem for me. But the situation came to a head one day when the Annoyer was publicly shouted down by the Annoyed in a meeting and I realized that as the minister I'd better figure out an answer to the question and offer some kind of guidance.
That situation is long in the past now and I'm pleased to note that it did resolve itself in a better way. I asked people to be honest and kind with the Annoyer and promised them that I would develop a relationship with him/her that would allow me to tell him/her hard things in a loving way. Gradually things improved and people did find love growing. But it was hard. It was so clear that even though we did not love him/her, s/he loved us; that puts an obligation on the loved ones, to be as kind as possible, and this ethic was not lost on the Annoyed.
It may have been that ethic that made people more compassionate, the knowledge that when someone loves us, we must return love in the best way we can, even when it's hard, even when we do not feel kindly.
In every congregation, there are people like the Annoyer. They love us but drive us crazy at the same time. They may be hard to be around, offer suggestions that seem offbase, want to run things, say hurtful things occasionally in the name of honesty, but they love us. As we get to know them better and better and understand their loneliness or their difficult past, we may find compassion growing and a certain oddball kind of love that keeps us hanging in there together, offering help when times are tough, seeing the value in the friendship even when we're angry. Because they love us.