3 Steps to Loving Others When They Don’t Love You

Every human being needs love. And sometimes we get love from others, and sometimes we don’t. In spite of that, you and I are called to love others as followers of Jesus; “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Loving others can seem very hard, perhaps impossible, when they don’t show any signs of loving you.

This is a big deal. Jesus and others in the New Testament indicated that how well we love others is a critical part of our standing with God. How we treat “the least of these” equates to how we treat Jesus (Matthew 25:40, 45). John wrote, “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). There’s no exception for those who feel unloved.

Let’s note that the love the Bible is talking about is not tolerance or warm fuzzy feelings. And it’s not being “nice” or quiet, or putting up with harmful behavior. This love is courageous, even fierce at times. As some have said, love is a verb. Each of us is called to love in unique ways, but this is about the things we do.

What do we do with the command to love? How is it possible to love others when they don’t love you? What does loving others look like – when you’re lonely, or in a bad marriage, or feeling stuck in a hurtful situation?

  1. Receive Love

“But nobody loves me! That’s why I’m in this fix.”

Yes, it hurts. Feeling unloved hurts a lot. You may have experienced unimaginable trauma – death of parents, long-term abuse, betrayal in marriage or other close relationships, or manipulation from so-called Christians. You feel lonely, misunderstood, unseen. Your love tank is deeply in the negative.

You need some healthy input. You may not have the relationships you desire most, but you can seek connection in the places that are available to you. If you’re lonely, proactively seek connection with a few healthy people. If your marriage is toxic, do the hard work to connect with one or a few supportive friends who can provide insight. This is not easy, but it is possible. Choose to embrace the love that is available to you, even if it’s messy and incomplete.

And of course you need to receive love from God. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). You and I can never be the source of love; we must receive love before we can love others. Your internal picture of God may need some work here. You may need to learn how to shout or cry and then get quiet and just be in God’s presence and allow Him to love you. Your logical left brain may “believe” that God loves you, but your right brain may need some long hard work to embrace and receive that love. If you don’t feel loved by God, invest the time and effort to work that through.

  1. Embrace Grief and Loss

Working through grief and loss is not only important when someone has died; it’s also vital for anything that is not as you wish. You may need to grieve that a friendship did not turn out to be safe, or that your marriage has not been what you believed it would be. You may need to grieve that your family of origin was not what you imagined or what you needed, or that specific Christians have let you down.

A leader in trauma recovery has said, “The healing is in the grieving.” This is not a process that can be rushed. Trying to love others out of an infected soul wound because you “should” – that never goes well. Your heart needs care and tending.

Jesus knows what it’s like to have His love be misunderstood or rejected. He got hurt worst by the people He loved the most. Take your loneliness or pain to Him. Invite Him right into the middle of your trauma. Know that He truly understands.

In this world we get hurt. And we are called to love anyway. God empowers those who are following Jesus to endure hardship for His sake and display His love the same way Jesus did. So embrace the already and the not yet; allow Jesus to walk with you in the here and now through your longings and pain, and hold on to the truth that this is not as good as it gets. We must have eternity, when God will set everything right.

  1. Choose who You will Be

Loving others does not mean tolerating bad behavior or accepting abuse. It never means controlling, manipulating, trying to change them, or retaliating in anger. Sometimes it means walking away. This step means embracing your agency in choosing who you will be in light of reality.

Some have taught that Christians are to blindly accept harmful behavior as followers of Jesus. It is true that we can never demand our “rights,” but this idea has been distorted. The idea of submission in Christian marriage has been twisted in this way. If your spouse is narcissistic and hurtful, this may mean setting some hard boundaries, a period of separation, requiring marriage counseling, or perhaps even leaving the relationship. If your church has become toxic, legalistic, or otherwise seriously unhealthy, consider whether you have a role in making things better, or whether it’s time to leave your church. You always have more options than you first realize.

You won’t know what to do or find the internal strength to do it on your own. To do this you vitally need God’s perspective – on the situation, on the hearts of the other person(s) involved, and on your own heart. Spend time seeking God’s perspective both in your own quiet prayer time and by listening to others who have walked a similar journey with Jesus. Ask God explicitly, “Lord, who do You need me to be in this situation?”

And then act on His guidance. He may direct you to take your grubby hands off so He can do His work. Or to walk away. You may need to learn some new skills so you bring yourself to the situation differently. Or you may need to get appropriate legal help or psychological support. Do whatever He tells you to do.

Choose to Love

God’s goal for you is to become like Jesus (Romans 8:29). That means learning to love well. In many ways this life is lessons in learning to love well, like Jesus. This is a school we will only graduate from when Jesus returns.

And that will be worth it!

Your Turn: What does Jesus’ command to love others mean in your situation? Where have you struggled with loving others? What will you do next?  I’d love to hear from you; leave a comment below.

Want More? This this week’s podcast episode I talk with Jake Porter about what loving well looks like in a marriage where one person is a narcissist. Listen or watch here.

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