Today the sermon was about the power of Palm Sunday. In the message, Mike emphasized that because of Christ, we do not have to live in defeat (1John 5:4), discord (Phil 4:7) or despair (1 Peter 1:3). One statement in the sermon really struck me – Mike stated that the choice to live in victory (instead of defeat), in peace (instead of discord), and in hope (instead of despair) is ours. God will not force us to accept these gifts.
This struck me because I struggle constantly with my desire to change others. I know that sounds terrible, but it is true. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am compassionate and love people. They will also tell you that I am fiercely loyal to my friends and family. In fact, I love my family and close friends so much that I often take on their burdens and try to convince them of the many ways that they need to change their lives in order to be happier and more fulfilled. For years, I have convinced myself that this is not a problem because I have pure motivations – I want my family and friends to have joy, to be happy, to have peace, to have a life of fullness and passion. I hate to see people that I love suffer and in despair. Thus, I often try to take control of the situation and convince the people in my life that if they will only do ______ (you fill in the blank) their life will be better.
As I sat in the sermon today, the power of Mike’s statement hit home. God is all knowing, the creator of the universe, yet he does not force us to do anything. As our creator, of course God loves us with a complete and unconditional love, yet he allows us to make poor decisions and sometimes to even live in despair. I am not omnipotent, yet I constantly try to control my destiny as well as the destiny of those around me.
Perhaps even more powerful, however, is the fact that God does not force happiness, joy, victory or peace upon us because God exhibits something that I cannot begin to comprehend – unconditional love. As I sat in the service, I realized that if I am constantly trying to change those around me, I am not loving them as they are and where they are. Instead, I am trying to mold them into what I want them to be. I was humbled to realize that once again, my pride had deceived me. I had convinced myself that by wanting the best for others, I was justified in trying to change them. Instead, I am failing miserably at one of the most important tenants of Christianity – to love others unconditionally, as they are. Christ didn’t try to change those that encountered him – instead he simply loved others and allowed the experience of unconditional love to radically and forever change their lives.
The challenge this week is to think about whether you are truly loving people how they are and where they are. I am slowly and painfully learning that I cannot change others, and I cannot control their happiness. If I want others to have victory, peace, hope, joy, and happiness, the only sure way to help them is by loving them the way they are, not the way that I wish them to be.