Called to Love: Takeaways from 'Everybody Always'
"Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39)
This is probably one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, right up there with "Jesus wept". In his new book Everybody Always, writer and motivational speaker Bob Goff challenges us to really ask ourselves how well we're actually doing in regards to loving everyone. Yes....everyone.
I can be honest with myself and admit that I have fallen short on this principle on several occasions. In fact, if I could give this book a more realistic title for myself it would be more like Some of Y'all, Occasionally or Most People, Sometimes. I'm not the only person willing to admit this. I think if you ask any Christian (or anybody in general) they'll probably tell you that staying true to the principle of loving others is one of their biggest struggle points. I want to share my major takeaways from this great read:
Tolerance is Not Love
If 'love thy neighbor' is one of the biggest, most well-known principles in Christianity and other belief systems, why do we all struggle with it so much? Honestly, some of us may not even realize how much better we could be doing in this department. For one thing, a lot of us (myself included) seem to lump "tolerating" someone and "loving" someone to be the same. We've taken the phrase "love each other" and morphed it into "just don't hurt anybody or cuss anybody out, okay?" We've turned it into tolerance. We believe that as long as we're not getting into fights or speaking ill of someone out loud, we are "loving". While it's great (and very much expected) of us not to hurt or kill people, it's not something that deserves a pat on the back or a reward. God calls for us to love everybody, and not just tolerate them being in the same space.
Goff also points out that we need to ensure we are not confusing faithfulness with compliance in our actions. One day someone told us what God wants us to do and what he does not want us to do. We're told that we should serve in our church, we should go on mission trips, should not curse or drink, should pay our tithes, etc. However, after a while "what looks like faith isn't faith anymore--it's compliance". And when we begin to do things out of compliance or obligation, we then become "actors".We are no longer making these decisions for ourselves, but instead, we are reading off of a script that someone gave us.
When I think of the thought of really 'loving everybody', I do cringe a bit. Because He does mean everybody. That includes people who hold different social/political views, "creepy" people, people who have committed unthinkable crimes, people who dump an entire bottle of cologne on themselves and call it 'bathing', people who troll on the internet, people who drive 10 miles under the speed limit, people who cut you off in traffic, people who stand entirely too close to you in line, people who you find inexplicably annoying for no particular reason. This list could go on for pages, so I'm just going to assume you all get the point.
You mean God wants me to love a white supremacist? A criminal? A murderer?
Well, along with 'Love Thy Neighbor', there is also 'Love and Forgive Enemies'. So yeah. It's a portion of the Faith that gets glossed over. One thing we do need to remember is that when you love your neighbor or your enemy, you're not co-signing what they believe. You're not agreeing with their actions or their philosophies. You're just making the decision to love that person as you would love yourself. With the nation at the height of political turmoil, I understand that this is likely the hardest for all of us. Goff repeatedly uses this phrase in his text: "our job is to love people just as Jesus loved the people around Him". While we may find it difficult, it is best to keep reminding ourselves that the phrase everybody really does mean every.single.person.
I can be a very irritable person. I'm not sure where this comes from or why it's so severe, but even the smallest things can really get on my nerves. It seriously doesn't take much. That list I made in the previous paragraph? Those are all the types of people who annoyed me....today. And two of those were geared toward driving. If you're in the DMV or any other metropolitan area, you know that driving can be....interesting. And by interesting, I mean irritating (and oftentimes life-threatening). But you know what it really is? I get irritated with anything that doesn't make sense to me. If someone is doing something or saying something illogical, I just get irritated with them. So if I tell you that I need you to be ready by 8:30 pm to pick you up, and you're just getting in the shower at 8:25 pm, I'm irritated. Why? Because if I already told you what time to be ready (and by 'ready' I mean outside waiting for me to pull up), why.....aren't you ready....at that time?! Where is the logic in that?! Does logic even live here?!
^ That last portion is usually going on inside my head.
My irritability is one of the character flaws that I'm working on constantly (I mean, if it means anything, I've gotten way better!). But my irritability is also one of the things that keep me from fulfilling the expectation of loving everybody always. It can be difficult to love people all the time. Even if it's your closest friend, your significant other, or your family, they will inevitably do something to disappoint you or let you down. How are we feeling about them during those times? We know in our heart and mind we still love that person but do our actions show it? If you're anything like me, probably not. I can have a sharp tongue when I want to. I can be snarky. I can be a smart aleck. But what I need to keep reminding myself is this: Is what I want to say right now considered love? Is it of God? Is it helpful to the situation in any way? Or am I just saying it for some insignificant sense of satisfaction that I've somehow hurt or irritated the person back? Asking myself these questions is a method that has honestly helped me a lot. Because I've been able to keep that mindset, it's actually helped me not to sweat the small stuff like I used to. I would be fuming when someone showed up 10, 20, or 30 minutes late. Now someone could be an hour behind and it's more like......meh.
"People will figure out what we really believe by seeing what we actually do". This includes being patient with those with whom we disagree and who may irritate us a lot. It's how we engage with those people that let everybody know where we really are spiritually. Love is more than just a feeling, it's also a choice. The reality is we're not always going to feel like loving each other. There are times when we could make the decision to really unload on the person we're having a hard time dealing with or curse violently in the comfort of our cars at the other drivers. But what does that really do for that other person? And what does it do for you?
Loving with Genuine Intentions
This ties very much with Goff's previous point regarding compliance and faithfulness. We need to be sure that when we're practicing good actions and habits that our intentions are pure. One part that really resonated with me was this quote:
"...people would understand who [Jesus] was by watching how we treat each other".
I remember back during my Freshman year of college, I grew friendly with one of the girls who lived in my dorm. I'm not sure how the conversation got on this topic, but I basically said something that suggested to her that I'm a Christian. This is a fact about me that she didn't know yet. What she said next really made me sad. After a moment of pause, these were her exact words:
"You're really a Christian?..... But you're so nice!"
What would make her say something like that? My guess is that she has a very skewed view of Christianity because the believers she has encountered did not treat people differently from them with love like they are supposed to. Goff explains in a passage that we don't need to spend a whole lot of time telling them how we feel about what they are doing. Loving people does not call for us to control their conduct. That means that we have an agenda. And when we try to love people with an agenda, it is no longer love. All we're doing is acting like we care in order to get someone to do what we want. I think we all know what that feels like, and if you don't know, it feels pretty crappy. No one likes the feeling of someone "working them" in order to get something in return. It's for this reason that we encounter people that are so on guard in all of their interactions that it feels nearly impossible to get close to them.
We need to love with pure intentions. Agenda-free love.
What I Love About this Book
My mentors always say that a book can tell you things about yourself that you're not willing to receive from other people. That's what makes a book like Everybody Always so great. When reading this, I did feel like my eyes were opened to some habits of mine that I wasn't even aware of. You know you're reading a good book when you get annoyed; usually this occurs because it's telling you something about yourself...and you know it's not wrong. From what I see, Goff did a wonderful job of bringing to light a very glossed over principle without necessarily falling into a "preachy" or "finger-wagging" tone. Overall, I recommend this to anyone who is willing to challenge themselves to learn more about how they can begin to show themselves as someone who is 'becoming love'.
*Originally published on August 20, 2018