How can I love others in 2023 — Vaneetha Risner

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What does it mean to love others? To love them well, and not just on a surface level? Even more importantly, how do I love others who have slighted or hurt me?

I scribbled that question on a prayer card for myself months ago and have been prayerfully considering it since. So when I was deciding what word or phrase to focus on for 2023, I chose the words Love Well.

It all started in November when I was stewing about something that was bothering me. I felt misunderstood and misjudged. Unappreciated. Taken for granted. As I was sitting before my open Bible, I was rolling over all the ways that I’d been wronged.

My thoughts were overtaking my time with the Lord, and I immediately felt guilty. Why was I not able to focus on what I was reading but instead was overcome by how I was feeling? As I was internally chastising myself, trying to get back to the Bible, I remembered that perhaps even these unwelcome thoughts were part of what the Lord wanted me to see. So I invited the Lord into my internal dialogue, asking him to show me what I could not see myself.

I immediately thought of a Scripture that remade me years ago. “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).

The Lord used that passage to change me as a young mother, when I’d been less than loving in my attitude towards my mother-in-law. I’d prayed that God would help me love her well which led to a few small acts of kindness on my part that radically transformed our relationship.  

Reflecting on that change, I realized it involved loving others more than focusing on whether I was being loved. It was trying to live out the words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, asking the Lord to “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”

At that moment, I jotted down the words Love Well.

I held those words before the Lord. I asked him to reveal whether this could be my focus on 2023. My word is not a self-help project, a resolution where I determine to make certain changes in the coming year. Resolutions have their place and can be wonderful catalysts for change, but my word represents something much deeper. My word is something I cannot do on my own but need God to do in me. It represents what I sense the Holy Spirit is nudging me to pray about, a work that God has already begun, a word that signifies my willingness to cooperate with what God is doing in my life.

As I prayed about the words, this passage came to mind: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same … But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:32-33,35).

I knew then that my words for 2023 were Love Well.  

These words are already remaking me as I’m convicted about how self-focused my love is. It’s easy for me to be loving and thoughtful towards people who think like me, are on my side, appreciate me and recognize my efforts. But that isn’t what the Bible is talking about when Jesus urges us to love. He wants us to love those who don’t love us back. Those who misunderstand us. Who ignore us. The Lord knows that loving those who love us comes naturally. But loving those who don’t love us is a work of the Spirit.

As I’ve been pondering how to love well, Amy Carmichael’s book IF has been a helpful guide. She says:

  • If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
  • If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
  • If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love. 
  • If I am inconsiderate about the comfort of others, or their feelings, or even of their little weaknesses; if I am careless about their little hurts and miss opportunities to smooth their way… then I know nothing of Calvary love.
  • If I do not give a friend “the benefit of the doubt,” but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

Wanting to love people well is not a new idea to me. In fact, in 2016 my word was “charitable” and in my post, I let people into my inside monologue one morning at the airport. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t pretty …

In 2019 I chose the word “overlook” which I saw as a manageable subset of love. I referenced a speaker who said, “the best way to love people is to remember them as their best selves.” That means not dwelling on the things they’ve done wrong but rather focusing on what they’ve done right.

You may wonder, as I have, why I keep choosing variations of the same idea with little progress. Shouldn’t I just move on to something more achievable, so I can have something encouraging to report at year end?  

I thought about that. But I know that every time God brings something to mind, he’s changing me. Rather than lamenting about how far I have to go, I can rejoice in God’s work in my life. Conviction is the work of the Spirit, not meant to make us wallow in our guilt, but rather to remind us to confess our sin to God and keep asking for his help. I’m thankful that God is changing me by degrees. And often using my word or phrase in that process.

If you have a word or phrase for 2023, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. And why you chose it!

Used with permission of the author, Vaneetha Risner.

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