Love is our highest calling. That’s really the essence of what we’re here to do — to love God and to love others. It sounds easy enough, right?
Perhaps, but for something that seems so straightforward, it can actually be quite difficult to put into practice. “Love one another” is a commandment that is stunning in its simplicity — why do we manage to get it wrong so often? The best advice I’ve ever received on loving well in marriage has to do with seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
When it comes right down to it, loving others is hard. It’s really, truly, very hard. I’m not talking about smiling at strangers or holding the door open for the person behind us. These things are wonderful, and they certainly make the world a better place, but they don’t necessarily require true sacrifice from us.
More challenging is the ability to not respond in anger when someone cuts us off in traffic. It’s the capacity to remain patient when our lunch date is 20 minutes late. Hardest of all, it’s turning the other cheek when what we really want is an eye for an eye.
What if, however, the person who cut us off is in a hurry to get to an important job interview? What if our friend is late for lunch because she was busy helping an elderly person load his groceries in the car at the supermarket? Rarely do we consider these alternative explanations for other people’s behavior. Instead, as Jennifer Fulwiler puts it, we succumb to the urge to be “intellectually lazy.”
Why do we do this? Why do we assume the person in the other car is a bad driver and our friend has a poor sense of time management? Modern psychology holds that we make these mental leaps due to something called attribution theory.
According to attribution theory, we tend to attribute the cause of our negative behavior to external factors, and the cause of others’ negative behavior to internal factors. For example, if we were late for lunch, we might justify our tardiness by citing all of the red lights we happened to catch. Obviously, it’s not our fault because the traffic light pattern is clearly not in our control. We typically don’t extend this same courtesy to others, though. We condemn them with harsh judgments of flawed personality traits.
The question becomes: How do we fight this natural instinct? How do we reconcile our human nature with our divine calling? Jesus knows this human tendency well — he tells us, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
This is actually the best marriage advice I’ve ever received. As anyone who is married or in any type of committed relationship knows, spats happen and disagreements occur. We see something one way and our partner sees it differently. I try to acknowledge that I am not entirely blameless when conflict comes our way. After all, it takes two to tango.
Seeing things from a different perspective is an act of mercy that can transform a situation. We are all imperfect human beings just doing our best to get it right. We all have blind spots, and we are neither better nor worse than anybody else.
So the next time you get upset with a friend or coworker or spouse, remove the proverbial log from your own eye. Be kinder. Handle them with care. Look on them with compassion. Dig deep to give of yourself in a spirit of love, for it’s by loving others well that we love God well.