A little girl who lived at my house for about one month probably taught me more about loving others than anyone else I’ve known. This wasn’t because she loved others — or at least not me. Quite the opposite.
On a probably daily basis, she made clear that she thought we had nothing in common. We didn’t like the same foods, the same entertainment, the same people. We looked different and acted different. And she did not like me. She wanted nothing to do with me.
It’s the most difficult relationship I’ve ever had. It was also very tempting to give up on that relationship. It was too hard.
People are messy and difficult. Loving them is hard; I don’t know how God does it.
People believe lies, spew hatred and deal in fear. I don’t love any of those things, but I do believe we’re supposed to love our neighbor.
These messy, difficult people are us. “They” are not anonymous or faceless.
“They” want to destroy our country, limit our freedoms and make decisions that harm those we love.
The infamous “they” are our cousins, our acquaintances, our old high school buddies and even our parents or children.
It’s becoming more and more difficult to maintain relationships that aren’t poisoned by politics, but while 2020 has made it painstakingly obvious how much faith we’ve lost in institutions, we cannot afford to lose faith in humanity.
I value hearing from a variety of perspectives, but I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t almost unfriended or at least unfollowed a couple of Facebook friends who post mostly false information from an extreme political view. This week, I’ve thought about my relationships through a political lens far more than I’d like to admit.
Refuting false information with evidence shouldn’t be political. Alas, everything is political these days.
Walking away from people would sure be easier than engaging in these conversations. They’re exhausting, even when they’re just in your head. And, let’s be honest, many of them are fruitless.
I had more than one argument with that little girl in which I realized how absurd it was for me to be arguing with her. I got sucked in to making my point, to making her listen. She didn’t need that. She needed connection.
We’re all adults, but we still need connection.
While our political decisions are important, they are not more important than loving our neighbors. Loving our neighbors doesn’t mean we accept their political beliefs. It doesn’t mean we agree to disagree. We can care passionately about our position and love our neighbor despite them being on the other side.
Maybe that leads to some confrontation about politics. Maybe that leads to some gentle nudging about politics. Maybe that leads to putting politics to the side and just talking about football or the kids. It may even mean stepping back from particularly toxic relationships, at least for a while.
But we’re all messy, difficult people at least some of the time. We all need a little grace and patience sometimes. In fact, we need a lot of grace and patience.
Giving that grace and patience is hard. Really hard. That little girl taught me that I’m not very good at it sometimes — that it requires some time to myself to refocus and regroup. But then you get right back to loving those difficult, messy people the best way you can.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.