Note: the above questions were presented in an Anonymous comment on my A Snow Angel to the Rescue & Related Life Lessons post, and the below response is my answer.
This is a loaded set of questions. One response is that if you are really listening to a person, chances are that your compassion and love for him or her will grow, as will your ability to see the Lord working in and through the individual, even if the things you see as being wrong don’t change. God’s grace works in amazing ways and at times we don’t expect. It’s surprising to find out how much we affect others by being honest, seeking the Lord, and wanting more than anything else to do His will. A seemingly simple gesture can and does speak volumes.
I spent a number of years upset and frustrated about the things I saw people around me doing. I was often far too arrogant to see in myself the pride and self-centeredness which kept me from loving others as they wanted and needed to be loved. I now know that if someone or something is really bothering me, then it is often because there is a part of me that needs to change. Somewhere in me I’m holding on to some level of pride or self-righteousness, hurt, or insecurity that needs to be rooted out before I can be the vessel of love, healing, and Truth God calls us each to be.
Sometimes it takes years to soften a heart to forgive when it has been deeply hurt. God never stops working on any of us. The people in each person’s life who are most open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, most honest and upfront about their own faults and struggles, and, therefore, most loving, compassionate, kind, and gentle with others are often those who have the greatest influence and impact in people’s lives.
Of course there comes a time when you need to decide if you love the person enough to maintain some sort of relationship with them, even if they continue to make choices of which you disapprove. If your love for them is strong enough and truly Christ-like, then it will win out over your desire to change them in ways they might not be ready for, open to, or ways that might not even be in-line with the particular call they have received from the Lord.
So often when I’ve felt that I just had to step in and tell someone else how they were messing up, I discovered the aspects of my life and personality which ought to be amended in similar ways. In some cases it’s been years later that God’s given me a deeper insight about a past experience that allows me to see someone more through the light of God’s unconditional love than I’d ever been able to before. I realize my heart and thinking needed to change.
Personally, when faced with this type of experience while remaining focused on the Lord: I increase my efforts many times over in praying for the person. I am more willing to undergo any correction or suffering the Lord reveals is necessary to purify me so that I might be a better vessel for His love and more open to the Holy Spirit when, how, and if the Lord wishes to use me in bringing about that person’s healing and deeper conversion.
There have been several times in my life where this sort of humbling has been necessary before I was in a place of submission to the Lord’s will that made me open enough to do anything and everything that He asked of me to help heal the person who I thought so desperately needed to change. Many times it was through showing me the areas of pride and deceit, weakness and/or fear in me that needed to be addressed before I could be in a position spiritually and emotionally to inspire someone else to grow closer to the Lord.
One of the biggest examples of loving people where they are, praying for them to grow closer to God, and being open to how I needed to change for this to happen in my life has been when I became best friends with and started dating the man who is now my husband. How very humbling it has been that I have learned so much about God’s love through him and other people who I once was so sure needed to change in so many ways.
One catch-phrase that comes to mind is that: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” As is most likely the case with everyone, I have people in my life who have made choices I am morally, ethically, and/or spiritually opposed to, but that doesn’t mean that I stop loving those people. I might need to put some distance between us if I’m not in a place either emotionally or spiritually where I can spend time with them without being critical or judgmental.
Only if I have made it abundantly clear through my words, actions, and prayers that I genuinely love and care about people have I found that they are likely to be open to suggestions I might have about certain aspects of their lives. That doesn’t mean they will take them. That’s another important juncture when it’s time to make a decision I’ve found is best done through prayerful discernment.
Sometimes God intends for us to be a positive influence in people’s lives who will draw them closer to Him. Other times our approach comes from a place of pride and judgment, instead of love and genuine concern, so our intervention of sorts isn’t likely to be well-received and could end up doing more harm than good.
God is love, and all who dwell in love, dwell in God.