My college roommate is still one of my best friends, so when I relay to you something she told me back in college, you’ll need to understand that we really do like each other. For real.
About ten years ago now, she said, “Liz, when I first met you, I thought you were one of those super sweet, cheery people. You had that e-mail address “jamn4jesus,” and it kind of annoyed me, to be honest. But then I got to know you, and I realized that you actually aren’t like that. In fact, you don’t really like most people. I like that about you.”
Okay, so those weren’t her exact words, and she might not even remember the conversation, but it stuck with me. Because it’s true.
Even now, lots of people annoy me.
But even now, most people don’t know it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s hypocritical of me (it is), but it’s important to be honest with ourselves about these sorts of things.
You see, also back in college, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) teased me about being a magnet for the dispossessed. Or at least the friendless. Or, for certain, the people who annoyed me the most.
When I volunteered to be a Bible study leader through the local church, with my luck I ended up with some of the oddest ducks I’ve ever met in my group. And I had to be nice to them. Like them. Hang out with them in my spare time. Because I was their Bible study leader, for cryin’ out loud!
And it still happens to this day. When I volunteer to help out with a project, the one other person I’d rather not see that day is always certain to be the other person I’m paired with to get it done. When I go to a party, the person in the room with nobody to talk to will end up talking to me. It happens in church, at school, in my neighborhood, at the farmer’s market, the grocery store, restaurants. Everywhere.
What would for most people be one-time interactions for me turn into long-term relationships. I don’t know how this happens. And I would like to say I get more charitable with time, but so far, not much luck as far as that goes.
I am a magnet for the friendless because somehow, somehow I exude friendliness even when I’m seething.
Here’s what’s strange.
Acknowledging the fact that I’m seething inside has begun, finally, after ten years, to teach me something about myself. A few days ago, I was jotting down notes for an essay I want to write, and I began thinking about an interaction I had with someone who drives me crazy. Here is part of what I ended up writing, and it surprised me, even as it came out on the page:
She drives me crazy–her personality and mannerisms, whatever–and yet being around her helps me a lot because I am reminded just how selfish and prideful I really am, what a complainer I am, how ungracious my spirit is when left unchecked, uncompassionate. And this is exactly why I need to be in relationship with her.
Yes, certainly, this is exactly why I need to be in relationship with people unlike me.
With people who drive me crazy.
With the friendless.
And I think this is perhaps why the New Testament repeatedly requires that we love each other, especially our “enemies,” those unlike us, those we’d rather not be friends with. Because it is only when we try to love–even when we’re seething inside–that we realize just how far away from love we ourselves are.