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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Like or Love?

(Photo by Pixabay)

A number of years ago I was struggling with someone, a co-worker who was about 15 years older than I was. I didn’t know him very well, but we rubbed shoulders at work from time to time. About once a month, for example, we were required to attend the same meeting with about eight others. It was at those meetings that I found myself getting increasingly annoyed with him. Why?

I thought he had a know-it-all attitude. (I was judging him, I know.) In addition, he took offense easily and sometimes responded with sarcastic barbs. On occasion, I thought he was rude to other members at the meeting. Including me. In short, he disrupted the peace that I sensed would prevail if only he weren’t present. I prayed about him. I reasoned, maybe what I saw as arrogance proceeded not from pride, but from hurt or fear. I told myself, maybe if I knew him better, I would be more understanding and less agitated. But I had no desire to get to know him better–and, I sensed, he had no desire to get to know me better either. So there! Even when he did nothing offensive at a meeting, I was on edge, because I sat there thinking, “When is he going to make some rude remark?”

(Photo by Pexels)

I found myself struggling hard to be more tolerant of him. But nothing worked. One morning, on a day we had our meeting, I was praying about him again to God. I found myself blurting out, “But, Jesus, I just don’t like him!” Instantly I “heard” Jesus say to me, “So, Melannie, tell me: since when does your compassion extend only to individuals you like?”

Good question.

In the Gospels, Jesus didn’t say, “Like one another.” But he said, “Love one another”–many times too. Maybe he repeated it so often because he knew, from personal experience, how hard it was. Even Jesus got agitated with certain individuals, most noticeably with some of the religious leaders. But he also struggled with members of his own inner circle. On several occasions he must have found it difficult to like his disciples–especially when they were vying with each other for the highest places in his “organization.” Or when Peter ordered him not to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Or in his darkest hour in Gethsemane, when Peter, James, and John all fell asleep. And later, when his closest friends deserted him. One reason Jesus could still love them when they weren’t even likeable was this: He knew their stories. He understood their humanity, because he was so in touch with his own humanity.

(My co-worker ended up quitting his job with us and moving to another place many miles away, close to his original home. I thought, maybe his behavior with us was partially caused by being so far from family and friends. I could only hope he found some happiness in his new surroundings. Several years later, I heard he had passed away.)

We can’t possibly know the stories of every person we come in contact with. But during our lives, we may be privileged to know the stories of some individuals we interact with frequently–our spouse, our children, members of our religious community, good friends, individuals we work beside, and individuals we serve. Hopefully, those experiences will remind us that certain behaviors that would normally irk us, instead elicit patience and understanding from us precisely because we know the background stories of those individuals. It also helps if we are in touch with our own humanity–and with our behaviors that probably annoy the heck out of other people too! (ouch!)

God’s love is all-inclusive. That is why God is so understanding, patient, and forgiving. Each day God is calling us to expand the circle of our loving, a circle that goes beyond the circle of our liking. One way we do this is to remember that everyone has a story. We might not know that story, but God does. Because God knows everyone’s story. Including our own.

“Following Jesus is simple, but not easy. Love until it hurts, and then love more.” St. Teresa of Calcutta (Photo by Emre Can Acer – Pexels)

For reflection:

What do you do when you are struggling with someone who agitates you?

What is the difference between liking someone and loving someone?

Have you ever come to like someone that you initially didn’t like? If so, what accounted for the change?

What helps you to expand your circle of loving?


PS: I ask your prayers for a zoom retreat I will be leading this week for the Heartland Retreat Center in West Bend, Kansas. The theme of the retreat is “The Power and Mystery of God’s Extravagant Grace.” There are about 30 retreatants–Sisters and lay women. Some are at the retreat center and several are online. I received a list of their names and the list made me excited! They are “real” women and I’m looking forward to “meeting” them! Thank you for your prayers!

Our video today is the hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” written in 1862 by Frederick William Fabor, produced here by Chet Valley Churches. As I look around our world today, the lines that struck me most were these: “For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind… But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own…”

I invite you to jot down a comment below about the reflection, the pictures, or the video…

46 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing. I too have been in touch with people who annoy me. I guess I need to practice patience and tolerance. I will certainly pray for you.
    God bless you Melannie. Wishing you a successful Retreat.

    1. Mary, Yes, patience can be a difficult virtue to practice… Thank you for commenting–and for your prayers for the retreat this week! Melannie

  2. Your piece here reminded me of the times I just did not like a co-worker too. My thought was usually, “What’s wrong with this person who does not like me? To know me is to love me!” Well, it took some years to figure out that this is not necessarily true! We are all somewhat clogged in this human condition. And God loves us broader than the measure of our minds.
    Thank you, Sister Melannie.

    1. Maresa, I smiled at your “to know me is to love me!” … And remember how “annoyed” some people were even with Jesus! And I loved your last sentence: “God loves us broader than the measure of our minds.” Amen to that! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  3. A friend of mine always reminded me that while I might not like someone I must love them because God does. God loves everyone and everything that exists.
    I find that when I know someone’s story — hers-story and history that person is quite loveable and even likable

    1. Thank you for underscoring the importance of knowing each other’s stories. And when it is impossible to know their stories, we can still look for the good in them. I knew that the man I was annoyed with was also a hard worker and he was basically devoted to his job. That helped me to be more patient with him. Thanks for writing! Melannie

  4. Thank you, Sr. Melannie! I needed this perspective today. It does help to see that even Jesus could be annoyed by his closest friends. I pray for even a bit of his patience and love.

    1. Ellen, Your prayer for the love and patience of Jesus is a fine one! Thanks for your words. Melannie

  5. I just sat through that meeting. I haven’t found an answer to my annoyance. She isn’t moving and neither am I. Thank you for sharing your experience; it tells me I am not alone in this. Makes me wonder who I annoy and most importantly, why? And if I knew, could I even “fix” a trait so ingrained in me?

    1. Janet, I smiled at your “I just sat through that meeting” and “She isn’t moving and neither am I.” … Your experience also encourages me that I am not alone in this. Thanks for your contribution to my blog! Melannie

  6. This morning, a priest in his homily said two things that verify your thoughts, Melannie:
    Hurt people hurt people.
    Pain not transformed is transmitted.
    We must always keep trying to understand the reason people act the way they do and judge with our heart and not with our eyes. Hope I can live that – even just for today.

    1. Rosemary, Wow! You said so much in so few words. I especially appreciated “Hurt people hurt people.” And “judge” with our hearts. Yes, these are easy words to say, but a challenge to practice… Thanks for sharing these with us! Melannie

  7. I have a picture on my dresser with a Buddhist saying that often challenges me in the area you shared with us today. It say: “Judge not your sister or your brother, there are secrets in their hearts that would make you weep.” We each have “our secrets” that should help us be more gentle with others. Not always easy!
    You and the women making your retreat are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Sister Alma

    1. Sister Alma, How much we can learn from our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions. Thank you for sharing these wise and holy and beautiful words of Buddha! Melannie

  8. Sister Melannie,
    Your song choice today is beautiful, moving and full of meaning…as usual.
    It also reminds me of my college years and being part of our University Choral Union group.

    1. Jean, I’m glad this tradition church hymn still speaks to your heart. I know it speaks to mine too! Thanks for letting me know this! Melannie

  9. I too have experience this annoyance, and often it’s in relation to those closest to me. I try to remind myself that the measure I am using is going to be applied to me. Yikes! I then say to God, ” I know I need your mercy, so help me to give this mercy to others.” Ultimately, it is compassionate understanding of a person’s story that makes the difference. Once again, thank you Sister for helping us see we are not alone!

    1. Patricia, Your words to God are beautiful! Humble and earnest. Thank you for sharing them with us! Melannie

  10. Good morning Melamine,
    This is Jane Lab, CSA I met you at the JRH in Parma OH where you give a reflection for a woman retreat I was on.
    I have followed you for some time and tried to register for one of your retreats however the retreats were always booked. When I saw the retreat you for this week on line I signed up. I’m so looking for to spending the week with you. I greatly appreciate your Sunflower Seeds reflections.
    God’s blessings,
    Lakewood OH

    1. Jane, It’s wonderful having you on the retreat this week! And thank you for your encouraging words about “Sunflower Seeds.” Melannie

  11. Your story is a reminder of so many experiences of struggling to like someone who is annoying or just plain hard to like. I learned to pray for them and myself that I would practice our Lord’s commandment “love one another as I have loved you”.
    I will pray for you this weekend Melannie.

    1. Loretta, Yes we must take our struggles to prayer. Thank you for modeling that for us. And thanks for the prayers for this week’s retreat. I’m most grateful! Melannie

  12. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    I’m coming to you from the great state of Minnesota, where my wife and I are visiting our grandson.

    I think Sr. Alma says it all with Buddhist quote her quote: “…there are secrets in their hearts that would make you weep.” So true, and yet we are still so human. The complexity of life will always involve the complexity of others, and therein lies the challenge.

    1. John, I certainly agree that all of us are complex human beings. We can’t even understanding why WE do some of the things we do. How do we expect to understand why OTHERS do some of the things they do. We try our best, and when we fail, we keeping trying. … Hope you’re having a great time in Minnesota! Melannie

  13. Hi Sister Melannie,
    Regrettably I have been the annoyer to some of my coworkers in the past. Later, after we became friends, an offended coworker told me that she “totally disliked me when we first met”. I was shocked when she told me this because I never realized that I tended to rub people the wrong way. I learned that my personality and sense of humor may not be agreeable to others and that I should take that into consideration in my interactions with others.

    The point being that sometimes being annoying is totally unintentional and not reflective of what’s inside a persons heart.

    1. Greg, What a great example of someone getting past her initial annoyance of another and eventually becoming friends. We need to have a few individuals in our lives who will honestly share with us how we are coming across to others. As you say, sometimes “being annoying in unintentional.” Good point! Melannie

  14. Another thought provoking blog today!
    The song says it all … “we make his love too narrow by false limits” and “there is Grace enough for thousands…” I know how in need I am of mercy so, I need to remember to show that same mercy to others.
    When I was having difficulty liking a coworker a good friend of mine told me to do nice things for that person “just because “ (without having a reason).I must admit my little acts of unknown kindnesses as well as praying for her daily, shifted my heart towards that coworker. We’re not the best of friends but I no longer feel annoyed with her as often as I did.
    God bless you and your retreat participants this week.

    1. Martha, You make a good point: if we are in touch with our own failings, we can more easily be “merciful” towards others and their failings. And I like the practice of doing good things to individuals we are struggling with. I too have tried this “technique” and it can really work! Thank you for sharing these two ideas with us! Melannie

  15. I loved both your message and the beautiful music. It is so easy to turn away from someone who we don’t think worthy of our attention for as you say a “judgment “ we have made about them, whatever that may be. Thai is what I do, I turn away. I am trying to change that negative response and instead turn toward them. It isn’t easy. I pray for God’s help.

    1. Priscilla, Turning away can be far easier than turning toward someone “we don’t think worthy of our attention.” Growing in love and compassion is a lifelong task. Thank you for your response to this reflection! Melannie

  16. What do I do when someone agitates me? I seethe and stew and have unpeaceable thoughts. Sometimes I’m alert enough to my own agitation either to remove myself physically from the source of the irritation (I live next to a highschool athletic field, and often, radios are blared), or I’ll pick up the beads and try to nudge the heart and soul back into a more irenic groove.

    I have neighbours and relatives who do not share my political allegiances (aaarrgh!). I often ask myself to look beyond the “label,” and find at least one quality that I admire in them: for instance, my cousin J. is the least toxic dad I have ever seen! My neighbour S. is affable and of a resilient disposition, quick with a pleasantry and/or a kind word. And so on.

    I love, love, love “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” A duo called The Miserable Offenders (Deborah Griffin Bly, of blessed memory, and Ana Hernandez) recorded the hymn in the 1990s to a lower-key, almost plaintive arrangement by the late Calvin Hampton. Hearing the Offenders’ version never fails to move me to tears.

    1. “…or I’ll pick up the beads and try to nudge the heart and soul back into a more irenic groove.”
      Nicely done, Tom.

    2. Thomas, I loved these words of yours: “Or I’ll pick up the beads and try to nudge the heart and soul back into a more irenic groove.” Beautiful! And your example of finding at least one good quality in someone you’re struggling with is great advice. When I corrected my high school students’ essays, I always tried to write at least one compliment: “Your closing paragraph is good”… or I’d underline a verb and say “Nice strong verb here”… or “you have such nice handwriting”… “Your writing is getting better. Keep up the hard work!”… I must check-out the version of the song you like, Thomas… It was great hearing from you again! Melannie

  17. I struggle with the upcoming election because of my great dislike and anoyance with 1 candidate who will go unnamed. I realize that no matter how terrible he seems, God loves him. This is profound and like the Buddiat saying perhaps we would weep if we truly knew his story.
    God protect our democracy

    1. Terry, Your response to your “great dislike and annoyance” is one of faith. We honestly acknowledge what we are feeling, we pray for the people we struggle with, and we beg for God’s wisdom and strength. Thank you for responding. Melannie

  18. So many good comments. I try to find at least 1 thing I like about political figures. I have a tendency to say “that so and so is just pure evil.” And then I try my best to see something good: that that evil person was made by our God in his image. Why is he acting the way he is acting??? And I go from there: maybe his childhood who knows. And it is tough. Really tough.
    Just so you know: Great Bend is in the middle of nowhere. So enjoy the wheat growing. And as you fly over MO, say a prayer!

    1. Joni, Yes, following Jesus’ Way is not easy. It is “really tough” as you say. The only “solution” (as Mother Theresa said) is to “love more.”… I am not IN West Bend, Kansas, Joni–although I wish I could have traveled there. I’m giving this retreat via zoom, because I would have had to go through FOUR airports to get there, and I didn’t feel up to that yet! (Readers, Joni lives in the eastern part of Kansas…) Melannie

  19. Dear Sister Melanie,
    My husband says my family flower is the Impatiens. 😉 I do struggle with that. I’m trying to stop myself, think, and recognize the struggle in others who may be dealing with pain, sorrow, anxiety, etc, and give them some slack. An honest compliment will often disarm and reintroduce humanity into the situation. I keep trying.
    Prayers said for you and your retreatants.
    God bless

    1. Donna, I love what your husband said about your “family flower” being impatiens! I think many of us could identify with that! And I agree, that sometimes we have to give other people “more slack”–as we hope they do for us at times. Thanks for writing and for your prayers for this retreat! Melannie

  20. Thank you for sharing your story, seems such a common reality. I have also struggled with not liking some people with whom I ministered but I was gifted with your insight that once you are graced with someone’s story, or just bringing then to prayer often, God does help soften the sharp corners to varying degrees, some more easily than others but He does not disappoint—-but it is in His time not ours. I loved hearing that we also are cause for others dislike and that is humbling! We all our always in such need of God’s mercy and wideness of His love.
    Blessings on your retreat and the Spirit’s breathe to flow through your words.

    1. Sr. Beatrice, I appreciated your words: by bringing people to our prayer, “God does help soften the sharp corners to varying degrees–but in His time, not ours.” Amen! And thank you for your prayers for this retreat I’m engaged in right now! I appreciate the support! Melannie

  21. I loved the article! I think we all have a person in our lives like you described. One that is hard to like because they think they are right and everyone else is not. And know it all. No matter how much this person annoys me at times, I still love her. Sometimes, at a distance. Thanks for reminding me that I, too, have faults all my own!

    1. Cindy, I agree, we can still love the individuals who “annoy” us–even if “at a distance.” And being in touch with our own imperfections, keeps us humble and (hopefully) more patient with others. Thank you! Melannie

  22. Dear Sr. Melanie,
    I love your story. I think of self denial when I encounter people who are so indifferent to my self. Sometimes we can try hard to find something that links us to this person and yet we are so far apart, it seems impossible. That is when I cling to joy that Jesus so wanted us to have with everyone we meet. A good sense of compassionate humor (even if it is not outwardly expressed) helps me to find peace in my heart with those that are so difficult to understand…..and could it be me?
    Thank you for your blog and the reminder to always pray for you and your upcoming retreat.

    1. Charlene, Trying to find something that “links us to this person” is a good place to start. But retaining “compassionate humor” will also help us to navigate the annoyances and real challenges life places before us. Thanks for the prayers! Melannie

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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