Loving the Unlovely
Oppositional. That’s what came to mind when I tried to think how to describe a little friend I’ll call Missy. At four-years-old, she could be affectionate, but she was a handful. She fought order and almost everything we asked of her or the group at our weekly outreach to children in the community.
Missy is the fourth or fifth of six or seven children. The primary care-giver for the family is her sister, who seems to do an admirable job for a 12-year-old. We can only guess what life is like for a young child whose mother’s present but is too occupied with herself to have time for her children.
Missy’s trouble making seems to come from a desire for attention or a need to be in control. Or maybe both and more. Whatever the reason for her actions, she was assigned to me to keep her from being too disruptive.
We first met Missy a year ago, just before we began practicing for our children’s Christmas program. She was quick to answer questions—even when she didn’t know what was asked and was clueless in her understanding. Her favorite answer was, “Jesus!” and her face lit up whenever Jesus was mentioned, even though she had no Christian teaching in the home.
Excitement was high when we had dress rehearsal for the Christmas pageant. Nevertheless, Missy was busy as the narrator began the story and Mary and Joseph walked up the isle. She played with her donkey costume and poked the little sheep sitting beside her, paying no attention to the play.
Not until the narrator said, “And they called His name Jesus,” Missy’s head jerked up. With eyes wide open, she froze in her seat and exclaimed, “He said, ‘Jesus!’”
With that, she was all attention. When it was time for the animals to gather around the manger, she went forward eagerly. As practice continued, she caused commotion among the animals by trying to get a good look at the baby, but was amazingly well behaved over all.
The trouble started when the players returned to their seats to go through it one more time. Missy and the sheep got into a heated discussion when the sheep proclaimed that it was not Jesus, but was a baby doll lying in the manger.
Missy would have none of it. It was Jesus, not a doll! She adamantly refused to believe otherwise.
When I tried to quiet them, they turned to me to settle the argument, and Missy refused to believe me when I tried to explain why we use a doll.
It was Jesus. This was all about Jesus. If it wasn’t Jesus, why were we doing this?
Finally, she accepted the fact that the baby in front of us was a doll. In response, she began to rip off her costume, saying, “Then I’m not doing this!”
The only thing that quieted Missy down and led her to put her costume back on was the realization that she couldn’t be part of the soon-to-be-taken picture without her costume on.
The shock and disappointment wore off before the next week. She participated and did fine in the final performance, but I also noticed she leaned close into the baby. Fortunately, nobody but me realized that she was probably confirming that it wasn’t a real baby lying in that manger.
Many evenings when we’re together, she still opposes anything that isn’t on her want-to-do list. She still seems to want to be in control and be noticed. She’s still keeps me on my toes too, but I believe those challenges sprout from needs in her life.
One week, I was so upset with her that I wondered if I loved her at all, but I’ve learned some things from Missy.
I’m reminded that when I act the most unlovely, it’s when I most need love. Yes, it comes from sin in my heart, but sometimes that sin festers in a wound or a need.
If we’re honest with ourselves, aren’t we all needy at times? When our third born was small, he would occasionally come up and say, “I need love.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be so direct when we’re needy. But the need is often shown through opposition, anger, and ugly talk or actions. Especially in those who are especially needy. The world is full of hurting people, and they’re not all 4-years-old.
For me, much of the time, the quickest fix for my need is to feel loved. God’s love brings healing. While that love sometimes comes directly from time with the Lord, it’s often expressed through someone with skin on.
If that’s true for me, how much more would it be true for a 4 or 5-year-old?
And what does that say about me and my relationship with Missy?
I’m the one with skin on to show her the love of Jesus.
God so loved the world (the unlovely), that He gave His Son. He set the example. Furthermore, He commanded me to love my neighbor as myself.
Help me Lord to take that command to heart. Help me share Your love with the hurting people around me. Love them through me. Especially when they are hard to love. And especially at Christmas when needs are magnified because our focus is on love and joy.