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Love and forgiveness go hand in hand, a pretty picture as we approach Valentine’s Day.  We Christians talk a lot about this happy couple, but I wonder sometimes whether we really know them or they are just acquaintances, contacts in our phones that surprise us when we scroll through, piercing our hearts with conviction for the split second it takes to scroll past.

Love and forgiveness are beyond us, you see, impossible to understand, to accept, or to live out without help, so we keep them at arm’s length, hope that Christmas and Easter visits will suffice, and pray that our indifference won’t offend the Father.

It does.

Knowing full well what He’s asking because He offers it Himself, the Father commands us to love and forgive one another freely.  What’s more, He commands us to love and forgive our enemies, those who are unlikely to love and/or forgive us back.

How?  Fortunately—and contrary to popular belief—love and forgiveness have little to do with emotion.  Love is not affection, and forgiveness is not empathy.  They are deliberate choices we make to represent Christ and what He’s done for us well in the way we interact with others.   We don’t have to feel ready, enthusiastic, or even strong to love and forgive.  All we have to do is put one foot, one word, one thought in front of the other as the Spirit leads and trust Him to bring results.

Not sure how to start?  Here are three practical ways to express love and forgiveness to those around you today, both your friends and those who aren’t so friendly!

  1. Bite your tongue. No matter how strong the urge to do the Holy Spirit’s job for Him may be, resist it. Give up the chance to have the last word, to embarrass, to correct, to shame, or to win. You’ll find that the lasting peace that comes with extending grace and mercy in this way is far more satisfying than the temporary rush of pride that follows self-righteous behavior.
  2. Take the back seat. Treat others as if their convenience, contentment, and happiness are more important than your own.   Think of yourself as caregiver rather than competitor to those around you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the spiritual insight that comes with adopting this perspective and begin to identify with your Savior in a whole new way.
  3. Say nice words. We can’t read each other’s minds, which can be both a good and bad thing. Words are necessary, especially when the potential for misunderstanding is present. Regardless of how you feel about a person, make a conscious effort to use your manners, offer sincere compliments, and encourage them as if they were your best friend. You’ll find that people often soften when spoken to nicely and that your own feelings can be changed by the kind words you speak.

Don’t be disappointed if those you choose to love and forgive don’t love and forgive you back.  Remember, the choice to love and forgive is not about what you can get out of giving, but about obeying the Father, the One who loved and forgave you first. Represent Him well.