Life’s best school is living with people. It is there that we learn our best lessons. Someone says, “It is better to live with others – even at the cost of considerable jarring and friction – than to live in undisturbed quiet alone.” It is not, ideally, the easy way. It often involves hurts, wrongs, injustices, many wounds, many heartaches, and many pangs. It requires self-forgetfulness, self-restraint, the giving up of one’s rights many times, the overlooking of unkindnesses and thoughtlessness, the quiet enduring of things that it would seem no one should be required to endure from another. Nevertheless, it is immeasurably better to live with people – although it is not easy – than to Iive alone!
We can never learn the lesson of love except by living with people. We may learn the theory of loving each other, and we may be able to preach about it and write delightful essays on the subject; but that is entirely different from getting the lesson into our own lives. A man said to his pastor at the close of a year, “I have been through the Bible five times this year.” The pastor asked him quietly, “How often has the Bible been through you this year?” Only when the Bible goes through us does it become what it is meant to be to us. Studying the teachings about loving each other, and getting them into our heart, is one thing; but getting these teachings into our lives is quite another! We can only achieve the latter in personal contacts with others, with all sorts and conditions of people. Nothing will teach us unselfishness except the practice of unselfishness under pressure of necessity. We cannot learn patience with others except in experiences which put our patience to the test. The same is true of all virtues and graces – they can only be acquired in practical life. And so, in very many ways, people are the best means of grace to us!
It is important, then, that we learn the art of living with people. It is not hard to live with those who are sweet, gentle, patient, thoughtful, and unselfish; anybody ought to be able to get along with such pleasant people. But not all with whom we mingle are of this class. There are disagreeable people who are thoughtless, uncongenial, exacting, quick-tempered, unreasonable, and sensitive; and our duty of living sweetly with others includes these persons, too. It may help us if we will always remember, when we find it hard to get along with anyone, that this is only a new lesson in loving that has been given to us. Of course, it would please us if the disagreeable person would – by some process – be quietly changed into sweet reasonableness and Christ-like agreeableness, so that there would no longer be any uncongeniality to fret us. But it is not probable that any such miracle will be wrought to make it easier for us to get along together. Almost certainly, the task set for us must be worked out without any perceptible improvement of conditions. The problem is ours; we must meet it! It is ours to be Christians – which means Christ-like – just where we find ourselves. Our Master had a great deal harder conditions than ours in which to live His life, but He never once failed in the sweetness and patience of love; and H will help us to live as He did!
If we wish to learn the lesson of living together, we must exercise love. In one little book, there is a chapter on love as a lubricant. The author relates this incident: One day, there was a workman aboard a trolley car; and he noticed that every time the door was pushed open, it squeaked. Rising from his seat, he took a little can from his pocket. He let fall a drop of anti-irritant on the offending spot, and sat down again; and he quietly remarked, “I always carry an oil-can in my pocket, for there are so many squeaky things that a drop of oil will correct.”
The application of this incident is obvious. In human society, there are continual contacts of life with life; and frictions will surely develop unpleasantly, unless they are relieved in some way. It is here that the oil-can comes in nicely! A drop or two of its efficacious contents will work wonders, even in the most obstinate cases.
There is a great deal of human nature in most people. This leads us to want to have our own way, regardless of the rights and the feelings of others. But when two persons are trying to live together, and each is set on having things just as he wants to have them; there is sure to be clashing! It is then that the gentle ministry of the oil-can will prove beneficent in soothing the friction and preventing unkind contacts. In such cases, the ideal way is for both parties to be not only tolerant and patient, but also ready to yield rather than have strife. Sometimes, however, one of the two must do the larger part of the yielding; they must exercise all the necessary tolerance and patience, if unhappy friction is to be avoided. Yet it is the responsibility of love to always be ready to give up its rights, even if the other person will not. He loves most and is most like the Master, who takes the larger share in yielding – and who does it sweetly and cheerfully. Some good people are ready to claim that there is a limit to our duty of giving up. But not many of us are in danger of going too far in this phase of loving! We only need to recall the Master’s teaching about turning the other cheek, and then to remember also the Master’s own example of giving up and submitting to wrong and injustice, in order to find what the law of love truly means.
There are few people who are so hard to get along with that we cannot live peaceably with them, if only our own heart is full of patient love. One of our Lord’s Beatitudes is, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This applies not only in our personal relationships, but also in our influence upon those around us. We see a person now and then who – without being a meddler in other people’s affairs – is always dropping oil, in most timely fashion, upon “squeaky things.” When he meets a friend who is excited, he says a gentle word which acts like a charm in quieting him. When one complains to him of a slight or an injury which he has received, he relieves the hurt feeling by suggesting the Christ-like way of looking at it. Wherever he goes, he is a peacemaker. He carries in his own life an influence which makes men ashamed of unlovingness, and he inspires them with the desire to live sweetly and in patient love.
Has the Lord put a person or persons in your life who are a little less than easy to get along with? Do you view them as Christ’s latest lesson in loving that He is teaching you? Are you carrying a little can of the oil of love with you wherever you go, so that you can help soothe the friction that you encounter in life’s relationships? Pray to the Lord for grace to be a perpetual peacemaker – influencing and inspiring others to live sweetly and in patient love!
What lessons of love has the Lord been teaching you lately in life’s school? Share your thoughts and reflections with us all in the comments section below!
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for the King’s glory,
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This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on our website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.