Early on in my teaching career, there was a colleague I worked closely with whose views clashed with mine on everything from food to politics to fashion. I tried to get along with this individual but had a hard time seeing past our differences, which I chalked up to our upbringing in very different parts of the country. It was clear one of us was “the liberal” and the other was “the conservative.” (Sound familiar?)
One day I went home stewing about yet another conversation with my colleague that had left me feeling annoyed and even slightly unwell. That night, it finally dawned on me that I couldn’t change her, but I sure could change how I had been thinking about her.
A daily goal of mine was to find solutions to any challenge I faced through prayer, to consider things from a spiritual vantage point in quiet communion with God. I’ve seen the value of this kind of approach many times. “The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 4). Well, I wanted to be good, and this situation sure wasn’t making me feel good. So I prayed.
I love her, so why can’t you?
That’s the message that came to me as I reached out to God that night. My thoughts were so crowded with what I perceived as this colleague’s faults that at first it was hard for me to think of anything I could love about her. But this divine inspiration reminded me that the source of love is God, divine Love itself, which is impartial and never based on politics or opinions. God sees goodness in everyone, because God sees us as spiritual, the very expression of infinite Love.
To make this point even more concrete, it came to me to write a list of qualities my colleague expressed that pointed to her true, Godlike nature as Spirit’s expression. The list included examples of her kindhearted ways with the children we worked with and her enthusiasm and talent for teaching. This wasn’t an exercise in positive thinking, but rather acknowledging the spiritual nature we each possess as unique expressions of an all-loving God.
My list soon grew until it filled several pages. I was so surprised! By the time I’d finished, it was so clear to me that I had been focusing on human personality and superficial commonalities to define our relationship, and that it was much more productive to look to our innate spiritual identity, which is the basis for harmony in all relationships. I felt at peace and no longer unwell.
The next morning our interactions took on a decided change. I felt myself softening to my colleague’s viewpoints, respecting her ideas and not immediately wanting to challenge her on every issue that came up in conversation. Instead of just desiring to share similar human traits and opinions, I could see that our relationship should be about the mutual charity that comes from a desire to know and express God’s love. I felt I’d glimpsed something of her true nature. A sweet friendship grew between us from that day on.
This experience taught me the importance of looking past surface labels and strongly held opinions to see the good being expressed in everyone.
It’s not always easy, but each of us, no matter our background, can cultivate this healing habit, encouraged by this message from the Apostle Paul: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Philippians 2:1-4, Eugene Peterson, “The Message”).