How do you love the coworker you just can’t stand?
Recently, while reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, I was challenged by Lewis’s thoughts on what it means to really love God. He writes,
Ask yourself, “If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” When you have found the answer, go and do it.
At first I thought this meant I needed to do something drastic – to act as a Mother Theresa or a Brother Andrew and drop everything to do something sacrificial. This is because I had a misguided view of where my work fit into God’s Kingdom. I thought the only way you could truly love others was through work in the church.
This isn’t true, however. In his book How Then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work, Hugh Whelchel writes,
As evangelical Christians we should acknowledge that all of life is to be lived under the comprehensive Lordship of Christ (Matthew 28:18). Few, however, understand that even in our everyday work, the Scripture teaches no separation between the secular and the sacred. No church-related work or mission is more spiritual than any other profession such as law, business, education, journalism, or politics.
You may be called to work similar to Mother Theresa and Brother Andrew. And of course we’re all called to look after the poor. Scripture is clear on that.
But if you’re working at a job in a sector outside the church, the Lord has you exactly where you are for a purpose. If you are resting in him and trusting in his will, then you are loving him. And you can demonstrate your love for God by loving others in the places where you work.
But how do you do this, especially with the coworker we just can’t stand?
Book three, section nine of Mere Christianity includes a passage where Lewis offers encouragement on how to have charity – Christian love – towards someone you don’t like:
Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you find yourself disliking him more.
Like family members, many of us do not get to choose the people with whom we work. Some of the people you struggle with may end up in the cubicle next to you. This is an opportunity to live out Lewis’s challenge to act charitably until the love shows up.
Sometimes it seems easier to love the poor and destitute in a far off place more than the irritating coworker sitting next to you. Yet there are things you can do “until the love shows up.” Here are a few:
- Say “hello” each day and don’t ignore them. It may take weeks or months to elevate to a “how are you” or even deeper conversation.
- Partner with a like-minded friend and as the coworker in question to lunch.
- Pray for both your coworker and yourself.
- Remember that there is no timeline in all of this. It may take days, week, months, or years to truly develop love for the coworker you just can’t stand.
By practicing love towards our coworkers we demonstrate our love for God.