You can’t change a person’s heart

“Not even God, with all his power, can force a human being to love.”

Even after all these years, the words of Philip Yancey haunt me. I’ve struggled with these words when dealing with people who go out of their way to cultivate malice, who despite my efforts at reconciliation, turn away my olive branch.

But the words also work the other way: God can’t make you not love someone either. “By loving the unlovable,” said Augustine, “You made me lovable.”

Loving my enemies is hard. Loving the people who hurt me, intentionally or unintentionally, is difficult. Sometimes I also despair when those who I love are reviled and rejected by others. “Why must you cause me pain by denigrating those whom I care for?”, I say silently in my maudlin heart.

I have my own struggles with my friends. When a friend was in a relationship I foresaw would bring nothing but sorrow, everyone involved (and me) got caught up in a horrible mire of pain and vengefulness. Was I a catalyst for my own prophecy? When another retreats from the world instead of engaging it, I ache to just forcibly pull said friend out of the exile that is counter-productive to what said friend really wants – a real, solid connection to another.

But you can’t fight battles for the ones you love. You can’t make them do what you know in your heart is what they need, though perhaps it isn’t what they want to do. In my own struggles, I see a glimpse of what God must feel dealing with us stubborn, contrary humans. He tells us not to kill each other, and instead we spend billions to invade our neighbours and justify it in the name of ‘freedom’.

When we counsel our friends to take another path, we only go on our gut and perhaps an ability to see the situation with a bit more clarity. God sees the entire big picture, but He chooses to stand back and gives us the freedom to take the path we want. Like a mother who weeps at her child’s waywardness, a spouse or lover spurned, God cannot make us feel or do what we choose not to do.

To love means not to suffocate them in your affection, resisting the urge to hold them tightly in a blanket of care. It means giving them space to move, to breathe, to decide. Love is freedom, not compulsion. To love also means to wait in the wings, resisting the urge to run to your loved ones when they stumble. Instead, you wait with open arms, knowing full well that you will just as likely be turned away. But you wait anyway, because that is what it means to love.

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