You can’t change a person’s heart

16 Dec

“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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5 Responses to “You can’t change a person’s heart”

  1. pathos+flair December 16, 2008 at 1:00 pm #

    “God can’t make you not love someone either.”
    that rings true.
    now that I’ve heard this articulated, I realise for the first time, an experience that has always been so for me.
    there are some people I “shouldn’t” love, but still do.
    no – I’m not talking about sentimental love. I mean actual caring for their outcomes, even though they might have betrayed/abandoned me before.
    strange, this thing called love.

  2. Erna December 16, 2008 at 1:07 pm #

    I think there’s nothing wrong with compassion, and probably shouldn’t get hung up on whether someone ‘deserves’ our compassion.
    As He said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.

  3. Dabido December 16, 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    ‘”God can’t make you not love someone either.” ‘
    Hmmm, can I throw a monkey amongst the wrenches and suggest that he can.
    In particular he hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus (4:21 & 10:20).
    I think the correct term might be that God neither forces us to love or not love someone. I think he has the power to do so. As you said, ‘God sees the entire big picture, but He chooses to stand back …’ God chooses not to use that power, but it is there.
    ‘You can’t make them do what you know in your heart is what they need, …’
    And best not to. Sometimes the worst form of help are those who think they know better. As I wrote in a song once [this is a paraphrase to make it more understandable out of context]:
    You hold my head down,
    Under the waves,
    Wouldn’t want my skin to burn,
    From the harmful suns rays.
    Not that you are wrong in your comment, because often we can see the path and the person caught in their situation can’t see it.
    Still, best to offer advice for free and not to be disappointed if the person doesn’t take it. Neither nag them about it, nor force the advice upon them. They have to make their own decisions and mistakes. After all, it is their life.
    As for olive branches … I usually find pizza works on me. 🙂
    See ya soooon! 🙂

  4. Mei Yan December 16, 2008 at 9:43 pm #

    “But you wait anyway, because that is what it means to love.”
    impressive. :))

  5. Aronil December 18, 2008 at 7:17 pm #

    “But you wait anyway, because that is what it means to love.” Lovely post Erna. Poignant and yet encouraging at the same time. As it is said Love is patient, hence you wait. 🙂

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