One of my favorite things to do every fall is coach volleyball. The best part about coaching ten year olds is being able to teach them about God while simultaneously playing the best sport known to man. Because 5th grade girls sometimes have a reputation of being unkind to one another we have been memorizing Matthew 22:37-39 about loving your neighbor as yourself. How do you love your neighbor when your neighbor is a jerk, when your neighbor (a.k.a., your little brother) is annoying, thinks they know everything or when they take your stuff? I have been teaching the girls to pray for the people who bug them most. I have been encouraging them if they just can’t bring themselves to pray for that person who is hard to love, to tell God that and then ask Him to change their heart toward that person. I love teaching other people how to love others.., regardless of how I am doing at it.

Lately, without realizing it, I have become incredibly judgmental, critical and unloving to people around me (and this time NOT to the people in my family, but to just about everyone else). Women of every hair color, personality type and profession have been annoying the snot out of me and I have not been shy about telling my husband (and sometimes my kids) about it. Though it should be obvious to a Church Lady like me how wrong this is, I had been completely blind to it until I had the misfortune of hearing myself one day. Do you ever hear yourself lecturing your kids or your husband or complaining and you get sick of the sound of your own voice? I was complaining about someone to my husband (because if I only tell him then it isn’t gossip or slander, right?) and suddenly I was disgusted and embarrassed at myself. The worst part was despite asking God to change me and genuinely desiring to change, I was having a hard time losing this judgmental, critical and complaining response to all of mankind. So I finally tried something else. I tried doing what I was telling others they should do.

I have spent the last week praying for everyone who irritates me. I have prayed for God to bless them and for Him to help me love them. I have asked Him to help me see them like He does (apparently Christ died even for imperfect, annoying people). I have asked God to bless their spouses and their children. It has been really hard and frankly at times somewhat annoying. I really just wanted God to wave a magic wand and change my heart without having to do anything, without having to think too hard and without, for Pete’s sake, praying for irritating people. But real change usually does not happen because of lip service or even a desire to change. Real change happens when we allow God to clean house in our hearts, minds and actions when we least feel like it.

“Dear Lord, thank you for ten year olds who teach me something about you and about myself every time I am with them. Thank you for their innocence and their genuineness. Help me to continue to pray for anyone who irritates me and thank you that in doing so I am changed from the inside out in a way that honors you and replaces my anger, pride and judgment with joy and peace. Thank you that you love me when I am less than perfect, incredibly annoying and when I’m gossiping about, judging and criticizing the people you died for. Help me never take that grace and mercy for granted or fail to extend all you have given me to others. Amen.”