You wouldn’t know it to look at her today, but my sister Elizabeth (aka Louie) used to be my worst enemy. She was a skinny little thing with blue eyes and a deceptively gentle manner around adults. They loved her. Adored her. Asked her to sing in their weddings. Called her “Sweet Lou.” It grated on me something awful. Mom and Dad never knew that behind closed doors she could claw your eyeballs out with the best of them. I tried to avoid her but she had a flair for tagging along wherever I went and tattled (albeit sweetly) when she didn’t get her way. She even managed to get me spanked for something she did. Like the saying goes, And though she be little, she is fierce.
So. I really didn’t like Louie. I know now it was jealousy. My nickname wasn’t cute, no one stopped to admire my cute ‘orphan Annie’ perm (thanks, Mom), and I didn’t stand a chance of winning any adults over with my charming personality. None of this was her fault, of course, but that didn’t stop me from joining my older sisters in a rousing version of “Hong kong phooey, pooey Louie, America’s number one SUPER STINKER!” whenever the mood struck us.
One time Dad caught us in a fight. I don’t even remember what is was. I do, however, remember the punishment was horrible. He made us hug each other. AND kiss each other. I would have rather been spanked, and Dad’s spankings were no joke. But no. Instead, I had to put my arms around her. Touch her. Breathe her air. Feel her hair itch my cheek. Likely exchange trace amounts of spittle. Could there be anything worse?
Turns out, Dad was on to something. It wasn’t a magical cure-all, but it made me remember a very basic truth. God wanted to me love Louie, even those times when it felt easier to hate her. This loving of someone we’re angry with doesn’t come naturally, and it isn’t easy, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is what our heavenly Father commands.
I hadn’t thought about this punishment in quite a while, but a few days ago, I turned the page on my daily Bible verse calendar (ironically, a Christmas gift from Dad and Mom) and I came face-to-face with this verse: “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen” (I Peter 5:14).
I thought of Louie first and had to smile. She has become one of my best friends and I can’t imagine why we ever fought. She is still a sweet and gentle person, and I have joined the ranks of people who love and adore her. I thought how happy it would make me to see her right now and greet her with a hug and a “kiss of love.” I pray often (and of my own free will!) for the peace of Christ to rest on her and her family. Look how far I’ve come, how I have grown and matured. What once was a punishment, now comes naturally and joyfully.
My misplaced pride was short lived, of course. This passage is speaking about “all you who are in Christ Jesus.” That surely includes my sister, but the net is cast much wider than that. It also includes all who are my brothers and sisters in faith.
That’s a lot of people. A lot of different personalities. A lot of sin-muddled situations. That’s the person who got upset with me because I didn’t behave the way she felt a pastor’s wife should. That’s the person who likes to yell at my child, but never his own. That’s the person who criticized my husband behind his back, or the one who criticized me. That’s the person who was short with me at the women’s meeting. That’s the person who said some really mean things to my daughter, and the person who gossiped about me. That’s the person who has a habit of getting under my skin with rude comments and thoughtless behavior.
That’s so many things. Suddenly, life with Louie looks like a cake walk. I’d take her any day over this pile up of fellow Christians that I’m supposed to love and live peaceably with. God is asking an awful lot. It’s deja vu all over again, my Father saying, “Kiss her or him. Tell her or him you love them.” And I really, really don’t want to.
I made myself think of all those times a person from church hurt me and the times I wrongfully expected my fellow believers to “know better” when I wasn’t examining my own heart. I wondered about the times I have hurt others. What would things be like if we followed the advice of Scripture and greeted one another with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, especially after a disagreement or offense that has us particularly upset? What would it be like if we reminded one another of the peace that is ours through Christ? This peace that “surpasses all understanding” certainly extends to our petty disagreements and our personality differences. If we focused our love for each other through the lens of God’s great love for us, wouldn’t everything else fall into place?
Our sin creates these divisions, and Satan rejoices in the way they hinder the work of the gospel. Our Savior gives us the solution: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
I suspect a great many of my Lutheran friends would feel a bit uncomfortable to greeted by the pastor’s wife with a kiss, holy or not! But I am still thinking about how I can follow the direction this passage gives. Maybe I could start with the greeting for now. Extend it to a hug when we’re ready. Imagine the kisses in my mind, as funny as that sounds. No matter what, I have faith that the Lord will guide me in the right way to show my fellow believers that I love them and pray God’s peace be with them always.