Can You Love Too Many People?

Does Withholding Love Ever Work?

Can you love too many people?

I don’t mean, can you be “in love” with more than one person at a time?

Nor do I mean, can you love “too much” in unhealthy ways?

Instead, what I mean is this: Is it possible to love too many different kinds of people, those unlike you as well as those similar to you in beliefs and culture?

We all know Jesus said the greatest command is to love God and love people.

But when we do love, why sometimes is it “God’s people” who get the angriest about it? They (we?) may say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” but what ‘sinner’ has ever felt loved by that philosophy?

Sometimes people will cut you off if you love more people than they want you to, especially if those you love are the “wrong” kind of people. They might even withdraw their own love from you to bring you back in line.

This is meant to incentivize you to change who you love.

But does this ever work?

Ground Rules for a Better Way

How do we make friends with people who are different from us anyway?

I just finished a most interesting book on creating friendships among seeming opposites. It’s The Doubters’ Club: Good-Faith Conversations with Skeptics, Atheists, and the Spiritually Wounded by Preston Ulmer.

The Doubters’ Club itself (not the book) is an actual gathering of different kinds of people who meet together in different cities to have respectful discussions with each other. It began in Denver, Colorado, as a conversation between two friends, one an atheist and one a Christian.

Ulmer says that the goal of the Doubters’ Club is “to model friendship with people who think differently and pursue truth together. Period.” It’s not to convert each other to their own ideologies. There are no ulterior motives.

From Ulmer’s perspective, it’s a way for believers to find common ground with unbelievers using doubts.

Is there a Doubters’ Club in your city? (See locations here.) Not in mine. I wish there were.

But Ulmer says the Doubters’ Club isn’t really about doing new things. Rather, “it’s a new way to do everything.” It’s a lifestyle of interacting with people differently, to be a bridge instead of a barrier.

And we can do that anywhere, anytime. 

Here are the five ground rules for the official Doubters’ Club conversations. But they also are rules we can apply to all our conversations:

1. We value respect above being right.
2. We listen without interrupting.
3. We are a safe place.
4. We listen with an open mind.
5. We understand and accept differences of opinion.

Conversations full of spiritual curiosity can lead to committed friendships. To loving each other more, which is God’s goal for each of us anyway.

Grow Among Differences

One of Ulmer’s chapters is titled: “GOD, I’M TIRED OF THIS: The Exhaustion of Only Having Christian Friends.” In this chapter he writes about the disadvantages of having an “us versus them” mentality.

“Only having Christian friends puts you on the defensive when you encounter a doubter, and being on the defensive all the time is exhausting.”

It creates an atmosphere of distrust from both sides.

“Those outside the faith are apprehensive of those inside the faith, while those inside the faith are exhausted by the demands of their own in-group.”

A way to counteract this is to make friends with all kinds of people.

And in doing so, you don’t have to justify your choice, even when it brings criticism from your in-group.

“You do not need to spend needless energy justifying your association with people who are not like you. Instead, expend your energy on those people by being with and for them. The best way to justify your time with those not like your in-group might just be to get crucified by your own in-group.”

We grow from being around those who think differently than we do. We’ve all likely experienced enlightening moments of seeing God in a fresh light when we’re with those least like ourselves.

Committed friendships between nonbelievers and believers help us unlearn what it means to be churched and relearn what it means to be the church. Sometimes we find our beliefs changing —sometimes profoundly —but what always, inevitably changes is our heart.”

And this:

“Initiating conversations that matter is not so that we can create converts. It’s so that we can taste the goodness of God with others, leaving us both craving more.

Make Unending Attempts at Love

There’s a version of Christianity that says love everybody, but also ignore some, exclude others, judge many. Is this love? Does it feel like love to those being ignored, excluded, and judged?

When we’re anti-people, we’re also anti-God.

How can we say we love God if we don’t love people (1 John 4:20)?

Not just love some people. Not just love those inside the flock. But love all people.

“Instead of defending the reputation of the flock, what if we returned to the actions of the Shepherd? The Shepherd whose friendship with sinners was so fierce, he was stereotyped as one of them: ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Matthew 11:19, NIV).”

Can we love too many people?

I wonder if Jesus would answer like this: Never. It’s impossible to love too many people.

“The mature in Christ make unending attempts at love.”

Look around for the next person to love. You can’t love too many.

Have you ever been criticized for who you are friends with? Share in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley + Tyndale House Publishers
for the review copy of The Doubters’ Club

24 thoughts on “Can You Love Too Many People?

  1. Joanne Viola

    Those five rules would serve us all some good. Rule #1 has been something I have said for a very long time. We don’t need to agree but we do need to respect one another as people. So very important.

  2. Martha J Orlando

    There’s such a need in our society to simply listen to each other and love each other in spite of our differences. Like Joanne, I love those five simple rules you’ve listed, Lisa. To me, they are the common sense of how to successfully interact with others, but I’m afraid they need to be relearned in these contentious times.
    Thanks for reviewing this book!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re right that these five rules should be common sense, Martha. Sigh. Things have gotten out of whack for sure, but I’m encouraged that people all around seem to be more aware of it so hopefully we can change it back to more respectful relationships again.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      But I’m sure you apply these principles with whoever you’re around, Michele. We can’t always increase the quantity of people in our lives, but we can pay closer attention to those we do come in contact with.

  3. Yvonne Chase

    Reading this post reminded me of the time I befriended a group of atheists. It was for an assignment, however, once the assignment was complete, I still remained a part of their group because I enjoyed being a part of their weekly Zoom meetings where no topic was off-limits including Christianity. What’s interesting is each member was a Christian at one point and walked away because according to them; Christians are dogmatic, judgmental, and exacting. Being a part of their group gave me an opportunity to understand them better. It wasn’t about trying to change them or make them wrong. It was about learning about them to better understand. Our time together was great because the 5 ground rules are a part of their foundation.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This is such a great “Yvonne” example! 🙂 I love it. I can so see you being a part of this group. What a privilege it is to be trusted as a friend when beliefs aren’t the same. No two people hold the exact same beliefs anyway, yet it doesn’t have to hinder our relationships as long as we treat each other with respect.

  4. Lois Flowers

    This sounds like a great book, Lisa. I watched a video on the Doubters’ Club website and was so impressed by the friendship the pastor and the coffee shop owner share. I love the creativity that went into starting these clubs … talk about refreshing AND counter-cultural!

  5. Jeanne Takenaka

    Lisa, what a fascinating post! The Doubter’s Club sounds like a great place to grow in learning how to love and listen. I’m in a place where my life is very small right now, of necessity. But maybe part of the way I can love people well is to listen better to those around me, to my sons’ friends and their moms, when the opportunity arises. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa! You’ve got me thinking!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know what you’re saying, Jeanne. I feel like my opportunities have been limited so much the past year and a half. Which is just the way it had to be; I get it. But you’re right that we can be more intentional around the people we ARE around. Everyone wants to be heard, whoever and wherever they are.

  6. NAnn

    After reading this I found myself humming that song from the 1960s
    Up! Up with people! You meet ‘em wherever you go,
    Up! Up with People! They’re the best kind of folks we know.
    If more people were for people, All people ev’rywhere,
    There’d be a lot less people to worry about, And a lot more people who care.

    Don’t know much about that group – but it was a catchy little tune!

  7. Theresa Boedeker

    Nope, can’t love to many people. Relationships with other humans has complications, but we can keep adding people and loving them. They will grow us in so many ways. The 5 rules for the club sound like things Jesus would tell us to do and things he would do.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re definitely on target that relationships have complications! 🙂 But that just gives us more opportunities to grow, right? Thanks for these insights, Theresa. I agree, too, that Jesus could confirm these 5 conversational rules as ways to love each other.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Jean. Of the five rules, I need to keep working on “letting go of being right.” As an Enneagram 5, I want everyone to have the “right” information but sometimes I have it wrong myself, and sometimes it’s more loving to be quiet and listen rather than share my “information.” 🙂

  8. David

    A culture of tolerance like this is sorely lacking in secular culture, especially politics. In fact that’s one of the things that “drove” me to Christianity. I did meet a lot of that “disdain the sinner, hate the sin”, but I also met some open hands of welcome, as if there was nothing wrong with me. Tolerance and friendship is a far more powerful incentive to change than scorn is.

    Interesting that the stated goal — “to model friendship with people who think differently and pursue truth together” — goes beyond the ground rules. The pursuit of truth depends on community and friendship and that depends in tolerance. Communities that are intolerant of outsiders generally turn on themselves (viz: knitting circles and purity spirals).

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’ve hit the nail on the head for me: “Tolerance and friendship is a far more powerful incentive to change than scorn is.” The religion of my youth often depended on the fear of hell as motivation rather than the love of Christ. I much prefer love.

      The intolerance of outsiders sometimes is a prerequisite to belonging in certain groups, but it’s so unhealthy. Once we’ve been an outsider (in any setting), we realize how cruel intolerance can be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *