Bob Goff - Giving Love

How do we give love to others in a culture where it seems like it’s every person for themselves? We talked with Bob Goff to get his perspective. Bob Goff is a lawyer, the honorary consul to Uganda, and a NYT bestselling author or books like “Love Does” and “Everybody Always”. He’s also a speaker and podcaster on AccessMore. He recently joined the Solo Parent Society podcast to talk about loving your neighbor.

How do you define “Love your neighbor”?
Bob says, “Love is sacrifice and commitment”. Loving your neighbor doesn’t mean just waving at your neighbor. It means being there for people in ways that include sacrifice and commitment. “For people in a broader sense, in a relationship, dating or marriage, or whatever, that definition is a good go to”, says Bob.

Bob says that “Often what keeps us from loving our neighbor is what will happen if we do.” Love your neighbor might sound easy but it’s not. To actually love your neighbor is difficult. People can be eccentric. We need to get past that sometimes prickly first appearance. There may be something in them that is off-putting, or it may be that they’re just different from you and that feels intimidating. Loving your neighbor is about taking a genuine interest in them, finding out about their experiences. Bob sees love as being curious and delighting in other people.
How do I love people that make me angry? Or that I want to avoid?

Kimberley shares that she had someone in her life who was regularly unkind to her. She had a hard time loving her. She prayed and asked God to help her see her with His eyes. That made a difference. She was able to gain a new perspective.

It isn’t always easy to turn toward people we don’t like or those who make us angry. When thinking about how to love difficult people, Bob says two things come to mind: control and influence. Sometimes we try to control the people we don’t understand.  

 “When someone is doing something crazy, whether your teenager or the nutty neighbor down the street, you want to control their behaviors. Most people don’t want to be controlled; they want to be influenced.” When it comes to dealing with people that we are uncomfortable around, instead of trying to control, we can try to influence instead. Bob shares the analogy of two trees planted too closely together that grow intertwined and twisted. Moving them just a few feet further apart allow both to thrive. Some people are toxic, and we need to create space between them and us. Our instinct might lead us to want to control people who are difficult, but this is when using our influence might be a better way to handle the situation. Choose to change what you can about your interactions with that person rather than control them. Think about what you can do or add to improve things. Bob goes on to say, “If crazy comes into town, you don’t have to go into the big top.” When dealing with difficult people, you can use your influence to choose how, where, and when you interact with them. Suggest a time and place that works best for you. Set parameters that help you thrive when you’re with them. They may not be willing to accept your ideas, but you can uphold what is best for you and they can choose also. Bob shares that he will sometimes suggest his favorite place to meet, Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland, rather than a board room. If the other person isn’t interested, then the meeting won’t happen. That’s okay. This is using influence rather than control.

How do we love people who have hurt or betrayed us?
We are called to love our neighbors, even those who have hurt us, and while doing that, boundaries are important but what else can we do? Bob shares that we all have people who trigger us. Brene Brown says the reason there are people who push our buttons is because they installed them. Whenever he feels triggered by someone, he asks himself “What is the story I’m telling myself?” and “What is the rule I made up around that story?” Then, ask yourself how that is working itself out in your interactions with someone. It may be that as a child your parents split up and now you make up the story that “everybody is going to leave me”. Then, you make up a rule about that story like, “I’m not going deep with anyone”. You find yourself as an adult not having any deep relationships because they are all going to leave anyway. That story and that rule from long ago are impacting you today. We end up living from our stories and the rules we made up. “Part of dealing with other people is by starting with yourself first.” You may have to start with trying to understand if there is something from your story that leads you to react like a button was pushed. You have to ask yourself, “Is that story true? Was it ever true? Is it true now – or with this person?” Then you need to examine if you made up a rule about that story that is manifesting today. Your fight or flight reaction comes from those places. We need to consider carving out a new rule and replace one set of rules and stories with a new set. This is “deep lifting”, Bob says, “from the knees” to do the work internally. “This is believing that “this whole ‘new creation’ thing isn’t just something you put on a pillow”. It actually is, “New day, new Bob. New day, new rule.” Some of our rules keep us out of trouble but others aren’t helping anymore.

As a trial lawyer, Bob has to select jurors to decide cases. Some are selected and others are excused. He says we need to do the same thing with our stories and rules. He said we can thank each one for what they contributed and then excuse them. They may have been helpful at eight years old, but they aren’t serving us well any longer. They need to be excused so you can be a new creation.

Bob also says that with some people you need to find the right distance to interact. Some people can stand right next to us, and it feels fine. Others may try to get too close. We may need them to “take half a step back and get a tic tac”, shares Bob, because they’re in our space too much. It’s okay to make a boundary and find the “sweet spot” with our relationships with people.
What are the benefits of loving our neighbor?

When Bob thinks of this, he thinks about practical things. When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor”, we can understand it to mean love people in our neighborhood rather than a metaphor for something else. He lives on a block of eight or nine houses. Twenty seven years ago, all the neighbors lined up at one end for a parade. The rule was that everybody had to be in it with no spectators allowed. An elderly neighbor was asked to be the “Queen” and another older gentleman was asked to be the “Grand Marshall”. All the neighbors participated, and back then it was just a small group. Now, decades later, over eight hundred people show up for the event. It’s become a huge community thing. Bob says they have gone together through the arc of life with his neighbors. He says, “You can’t love somebody truly unless you know them.” Find a way to connect to those around you. “Sure, start with a wave but don’t make that your high point. Write a note.” Maybe you bake a pie or provide a Christmas tree for a neighbor who is overcome with sadness at the holidays. “It will take some guts”, says Bob, and “you will have to knock on their door”. Choose an opportune time but make the effort.

How do we love people in the church when we have felt judged or harmed by them?
Single parents have sometimes felt hurt by people of the church or those in spiritual circles. Sometimes those in leadership or in faith environments have left us feeling marginalized or judged. Robert Beeson asked Bob, “How do we love up - toward those who look down on us? How do we love those who are spiritual leaders that we have felt harmed by?” Bob shares that someone who felt bent out of shape by the church told him he was leaving the church. Bob was like, “You can’t leave the church. You are the church.” When it comes to situations like this, Bob says he likes to reframe it. Often, we aren’t upset with “the church”. It’s the people in the church that are obstacles for us.

People who have been wounded by people in the church end up moving away from the church and operating “adjacent to the church”.  They have been let down and feel hurt. But we can get let down lots of ways, shares Bob. “Sometimes I order fast food and get let down.” We mat think we have a reasonable set of expectations for our faith communities, yet we find ourselves disappointed at what we get. “We may order one thing and get a bag full of something else. What we need to do is decide, “Are we going to throw away the whole bag? Or are we going to look at what we got. We don’t have to choke it down. There may be things in the bag we won’t eat and shouldn’t!” Other times, we may look in the bag and can sift through and take what we want. Bob says, we don’t have to be the hero and eat things we don’t want to, but we also don’t have to be the victim and keep paying for things, we won’t or can’t consume either.

We need to recast the situation and look at it another way, says Bob. When it comes to church, we don’t have to be the villain, the victim, or the hero. We can just be participants. “I think it’s participation that Jesus is asking us for”. The question becomes, “Can I participate in a way that is mindful of guarding my heart?” asks Bob. Guarding our heart isn’t sealing ourselves up behind it. “That’s a scarred heart”, says Bob. “We can guard our heart and at the same time recognize there are relationships that are difficult where we will both grow better if we are planted just a little further apart.”

Bob says we also have to “Get really comfortable with the idea that people won’t understand you, that you’ll be constantly misunderstood - particularly if you’ve survived a difficult relationship that fractured.” Bob wants the complexity of that to emote lots of empathy. He wants to “Flip that on its end.” He wants us to remember the God of all comfort who comforts us so we in turn can comfort other people. It’s not the comfort we get from “all the screwed up people in the church” but from God himself that we can then take and offer to others. We are part of that symphony! We need to recast our experiences in the church as participants.

Bob shares that he provides retreats where everybody is welcome. The only group they have said no to was a nudist colony. He wanted a place for people to come and feel safe there. He said that’s a really expensive way to do it, at a retreat, “But”, he adds, “there’s this outfit called Starbucks where for $6 you can sit and create a safe place for someone else.” He says, “Rather than be bent out of shape about ‘who coulda/shoulda/woulda’, be Switzerland.” Find a way to get free of that and be a safe person yourself.

How do we love others when we have limited time and resources ourselves?
Sometimes at the end of the day as a single parent we are so tired. What are some creative practical ways to reach out and love our neighbor when we feel like we should be the one to be reached out to? Bob says, “We each get 24 hours a day, four thousand weeks… a little more if you eat broccoli, a little less if you eat pop tarts.” Bob shares we can look at our day and find out how much time we are spending working, sleeping, on our phones, and how much time we are pursuing our friends and being available to other people. He says get realistic about the time you need for rest and look at how much time is spent in your pursuit of deeper relationships. When you see the time you have, share it with a friend so they can give you feedback about how accurate it is. Then consider how you want to spend your time instead. Write that down too. You can’t control all the factors, but you can use your influence to increase your ability to give and experience love.

To love others and ourselves, we need creativity especially when our world gets smaller. Sometimes our stories and our rules get in the way too. Loving our neighbor as ourselves requires participation and we often have to let go of control and use our influence instead. We have to examine our hearts and become willing to connect even as we set boundaries for how that connection might occur. Loving others – everybody always – doesn’t have to be overwhelming or all consuming, but it does need to be intentional.

Bob says even when we are distant from other people, like during Covid, we can still make connection happen. “Get walkie talkies!”, he says. Find fun and creative ways to reach those around you. “Be more childlike. Don’t give your neighbor a handshake, give them a balloon. There is something really beautiful about engaging people with whimsy.” He adds, “Sometimes when you’re feeling isolated, it’s hard to be creative but find someone who has a little more game than you.” Take the best ideas and go with it. God calls us to love our neighbors. Have fun with it!
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Get Bob Goff’s latest book, “Undistracted”, at major retailers. Follow him on Instagram @bobgoff, @lovedoes, @dreambigframework, and learn more at bobgoff.com.

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