When I struggle to love someone, whether it’s because they rub me the wrong way or because I don’t know them well enough to love them except in the abstract (“Well, Jesus calls us to love everyone and this person is a subset of everyone, so…”), I pretty much never get better at loving them by keeping them at arm’s length, waiting to get better at loving them through private practice, and then inviting them back into my life when I’m good enough at loving them.
This is sometimes my approach to learning to love God, too, and works just as terribly with regard to Him as it does with regard to anyone else. But it’s a little easier for me to try to invite God into my life, knowing I’m not ready to love Him as I ought, than it is for me to do the same thing with one of His children. After all, God is infinitely forgiving.
Even so, offering hospitality to someone I’m reluctant to invite over is a risk that’s usually worth taking. Having someone come into my home offers me an opportunity to learn to love them better—by a process a bit gentler than aggressively willing myself to love them. Simply having someone over gives me a chance to cultivate what C.S. Lewis calls a storge sort of love: the love born from familiarity and shared circumstances.
Storge is the kind of fondness you have for a crossing guard you see every day, even if you’ve never had a deep conversation. It’s a love that comes from feeling that someone else is knit into our life—which, as it happens, everyone is meant to be. There’s a tiny foretaste of Heaven and the Beatific Vision in this humble kind of communion.
Inviting someone into my home sets me on the road to storge because it guarantees we share something, even if it winds up being the experience of watching me accidentally break my own garbage disposal (turns out you shouldn’t put too many eggshells down those things). We wind up with shared experiences, the kind you can refer to with a “Do you remember that time when…”
And, if I invite over the person I’m struggling to love solo, or as part of a small group, I create a little dependence between the two of us. No one (or almost no one else) can be the other half of my experience; without them, my life is less rich.
Homes are better than coffee shops (what often feels like the default meeting point) because in a Starbucks, neither of us is offering or receiving hospitality: we’re consumers. Instead of relying on each other for care, we place that responsibility on the store. Unless we make a special effort, we’ll ask less of each other.
Inviting someone into my home makes it easier for me to care for them and share adventures with them, and, gradually, to fall in storge love with them. Once I feel fond, I have more of a chance to move up the ladder of love by asking Christ to deepen our relationship, so we love each other with His perfect love.