5 ways to love someone who is acting unlovable

We all can be hard to love sometimes, but I’ve found that people usually need love the most in those moments when they “deserve” love the least. This true story below changed my life and my thinking about love and I believe it could do the same for you.

My Aunt Laurie is one of the most lovable people you’ll ever meet. She has a contagious joy and her laughter fills the room from the moment she walks in the door. Even now, as I’m writing these words and thinking about her, I’m smiling. To know her is to love her, but she wasn’t always so lovable. In fact, there was a very dark time in her life when she was unrecognizable from the warm and joyful person she is today.

Decades ago, she was addicted to heroin, she was a convicted felon and she was involved in a string of dysfunctional relationships with some dangerous men. If you were to meet her back in that season of her life, you would have probably passed by on the other side of the street. You wouldn’t have wanted to get to close. You may have shaken your head in disapproval and labeled her as a “junkee” or a “criminal,” and on the surface, your judgment would have been correct, but there’s always more to the story than what we can see on the surface.

I’ll bet your perspective would change if you knew the rest of the story. She wasn’t always a “junkee.” In fact, the dark path that led her down that destructive road can be traced back to a single moment on a day that tragically changed her life forever. I was only five-years-old, but I remember the moment vividly. I remember it, because it was the first day I ever saw my father cry.

Aunt Laurie and her family were enjoying a beautiful summer day out on the lake. Her daughter, Tina, was leaning over the side of the boat to look at the water below when she slipped and fell in. Her Dad, my Uncle Dean, heard the splash and instinctively did what any father would do; he jumped in after his little girl. Neither of them knew how to swim. They both drowned that day.

A few days later was the kind of funeral you pray your family never has to experience. Dean and Tina were placed in the same coffin, and when my Aunt saw the body of her husband holding the body of her little girl, something inside her broke. It was the kind of pain no human heart could possibly endure. When she made the decision to put that needle into her arm for the first time, it wasn’t so that she could feel high; it was so she could feel numb.

Now, does her tragedy justify her sin? No. But knowing her story changes something. Doesn’t it?

It reminds us that hurting people in this world need our love, not our judgment. They need our support, not our condemnation. It was Mother Theresa who poignantly said, “It’s impossible to judge someone and love them at the same time.”

So, how does this apply to your life and relationships?

Here are a few principles to keep in mind when it comes to loving the “unlovable.” If you’ll apply these to your relationships, I believe you can be part of changing someone’s life in a moment when they may need it most:

1. Don’t treat people the way they treat you; treat people the way God treats you.

The character of God is to give love to unlovable people, and ALL of us have been unlovable people. His love makes makes all love possible. The more you love you love God, and the more you embrace His love and grace in your life, the more capacity you will have to give love and grace to others.

2. Invest into people at strategic “low points.”

Every financial advisor will tell you that if you want to maximize your investment on a stock, you need to invest when the stock is low, not when it’s high. Sure, there’s risk in investing at “low points,” but risk is just a part of life. When it comes to “relational investing,” I believe this same principle holds true. If you want to maximize your positive impact in someone’s life, don’t invest into the relationship only when the other person is on top of the world (high points). Give them your best when their “stock” is low. Serve them when they have no way to repay you. Be willing to rush into their pain and tragedy when everyone else is rushing out. You’ll be part of changing their life while also building a lifelong bond in the relationship. That’s real love.

graph 3 low point

3. Expect nothing in return.

This part is really hard, because we want everything we give to eventually be reciprocated, but that’s not always how love works. If you do good only to those who can repay you, that’s not called love; that’s called “networking.” Real love requires a willingness to serve someone even when they are in no position to repay you. Jesus did that for us and He calls us to do it for each other.

4. Balance “tough love” with compassion.

When someone we love is in a self-destructive cycle and they’re a potential harm to themselves or to others, there may be times to show “tough love.” Depending on the circumstances, this may require interventions or even legal action, but make sure you motives are always driven by a deep and abiding compassion for the well being of everyone involved.

5. Don’t quit on them and don’t let them quit on themselves. 

The Bible teaches that there is nothing we could ever do that could possibly separate us from God’s love (see Romans 8:38-39). God calls us to have that same limitless love for others. It’s a love that’s not based on our own strength; it’s made possible only because of His strength. Once someone realizes that you’re going to stick with them no matter what, it can transform their perspective, and ultimately, transform their life.

For additional ways to build stronger relationships, check out our FREE video on The life-changing teachings of Jesus.


And if you’re married or engaged, check out our new book Marriage Minute: Quick and Simple Ways to Build a Divorce-Proof Relationship which is now also available on iTunes for Download on iPhones, iPads and all Apple devices.



What happens when you say “yes” to God.

Have you ever felt like you should do something, but you really didn’t want to do it?

This tug-of-war between my selfishness and my conscience happens more thank I’d like to admit. There have been so many times my selfish side wins out and I completely and willfully ignore an opportunity for a life-changing moment. There have been other times when I swallow my pride and say “Yes” to God. Those are the moments that have become turning points in my life and have taught me a life-changing principle: God will never ask you to let go of anything unless He intends to replace it with something better. 

*As a quick disclaimer, this principle does NOT mean that God is going to tell you to give up your spouse or your kids so you can replace them with somebody “better.” You’ve got to be permanently committed to your faith and you family, but anything or anyone else in your life might be something God will eventually ask you to cut loose. That’s when this principle applies.

One of the most dramatic examples of this principle happened a few years ago when my family was preparing to move from Florida back to our home in Georgia. I was having breakfast with a pastor in town named Andre. I loved hanging out with “Pastor Andre” for a several reasons. First off, he was South African so he had a super cool accent. Almost everything he said sounded sophisticated. I grew up in Kentucky, so my accent, by contrast, is the opposite of cool and sophisticated. I was hoping that just be associating with Andre, people might start assuming that I was cool too.

As much as I loved the accent, that wasn’t the real reason I loved hanging out with him. Andre had an inspiring and contagious passion for helping the homeless community in our area. As he would talk about Jesus’ teachings and how we are all called to help “the least of these,” he would beam with energy and vision for the homeless people in our area. He was putting his faith into action and it challenged me to do the same. After a cup of coffee and conversation of Andre, I always felt like by body and my soul had both just received a jolt of caffeine!

As we were sitting at Panera and I was munching a bagel, I asked Andre what his outreach ministry needed at the moment. I was really just making conversation; I didn’t believe I would be able to do much to help. Andre said, “Our biggest need right now is transportation for these men and women. They have places to go like job training and addiction recovery programs, but they don’t have a way to get there. If we had a van, we could take them to them to these places and open up a new world for them.”

It was at that moment, I felt like God was giving me a nudge. I’ve never heard Him audibly speak, but the message seemed  crystal clear in this moment. The whisper in my spirit was saying, “Give him your van.”

At the time we had a van. It was actually our primary vehicle, even though it was pretty beat up. I had bought it for a couple thousand bucks on Craigslist and it had always had engine trouble plus this strange lasagna-like smell that we could never cover up no matter how much Lysol we sprayed into the van. On top of that, my rambunctious kids had added a bunch of new stains and new smells of their own. The car was on its last leg. Even my mechanic told me that it was on death’s door.

The van wasn’t much, but I still had no interest in giving it away. I mean, it might have smelled like old lasagna, but it was still running. I could get something for it. And besides all that, I’m cheap! That’s why I bought an old van in the first place.

God knows I’m cheap. He made me this way. Surely someone else could give them a van. I was mentally having this argument in my mind while Andre continued on with his world-changing plea in that beautiful accent and finally I blurted out what I should have said right from the beginning, “I think God wants me to give you my van. I want to give you my van.”

Andre was elated. I was terrified. I knew I had done exactly what God wanted me to do and I knew that God always takes care of His kids and we can always trust Him, and yet, the selfish part of me wondered if I had just made a huge mistake.

Fast forward a few weeks later. My family is back in Georgia and recovering from the emotional and physical trauma that results from an interstate move with small kids in tow. We sold our remaining car to free up some cash until we closed on our house, so for the first time in our marriage, we didn’t own a car. I was borrowing a car from my parents.

There were many moments during those trying weeks of transition while we were sleeping on air mattresses and driving around in a crowded, borrowed car when I was silently venting my frustration to God. I remember thinking, “Lord, why on earth did you have me give that van away? We don’t have anything to replace it! Was that really you speaking to me or was it just the burrito I ate the night before?”

It was during one of these venting moments that my phone rang. It was a guy from church named Gary. I didn’t know Gary and his wife, Sue, very well at the time but they were about to change our lives and begin a friendship that would become a permanent source of encouragement to us.

Gary started off the phone conversation by saying, “Hey Dave, this is Gary. Look, I know this might sound pretty crazy. It actually sounds pretty crazy to me. I mean, I’ve never done anything like this before, but I heard your family doesn’t have a vehicle currently and I feel strongly that God is telling me to buy you a brand new van.”

A new van! I didn’t even know they came new. I had been buying used junkers for so long that I didn’t even know new ones were an option!

My mouth was hanging open like I had just seen a spaceship with Elvis Presley waving from a window. I was stunned I was speechless. I felt like God was winking at me and reminding me of that beautiful truth: He will never take anything from you unless He intends to replace it with something better!

In your life, whenever you lose a job, an investment or even a relationship, trust that God will fill that empty space with a great blessing. It won’t always be something you can measure with monetary value, but life’s greatest gifts can’t be bought or sold. The bottom line is this: God is for you, He loves you and His plans for your life are even better than your own plans! 

Below is one of my favorite promises from the Bible as well as a picture of the van in our garage (just in case you thought I was making it up!) If you’d like more inspiration and encouragement, please check out my FREE video on How to Change the World and also Check out our books on Amazon here.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together[m] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28


This van was an unbelievable gift, but it’s not just because of the value or practical function of the vehicle. It was an amazing gift because even long after it’s in a junkyard somewhere, it will serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and provision.