On Loving Porcupines and Prickly People ~

 “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”  
I Corinthians 13:7-8a

What do porcupines and prickly people have in common?  They need determined, creative, risk-taking people in their lives who are willing to reach out despite their outward appearance.  Porcupines are known, not only for their daunting quills, but many believe they shoot them at anything that comes its way.  (The truth is, they do not/cannot shoot their quills but apparently will spray a noxious stink that will deter most intruders.)  People and other animals DO get pricked by their quills when they get too close!.  Prickly people, on the other hand, are not equipped with outward barbs but their body language seems to send out a stink that warns:

Do Not Touch!
Stay Away!
Don’t Even Try . . . .

In other words, porcupines and prickly people (can’t we all be included in that category at one time or another?) need the steadfast love and mercy of Christ. Before discussing  insights into how you can love the prickly people in your life, I invite you to watch a  small miracle I found online that demonstrates creative, intentionally applied, risk-taking love to (of all creatures) porcupines!  Personally, I have always thought of porcupines as cute and wistful.  We see them mostly alone (for obvious reasons!) and at first glance they appear to be fine with their singular status.  However, what we “read” outwardly about porcupines (and people) can be deceptive.  Hit the following link to observe a little fellow named “Stinkers” on the receiving-end of creative, intentionally applied, risk-taking outreach:

Picture of Porcupine by J. Roberts
Picture of Porcupine by J. Roberts

Do you see what I mean?  Bridging the obstacles of those outward prickles made for a delightful encounter! It is a skill each of us needs to think about if we are to honor God’s command to, “Love your neighbor.” 

How can we apply this example to prickly people? I gained insight into this challenge when we still had three teenagers living in our home.  (Let’s face it, trying to love a prickly teen can can be very daunting!)  Ross Campbell’s book, How To Really Love Your Teenager  helped me come to terms with MY side of the problem. There is nothing wrong with self-protection (note the gloves the young woman wore to reach out to Stinkers!)  However, when we form our own barbs to guard against getting hurt by the one we are supposed to love, we no longer reach out in the love and mercy of Christ.  Instead, we actually compound the problem!

Campbell suggests breaking down those barriers through intentional light touch.  I started by putting my hand on the shoulder of our prickly teen as I put food on the table.  I then looked for other creative ways to love that teen as I became more willing to risk the occasional barb that got through.  The big moment came when I had to address a problem.  Instead of distancing myself to avoid the potential barb, I sat down next to that teen, listened to what they had to say, put my hand on their forearm and then prayed:

Thank you Father for _____”s life.  Thank You for the privilege it is to be their mom and for loving both of us as You do.  Help me Father to be the mom _____ needs to help them become all that You intended.  Please work in both of our hearts Lord, so that we will honor You in what we say and do.  Amen

The thing I remember most about that encounter was that when I thanked God for that teen and asked God’s blessing on both of us, the barbs of self-protection on both sides of our relationship came down!  

I have since learned to love the prickly people I encounter in ordinary life as well those I meet in the Counseling Room with what I refer to as “broad-spectrum love.”

Broad-spectrum love is rooted in God and is therefore sacrificial. 

Broad-spectrum love listens and prays for the neighbor who is obviously hurting.  It is intentional and patient, in respecting the boundaries of the other while praying for the walls to eventually come down.

Because loving sacrificially and creatively is a God-thing, the Scriptures are very instructive:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
I John 4:10 & 16
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
 Philippians 2:3
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  
Ephesians 5:21
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 
John 15:13

As God has worked in my heart I have learned to not be intimidated by the prickly exterior of others.  Truthfully, part of me actually enjoys the challenge of prayerfully penetrating the prickles with the love of Christ Jesus.  If there are such people in your life whose prickles cause you to prickle (!?)–don’t run . . . PRAY!  Trust God to provide all you need to love that other person in His stead and be blessed!

All to His Glory!  


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