March 14, 2021
I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. ~ Luke 6:27-28
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. ~Martin Luther King Jr.
When Jennifer and I moved to Meeker, Colorado, we were young newlyweds, madly in love with one another and with our new hometown. We enjoyed exploring mountain lakes and creeks in the Flat Top Wilderness, eating Friday Night Fajitas at the Last Chance Cafe, and getting to know our new neighbors. All was well with our souls.
Maybe it is inevitable, but after a honeymoon for a couple of years we ended up with an enemy in a high place within the school system we worked for. “Enemy” seems like such a harsh, vile, and caustic word. We want to be loving, caring people, so it can be hard to admit we have a nemesis.
Henri Nouwen writes, “What is an enemy? An enemy is someone we have defined as being against us, in contrast with those who are for us.” Nouwen says we have a strange need to divide our world into two groups: friends and enemies. “We define our enemies, and they are there to define us.”
Jennifer’s and my common adversary made life difficult and sometimes miserable for us as teachers. We could not get funds for required workshops, we received negative reviews, and we had our teaching contracts held up. We did our part to make our combatant’s job difficult as well. Jennifer eventually resigned. Once I got called in to this administrator’s office for “smirking” at her during a staff meeting. It was not good on the administrator’s part or mine either. It is safe to say, “We were enemies.”
“Enemies have power over us. We think about them almost constantly and are not free,” writes Nouwen. Jennifer and I found ourselves obsessing on this person. We would go out to eat and all our conversations would end up being about our antagonist. We would go to a party with friends and all of us would talk about our common enemy and work ourselves into a frenzy. No matter where we went or what we did, we could not escape. Our foe was always a dark presence in our thoughts.
How do we respond to our enemies?
Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” (Luke 6:27-28) Is there any command from Jesus more difficult to follow and more frequently dismissed as impossible than his command for us to love our enemies? Martin Luther King Jr., who loved his enemies, says, “Jesus meant every word. Our responsibility as people of faith is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.”
“Loving our enemies is the core of the Christian message and the challenge that Jesus presents to us,” says Nouwen. It is far easier to accept God’s grace for us and our friends than our enemies. God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Luke 6:35) God “sends down rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) God’s love does not discriminate. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” says Martin Luther King Jr.
So, how do we start the process of loving our enemies?
First, we can pray for them. “Pray for those who treat you badly”. (Luke 6:28). Our resentment, negativity, or hatred for a person lives mostly in our thoughts, our head. In a heart prayer, we move that person literally from our head space into our heart space says Father Richard Rohr. Just hold them in our heart. Is this what it means to pray for someone? “Love lives and thrives in the heart space.”
The second thing we can do is simple acts of kindness for the people with whom we have a hard time with. “Do good for those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27) We can say hello to them when we see them in the street or at the grocery store. We can offer them a silent blessing. We can ask how they and their family are doing. We can give them a sincere compliment. Nouwen suggests, “We must not wait until we feel good about doing something before we do it. Do it anyway. This is acting ahead of our feelings, and that is where healing comes from.” Let the knowledge of God’s love for this person and for us direct our actions.
“We let our enemies go when we start loving them and caring for them,” say Nouwen. God’s grace heals, mends, and restores us and hate usually destroys us or at the very least makes us miserable. We have a real incentive to learn to love our enemies. Rohr says, “The command to love our enemies is an absolute necessity for our survival.” Amen. The road of hatred is not working out too well, and it never will.
At some point during our time in Meeker, the anger consumed us. Jennifer, after much internal work, fed up and tired from carrying such a heavy burden, walked into the administrator’s office, held out her arms, and the two enemies embraced each other heart-to-heart. One child of God holding another child of God. The tears flowed and the healing began. Life began anew.
“Love your enemies,” says Jesus. I am sure he knows how difficult this is, but it offers us a way forward. Let us live free from the power we give our enemies, so we can live with light hearts and let the restoration begin.
Blessings and peace,
Note: If you would like more information on the Heart Prayer read “Immortal Diamond” by Richard Rohr, pp. 203-205. Or give me a call or email and we can talk about it more.