One of Jesus’ most difficult teachings is to love your enemies. It seems so contrary to wisdom or nature to do so. While we may find it possible to love enemies at a distance, loving someone who has just done something mean to us can seem really hard. And why should we try to love them when it might just be easier to avoid them?
One thing I’ve discovered is that if you love someone, it is impossible to fear them at the same time. It becomes much easier to deal effectively with a challenging person when you aren’t afraid of them. Loving an enemy means, to me, to try to understand their motivation, their needs, and to see how much alike we may be under the surface. Have you found it true, that the people that rub you wrong seem to have some of the same personality challenges that you do? This gives you a special “in” to find out their true needs and help to meet them. This saves you from the collateral damage of their frustrations. And loving them means looking beyond their motivations and needs to find the pure essence of how God made them. It is seeing the little child they originally were, who is innocent, pure, undamaged, and open to love.
So often we fear because we think something we value will be taken away from us. Maybe we fear losing a material thing or our status in a group or it may be a way we think about ourselves or it may simply be love, itself. One way to deal with this fear is to imagine letting the thing go that we fear to lose and then finding out that we can’t lose it after all.
Jesus gave us quite a few ways to do this by suggesting surprising actions to take when others have offended us, or pushed us out of our comfort zone, or made unreasonable demands of us, or misused us. Things like giving someone our coat when they have sued us and taken the shirt off our back, walking a second mile with them when they require us to go out of our way to do the first mile, loaning our stuff and not asking for it back, paying taxes even when we are exempt. These are all practical ways to love our enemies. In fact, it helps us stop thinking of others as enemies any longer. We put ourselves back in the driver’s seat when we choose to give more than was asked of us. When this giving is done by choice and without resentment it will keep us out of the tentacles of enemy thinking.
And of course, Jesus put this message to the ultimate test by actually giving up his work, his reputation, his justice, his physical comfort, and even his life to those who were trying to take it away. He even took a moment to heal the ear of a soldier that was damaged while taking Jesus away to be crucified. Yet, Jesus got everything back, as if to say, “If God gives me this, no one and nothing can take it from me.”
The big lesson for me is realizing that what I have, has been given by God and no one can really take it away. Stuff can be replaced. Reputations are not always accurate. Jesus, the best person ever, had a pretty poor reputation in some circles. Love comes through people but not from people, so if it gets temporarily obstructed in one place, it’s going to find a way around that barrier and get to me anyway. Here’s how James put it, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”James 1:17
I try to remember, through gratitude to God, that everything I have came from Him. He has infinitely great resources of the good He gives and the more I appreciate what I have, the more I am open to receiving. The more I keep the good flowing out to others, the more I keep it coming to me. God isn’t giving more to one than to all, but we are all at varying points in the receiving end. Being willing to share what we have with others helps us to see the boundless nature of all of God’s gifts.
Jesus had a way of teaching us to spread our love nets out further than our own little circle of family and friends. “If you love only those that love you, what thank have you?” he said. Even gang members do that. Stretch a little, he urged us. Get away from being so “me”-centric and think more in terms of “we.”
When I get a poke of fear that I’m about to lose something, either in my personal life or civic life I try to see no enemies. I try to see God’s resources blessing others as presently as the resources that bless me. Pretty soon, I stop even thinking of them as others. There is no more you or they, only us. We are all the recipients of God’s bounty and all as deserving of His love as the rest.
Of course this takes work. Jesus’ immense sacrifice was not easy for him, and our much lesser sacrifices are not usually easy for us. But practice helps this muscle grow and makes our lives more pleasant along the way.
Loving your enemies is hard, but practical. My next blog will cover some of the health benefits of thinking more like Jesus in this regard.