You know what? Sometimes ideology is more pleasant when it stays in my head. Take the fourth of July, for instance. I like to talk all day about loving my enemies. Three days later when I open a text suggesting that I do so it makes me want to just scream. The truth is I want to love my theoretical enemies and my hypothetical enemies and my never-interacting-with-my-life enemies. I don’t really want to love the ones I see every day. Thanks, but no thanks.
God won out in the end, and I suppose I’m glad for that. It’s probably really, really good for me to get myself out of the way and love people I’d rather just hate. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it definitely isn’t as easy as I like to crow about when the enemy I’m referencing is more political or theological.
That being said, I have thoughts. I have learned more about this concept in two days than I did for the first twenty two years of my life. Here they are:
1)My enemy is a person. Not a concept or some kind of magical force containing only pure evil. A person. People have problems and pasts and motivations and hurts that I can’t even begin to understand. My enemy is a complex, hurting person who is loved by Christ. Period. I have to stop using pronouns. I have to stop saying ‘us’ and ‘them’ and using other pronouns that mask the fact that enemies have names. Names and stories. Like Madeleine L’Engle taught me, if you name something it goes a long way in helping you understand it. And love it.
2)It matters. It matters that I really love my enemies. And not because I need to set an example or lead them to Christ (although that can be a good reason as well). It matters that I love my enemy because I follow Jesus. Jesus died for His enemies (and that’s me). It matters because, as C.S. Lewis would say “I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin”. When I choose to deny the part of myself that only wants to feel what’s convenient for me or what I see from my perspective, I am able to get closer to Christ. It’s part of shedding this skin of selfishness and arrogance that I hold so tightly (it always comes back to perspective for me). I don’t understand Jesus if I choose to make all my decisions based on my wants and perspectives. And I so desperately want to understand Jesus.
3) Five good phrases. Okay this is the practical one. Take it from an external processor, sometimes we say words we wish we could have back. You don’t get that. The words that spill out because I’m angry or hurt or whatever are real. They can hurt people (they usually do. Because I can be brutal). And then Becky taught me something. When you know a conversation isn’t going to go well, you can be proactive. Pick five phrases (it can be more, whatever) that are uplifting, understanding, and honest. I usually use stuff like “I didn’t mean what I said the way you took it. I’m sorry” or “You matter to me and I don’t want to hurt you” or “Can you help me understand this from your perspective”. That’s all you say. Pick five phrases and, to the farthest extent you can, just say those things. That way you can know you will mean what you say and that you won’t hurt someone more.
4) Preemptive love. I love this idea as foreign policy, but I’m referencing person to person here. Instinct says that I try to hurt you before you can hurt me. The problem with that is the cycle that begins. We keep hurting each other, and pretty soon we forget that we belong to one another. But we do. And we belong to Christ. So, instead of hurting you to defend myself, I actively love you. I lay down my weapons, turn my cheek, and let myself be vulnerable to you. I stop hiding. Hurting you doesn’t make me bigger. I am loved by Christ, and that love is sufficient for everything in my life. In fact it overflows so much that I shouldn’t be able to contain my love for my enemies.
Now, obviously I’m really bad at all of those things. Most days I don’t want that. But I don’t know that I’ve ever been confronted with my sin as clearly as I was this weekend. For someone who talked ad nauseum about enemy love, I was failing dismally. So this is me being honest and getting real about saying I need to be healed.