One of the biggest surprises that adult life has brought me is the fact that I have enemies. I’m not talking about the devil or even people who find me annoying. I am talking about bona fide enemies who actively wish me harm or who for reasons of their own, hate me. Another surprise that adult life brought my way is how easy it is to hate them back.
Hatred is a bleak desert of an emotion. And it pretty much always leads to despair. After all, no life springs forth from the kind of hatred one feels towards someone similarly inclined towards oneself. And because we know that we aren’t ‘supposed’ to hate or hold grudges, we try to maneuver our emotions around the pit. We lie to ourselves by tamping down the bitterness and praying for the wretches. Or we are nice to their face while holding little coals of condemnation in our hearts.
Because our enemies deserve it. Every last one of them. But eventually the Holy Spirit nudges, suggests, or outright convicts our hearts and we are given the task of accomplishing the impossible. I’m pretty sure the injunction to Be ye perfect as He is perfect includes a Christ-like love of those who have betrayed us, unjustly accused us, or just simply done us wrong.
And that is where the effort begins. We try to lug up the weight of the injustice we suffered at their hands and force our emotions into contortions that mimic the right feelings. You know, the ones that we are ‘supposed’ to feel in our saint-like prayer trances as we strain to incarnate Jesus into our everyday lives.
My first efforts at loving my enemies involved a lot of being fake. I would smile wide to indicate that I was being nice. This let them know that if they were aggressive in any way, it was on them. I was the good one. Sometimes they would smile back and then, smiling done, we would scurry back to our factions and complain about each other.
The sermons I listened to handed me a conundrum. Preachers generally indicated that I couldn’t do it, but Jesus had to do it through me. Mysteries abounded. How do I get Jesus to love my enemies through me when I really hate them? In fact, how do I get Jesus to do anything? I had read too many books on prayer and was jaded when it came to making Jesus do anything.
So my pursuit of practical theology began. So here is the truth about loving your enemy. It is a fight from beginning to end, but it is a battle worth engaging in. The basic steps to how I approach loving my enemy are not a quick fix but a determined course of actions that lead to loving your enemy.
- Confession. Confession. And more confession. I can’t emphasize this enough. When I have been in the midst of terrible situations or even just difficult circumstances, I get flooded with negative emotions. Confession isn’t saying how bad you are. Confession is just saying who you are. So every single time I felt the fury begin to build, the frustration, or even just the judgmental attitude, I would confess it.
How to confess? Just tell Him about it. I learned to be pretty truthful. “Jesus, I hate this person. You saw what they did to me. I am so angry, if I spit on the lawn, the grass would die.” Lay it on out there. You aren’t fooling anyone anyway.
- Submission. Did I mention submission? This is my least favorite part. But listen. Do you want to be free? Because in my humble opinion, hatred and unforgiveness look a lot like bondage. I can’t find many situations that got better or people that got happy because of hatred. So how to submit? Simple. Say the words, “I give this all to You, Jesus. You are God of all this mess and of me.”
Oh and if it doesn’t stick, try it again. Confess, submit, confess, submit. I had a situation that went on for several years. This person just got under my skin like no other. They hurt my feelings; they betrayed my trust. And my life was so arranged that I could not avoid them. So I literally went through this process for several years. Sometimes it was just once or twice a week. No biggie. Sometimes it was fifty times a day. But if you want to love your enemy, you have got to do what it takes.
- Reframe the picture. Sometimes our emotions cloud our perspective. I don’t mean that emotions are wrong, but the picture they project on the walls of our minds can be inaccurate. What helped me with one particular enemy was to think of them as a mosquito rather than Mothra. We tend to make monsters of our enemies. And sometimes they are. But sometimes they are just people who are less frightening than frightened.
Even my ex-husband, who treated my daughters and I monstrously, is no longer a monster in my eyes. He isn’t safe by any means, but now I see him through Jesus’ eyes as a man suffering from a crushing burden of sin and mental illness.
- Trust God to do the rest. If you confess and repent, are careful to hold your heart open to whatever truth God has for you in this situation, your job is done. He may call you to serve them in some way or He may not. There is no blanket solution that fixes all bad situations. Sometimes He has turned my enemies into friends. Sometimes He has protected me from my enemies. And sometimes, He lets the situation linger.
Either way, if your heart is free of grudges, bitterness, and wrath, then there is room for love. The truth sets us free, but love gives us the power to move in tune with God. Our enemies are usually just plain old people, deceived by the same things we often struggle with. Not always, but mostly.
Just remember that loving someone does not mean allowing them to hurt you. Even Jesus kept Himself save until it was time for Him to give Himself over to be crucified. And if someone has hurt you, is currently hurting you, and has future plans to harm you, keep this Bible verse in mind.
It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you.
2 Thessalonians 1:6
Not all enemies repent, and some are truly the sons (or daughters) of perdition. Evil does exist. But God, who has forgiven us who were once at enmity with Him, has the grace we need to extend towards those who would harm us. This doesn’t mean we ought to put ourselves in harm’s way. But you may have noticed that life has a way of turning things upside down once in a while.
Releasing our enemies from our hatred and bitterness may have no effect on them. But in the end, your life isn’t about them and their choices. That is unless you make your life about them. Your life is about loving God and loving others as yourself. And freeing yourself from the emotional clutches of all that ill feeling will reverberate throughout your life. Someone will bear witness and be moved by the love and freedom you enjoy in the presence of the living God.
Want to know what is missing in our churches? This:
If you want to be free, here’s a biblical how-to that goes seriously in depth. Not just a book of shoulds but a book of how: