This Lent I am taking you with me on my journey to love people who annoy or anger me. In last week’s post, Rowan Williams, Abba Moses, Hafiz and Jesus invited me to move from judgment to humility and compassion.
I prayed, “Jesus show me how you see the people in my life I can’t stand. How do you want me to love them?”
But when I opened myself to God and thought about a certain person, my anger returned. I wished they were more aware of how their behaviour impacts others. I wondered what I might say to them that they’d be able to hear. They’ve been judged and rejected before and fiercely protect themselves from it happening again. Pointing out how their behaviour affects me would not go well, and I feared what they would do to me if I did.
I hoped that prayer would soften my heart, but instead it underlined my powerlessness and lack of compassion. I couldn’t stop focusing on this person’s brokenness and the damage they were causing. How could I “cover their sin” without being complicit in its outcome?
As I continued to pray, Christ’s compassion did come. It came to me. He knows what it’s like to bear the bruises inflicted by others. I lingered beside him, soaking up his solidarity. Eventually, I recalled him saying, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
With Jesus’ hand resting on my shoulder, this enemy was not so big and frightening anymore. Tenderness stirred, and I found myself letting go of my disappointment that they were not what I’d like them to be. I could also let go of my fear of retaliation.
I felt empowered, freed to live and speak from a place of love.
You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. –-Matthew 5:43-44 (The Message)
Questions for your Lenten pilgrimage:
- What feelings emerge as you ask God to help you love your enemies?
- What have you noticed going on in your life lately that is speaking into that?
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Dr. James Finley is a renowned retreat leader, Merton scholar, therapist and author of Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God, and The Contemplative Heart. In this video, Finley is speaking about “The Peace that Surpasses Understanding.” Following his talk (42:00), a woman in the audience asks a question about dealing with a difficult person. His response has some healthy love mischief in it.