… was the thought I had when I walked past her brand new car. I did not care for her (and that is putting it mildly). Seeing her made my blood run cold. We did not talk much, but we shared an unspoken and evident dislike for each other. She was, for all intents and purposes, my enemy. (In retrospect, I think if she had liked me, I would have liked her fine; but, she did not. I think if someone had lit me on fire, she would have let me burn – that is, if she was not the one who set me on fire in the first place.)
In my teenage mind, I had scores of reasons to hate her. She was passive aggressive. She gossiped about me maliciously. Someone once told me that she and her family would sit around, make fun of me, and laugh at me behind my back. Was that not enough reason to despise her? To talk about her? To retaliate?
According to Scripture (the written word of the God I claimed to serve), none of those reasons were good enough for me to hate her.
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:44-45, ESV).
We are commanded to love our enemies. Love them and pray for them.
Did I spend much time praying for this girl back in the day? I surely did not; but, now I wish I had! Doing so may not have changed how she felt about me, but it would have changed how I felt about her. By changing my heart, I would have treated her more kindly. In treating her more kindly, we may have been able to achieve a cordial relationship.
We never had a cleansing discussion where we openly forgave each other, and I have not seen her in well over a decade; but, in remembering our “relationship,” I am challenged to handle future enemies (should I not be able to avoid making them) differently.
The Cross Between Us, The Anger Behind Us
When we are angry, seething is the most natural response. Sometimes we enjoy dwelling in the bitterness and allowing the hatred grow. To let go of the anger feels like handing over an undeserved free pass to our perpetrator. But, what letting go of the anger does is set us free. Several years ago, a lady from my church advised me to look at anyone I was struggling to forgive through the cross. Because God has forgiven me so much, how can I hold comparatively minor grievances against someone else? God has paid my $1,000,000,000,000,000 sin debt; and, yet, I am willing to hold a grudge towards someone who owes me a comparative $15? It does not make sense, does it?
I do not always remember this lesson, but I am humbled when I do!
Pile On the Blessings
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22, ESV).
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:19-20, ESV).
We free ourselves when we heap blessings (e.g., prayer, kindness, practical help, etc.) on our enemies. Thinking back to those rough teenage days, how could I have blessed my enemy? Prayer, first and foremost. Speaking kindly about her to others. Genuinely complimenting her. Refusing to highlight her insecurities. Offering my help in various situations. Even consistent, warm acknowledgments would have added up over time.
The beautiful truth about praying for our enemies is that we cannot pray for someone and continue to hate them. Have you ever prayed consistently for an enemy only to feel your hatred melt and your compassion increase?
Though I did not pray consistently, when I did pray for this young lady, I felt less anger and more compassion. I was reminded of hardships which probably led to her actions. I realized she was just like me – an insecure girl wanting to be loved and accepted.
If I could go back in time, I hope I would choose to pile on the blessings. By blessing her, I would have also blessed myself (even though that is not the ultimate goal).
Create a Beautiful Heritage
Leaving a legacy of forgiveness will be a major blessing to your children. My mom is a forgiver, but it did not come naturally. She has prayed fervently to become one.
I recall when a neighbor came over and cursed her out over a matter. I was grown and gone, but I wanted to return with an aluminum bat to “gently remind” him how much I did not appreciate his inappropriate confrontation. My dad, the docile one, did verbally tell him that he would not tolerate that kind of disrespect. (I was so proud of him for standing up for her.)
My mom had a different response. She bought him a gift and dropped it at his door with an apology note. Even though he responded harshly, she decided to take responsibility for the issue that made him so angry in the first place. She heaped hot coals on his head. More than winning any argument, she wants this man to know Christ. Her response showed the Holy Spirit at work in her life and I was proud of her too. It is a lesson that sticks with me.
Through various circumstances, she has created a heritage of forgiveness for which I am deeply thankful.
Who are your enemies?
Why are they your enemies? Can a relationship be restored?
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV)
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, people choose to dismiss us. What can you do for those people? How can you bless them? How might your life change if you chose to bless them? How will your decision to bless them change your other relationships?
To be sure, hatred does not stay contained. After eating us alive on the inside, it begins to affect our faces, our words, our actions, and even our worldviews. Unresolved hatred pours over into other areas of our lives and affects our relationships. Before taking a spouse, take a look at your heart. Is there unforgiveness there? If so, bless your future spouse by dealing with your unresolved anger and forgiving those who have wronged you before you get married.
How will you bless your enemies this week, month, and year?