When I first read the command to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, I thought I must have the wrong version of the Bible. Someone must have changed some parts of my Bible, because loving someone who causes you pain just did not seem even possible, let alone reasonable. I wanted it to read that I was to hate the people who teased and taunted me unmercifully, and my prayer should be, “Please give me the strength and skill to inflict as much pain as is inflicted on me!”
But, that’s not what it says, so I have struggled mightily to meet this requirement of the Christian life. As a female, I am already seen as weak, and loving people who, in my mind anyway, deserved to be hated made me feel even weaker. But, I have worked hard over the years to obey the Lord, for the other part of the Scripture says in Matthew 5: 45, “In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
It took me a long time to understand that in loving and praying for insensitive and hurtful people, we can overcome evil by doing something good. Evil is not going away any time soon, as evidenced on a daily basis in the mass media, but because I trust that God knows what he is doing and that He knows the outcome of meeting evil with good, I simply surrender my natural desire to hate to God, asking Him to fill my heart with the kind of love that allows me to meet His requirements.
The subsequent flooding of my heart with a version of love that I did not know existed has freed me from the physical, mental, and emotional costs of hating other people. But, even more important, it has given me the ability to forgive in ways that allowed me to take back my power, and not let others control my emotions by their actions. I feel freer, not weighed down by constant thoughts of retribution and revenge against people. I leave both to God.
In August 2009, I came face-to-face for the first time with the guy who beat me nearly every day when I was a teenager and who eventually had put me in the hospital. He was in a wheelchair, having lost a leg to diabetes. He was delivering liquor to people to earn a living. He spoke to me, telling me that my smile was still beautiful, and that he had heard that I was Dr. Regina now. I just asked how he was, and when he said he was fine, I said something like, “That’s good.” I did not lie and say that it was good to see him, but as I walked away, I must admit that I thought of the words of Romans 12:19, “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.”
My best friend told me to ask him why he used to beat on me. But I said, “No! I took my power back years ago.” I had long forgiven him, because while I was experiencing mental problems over the abuse years later, he was peacefully going about his days never even thinking of me. Forgiving him in absentia freed me and gave me back my sanity and allowed me to see myself as valuable and of worth, so I did not need to ask him anything. The why was just not important any more.
Yes, it is hard to love and pray for people who hurt you, but as people of God we must make the effort, for God the Father expects it of us. It can be tricky, because we seem to have a natural instinct to hate and want to repay ourselves. So, we must constantly ask God for the kind of love that allows us to forgive people and then pray that they may find peace enough in their lives to change their behaviors. Love that defeats our natural tendency to hate can only come for on High. It cannot originate in a broken world where hate daily destroys lives and dreams. I am a living witness that you can master the skills of unconditional love, through faith and trust in God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I admit that it’s tricky trying to love some people. I have to continuously remember that you require of us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Thankfully, this kind of love is available from You. I just think of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary asking You to forgive the people crucifying Him because they did not know what they were doing. Through the Holy Spirit, that same level of forgiveness and love resides in me. Hallelujah! In Jesus’s Name, I pray. Amen.