Uncomfortable Love

This post is a contribution to the February Synchroblog “Loving Your Enemies”. Check out the links to all the other contributions to the February Synchroblog listed at end of this piece.

As a follower of Jesus I have to take the instruction to love my enemy seriously.

The biggest problem I have with loving my enemies is that I’m uncomfortable with it.

It doesn’t feel good and it’s hard – really hard – and it’s not fun either.

Sometimes I try to water the instruction down a little and make it more palatable.

I say to myself “loving your enemies doesn’t mean that you feel all warm and fuzzy about them” or “loving your enemies doesn’t mean you have to invite them over for dinner” or “loving your enemies is a process” or “you don’t have to love your enemies the same way you love your friends”

And while all of those things may be true I don’t know that grabbing on to disclaimers gets me any closer to loving my enemies.

Other times I declare, “I don’t have any enemies!” because if I don’t have any enemies I don’t have to worry about loving them – but we all have experienced being hurt by someone and enemies come in many different forms.

And finally, if I get really honest with myself, I want to know how far forgiveness and love have to go.  What does it mean to love my enemy? What does that actively look like? Does that mean I let people take advantage of me? How does my passion for justice co-exist with compassion for my enemy?

I don’t have a lot of answers but over time I have discovered a few things – some good and some not so good …

sometimes understanding my enemy helps me to love them

unfortunately most of the time loving my enemy doesn’t change them

loving my enemy helps me remain free of bitterness and negativity

loving my enemy takes more strength than hating my enemy

hating my enemy takes more energy than loving my enemy

preparing my response in advance can help me love my enemy

loving my enemy does not mean that I don’t oppose what they do or say or believe

loving my enemy is uncomfortable 99% of the time

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Even with what I know I am almost always constantly just at the edge of chucking the whole idea of loving my enemies but something or someone usually seems to come along to give me a little encouragement to keep on trying.

Sometimes it’s a story like the one of 14-year-old Malala who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and became a remarkable, brave voice for the rights of women.  When Jon Stewart interviewed her he asked her what her reaction had been when she found out that the Taliban wanted to kill her. Her words have taken up a permanent residence in my heart.

“I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well,’ and I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’”

Malala’s story reminds me that loving my enemies is about aspiring to something good and right. That loving my enemies promotes peace and goodness for all.  That loving my enemies does not mean I am weak but takes all of my strength and courage.

But if I’m honest I have to admit that there are days when nothing inspires me.

Some days I just feel tired and weak.

On those days, when I can’t find any sane reason to keep on loving my enemies, when I am crushed by those who seem to be the most unloving and unkind, when I feel the weight of fear and anger becoming heavier than hope and love, when I am wrestling with what it means to stand up for the oppressed and at the same time to love the oppressors … on those days I utter the only line I can remember from a prayer penned by a Serbian priest during World War II …

 “Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.”

The words come from a prayer written by St. Nicolai of Ochrid, a Serbian priest, who was arrested by the Nazi’s during World War II. As the story goes he was betrayed by a fellow priest. As he sat in prison, anger began to consume him, leading him eventually to pen these words:


Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

What helps you to practice the uncomfortable act of loving your enemies?  

Here are more blog posts about Loving Your Enemies:

It’s a new year and time to make some new mistakes

This post is part of the January 2014 Synchroblog: New Beginnings. You will find a list of links to all the synchroblog posts for the month at the end of this post. neil-gaiman-quote

It’s a new year, a fresh start, a blank slate, a second chance, a new opportunity.

The future is yours, the possibilities are endless, a place where dreams can come true.

So, what are you going to do with it?

Me?

I’m going to make some new mistakes!

That may not sound like a very good plan for the new year at first glance because we usually think of mistakes as something we want to avoid – as something that indicates failure.  But Neil Gaiman turns the idea of making mistakes on it’s head and encourages us to see mistakes in a different light.

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After all, it’s usually the fear of failure that keeps us from trying something new – from being our real self – from creating – from making something happen!

Gaiman challenges us to let go of those fears and be willing to take a few lumps because of the possibilities that await us – to be willing to get knocked down in the pursuit of making a difference – to take a chance of looking a little foolish for the sake of possibly finding our purpose.

So, yeah, I’m planning on making some new mistakes in 2013.

Will you join me?

Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Jen Bradbury – Enough

Abbie Watters – New Beginnings

Cara Strickland – Bursting

Carol Kuniholm – Acorns, King, Beloved Community

Done With Religion - A New Year, A New Beginning

Kelly Stanley – A Blank Canvas

Glenn Hager – Overcoming The Biggest Obstacle To Reaching Your Goals

Dave Criddle – Get Some New Thinking

David Derbyshire – Changed Priorities Ahead

J A Carter – The Year of Reading Scripture for the First Time

Damon - New Beginnings: Consider These 5 Questions Before Tying The Knot

Jeffrey Kranz – Where To Start Reading The Bible

Joanna990 – On survival – my one word for 2014

K W Leslie – Atonement

Happy - my One Word 365 surprise

Michelle Moseley – Ends and Beginnings

Matthew Bryant – A New Creation

Liz Dyer - It’s a new year and time to make some new mistakes

Edwin Pastor Fedex Aldrich – Foreclosed: The beginning of a new dream

Jennifer Clark Tinker – Starting a New Year Presently

Loveday Anyim – New Year New Resolutions

Loveday Anyim – New Year Resolution Dreamers

Loveday Anyim – New Year Resolution Specialists

Loveday Anyin - New Year Resolution Planners and Achievers

Jeremy Myers – Publish Your Book with Redeeming Press

Amy Hetland – New Beginnings

Phil Lancaster - New Beginnings

Mallory Pickering - Something Old, Something New

Margaret Boelman - The Other Side of Grief

Kathy Escobar – One Image

25 Favorite Songs of 2013

Music Collage

Here’s 25 of my favorite songs from 2013. They are in no particular order.

I’m certain I probably left something significant off the list. 

 

Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Treasure by Bruno Mars

Just Give Me A Reason by Pink & Nate Ruess

 

Wake Me Up by Avicii

Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus

 

Royals by Lorde

Say Something by A Great Big World

https://soundcloud.com/mollie-walker-1/a-great-big-world-say

Hold On, We’re Going Home by Drake

Get Lucky by Daft Punk

https://soundcloud.com/ibrababa/daft-punk-get-lucky

Same Love by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert

Mama’s Broken Heart by Miranda Lambert

 

Love Me Again by John Newman

Brave by Sara Bareilles

When I Was Your Man by Bruno Mars

Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke

 

Work B**ch by Britney Spears

Clarity by Zedd

https://soundcloud.com/jpedm/zedd-clarity-feat-foxes

I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift

Demons by Imagine Dragons

All Your Life by The Band Perry

Story of My Life by One Direction

Counting Stars by One Republic

Timber by Ke$ha & Pitbull

The Monster by Eminem featurning Rhianna

https://soundcloud.com/djvip510/eminem-the-monster-feat

Don’t You Worry Child

Advent 2013: The Way Home

This post is part of The December Synchroblog and part of Christine Sine’s annual Advent synchroblog, both of which invite bloggers to reflect on the idea of “coming home” and what that means to them during the season of Advent. The bloggers who participate will be listed at the bottom of this post for you as they become available. 

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The word “home” brings to mind a feeling that is hard to describe … it has to do with belonging and being loved and relaxed and letting one’s guard down and feeling safe. Sometimes home is found in a particular place such as a state or a city or a house, and other times it is found in the company of others or in a particular activity such as painting or riding a horse.

When my son comes home from college and we give each other a great big hug that lasts 10 or 15 seconds I get the feeling that I’ve found my way home. At times I experience that “coming home” feeling when I realize that someone “gets me”.  Other times I feel like I am home when I hear a particular song or am in the process of creating or when I’m hanging out with friends.  And sometimes I find my way home in a simple act of giving or listening or helping.

Whether the feeling of home is brought about by people, places or activities it is a blessing that is like a deep, refreshing breath for our souls … it feels right and there is a lightness that occurs within.

Thinking about the holidays and home reminds me of the sermon “Are You Going Home For Christmas?” by Frederick Buechner in which he talks about what it means to be truly home.

“I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves.

I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it … I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.”

May we all find our way home during this season of Advent by spreading love and kindness wherever we go.

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check out the other synchrobloggers

 

Quotes Worth Repeating: Be Faithful By Being Yourself

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“I thought that being faithful was about becoming someone other than who I was … and it was not until this project failed that I began to wonder if my human wholeness might be more useful to God than my exhausting goodness.” – Barbara Brown Taylor in “Leaving Church” 

Stages of Faith and Beauty in the Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have done a rewrite so I could post it today as a contribution to the November Synchroblog: “Faith Stories”

walkingdesert2_thumb

Over the years my faith has changed significantly – as I believe it should. For many years my faith was mostly about ascribing to a list of beliefs that were non-negotiable. Today my faith is more about living into the way of Jesus which mostly ends up being about loving others.

When I first started having questions and doubts about “the list” of non-negotiables I was really thrown off balance but over time I have become pretty comfortable with having more questions than answers and embracing the mystery of God.  I no longer believe that changing my mind about some faith related issue is evidence of a weak faith or being an immature Christian.  In fact, I ascribe to the idea that an active, vibrant life of faith will often lead to stages of faith that are filled with questions and doubts (see stage 4 in the chart below) which can lead to wonderful revelation and transformation (stages 5 & 6 in the chart) that always seemed out of reach in the midst of being so certain about everything. [1]

nextreformation.com wp admin resources stages of faith.pdf

These days I assume that I am surely wrong about a multitude of things that I believe at any given moment. However, that doesn’t stop me from living out my faith with conviction and passion. Instead, it imbibes me with a dose of humility that keeps me from feeling like the world has ended if I happen to discover that what I thought was true doesn’t hold up under serious study, thought, prayer and scrutiny.

One of the things that I have a significantly different perspective about these days is suffering … or “the wilderness” as it is often referred to by Christians.

“The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” - Nancy Wynne Newhall

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

[1] If you want to explore more about the stages of faith:

Read these three excellent blog posts about Stages in the Life of Faith  herehere and here which may lead you to read the book: The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg & Robert A. Guelich

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Check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog: