Category Archives: Forgiveness

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:

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The Woman Forgiven For Adultery (Guest Post by Susan Cottrell)

Note from Liz:

I know a lot of people say “the internet” isolates people from real life and real relationships but my experience continues to prove that wrong. I have made so many wonderful connections and friends online and it continues to happen.

I recently connected with Linda Mueller Robertson after I read her heartbreaking and inspirational piece Learning To Truly Love Our Gay Son in The Huffington Post  and she invited me to join a group she started and that is where I connected with Susan Cottrell. 

Susan is a writer and speaker who also blogs at Freed Hearts. Her and I are both passionate about making the world a better, kinder, gentler and more loving place for lgbt people.  We both live in Texas (a few hours apart) and will be meeting in person later this month (I can’t wait).

Here is a piece that Susan wrote and posted on her blog recently in which she challenges us to look closer at the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman.

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Remember the story of “Jesus Scattering Townspeople and Self-Righteous Men in the Name of Mercy and Justice”? Oh right, you may know it as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” I love that Jesus instantly knew the hearts of everyone involved. I love how Jesus never falls for any of it. I love that He lets her go!

It seems we rarely marvel at the whole picture of what is going on here. Instead – out of the entire story – many focus on Jesus’ parting words, translated, “Go and sin no more.” It’s also been translated to the softer, “Go and leave your life of sin,” but that doesn’t quite get it either. Instead, the translation I learned as a young Christian captures the heart of the situation and Jesus’ heart for people.

Jesus was not admonishing her to go do better, but inviting her to life, to His life. His message to this woman is, in essence: “You don’t have to live this way.” That is, “I offer you so much more than anything you’ve ever known.” This is true for several reasons.

First, let’s take a look at the setting: this woman had just been caught in adultery – most likely by the men who set it up to entrap Jesus (notice the man involved was not also caught). This is certainly not the first time they put their heads together to concoct a plan to bring Him down.

She is dragged out to the public square as an adulteress. Before Jesus. Before the crowd. Naked. Can you simply imagine the shame? I shudder to think of it. She knew that the consequence was to immediately be stoned to death.

Jesus then does the remarkable. Obviously stuck, obviously backed into a corner by these clever men who have succeeded in entrapping Him, Jesus has absolutely no way out. No way. Until He opens His mouth.

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd is stunned. Flummoxed. This is not the way these situations were dealt with… ever. It takes a minute, but slowly the older men and then the younger ones drop their stones and turn away (most likely with guilt of their intended entrapment ringing in their ears, in addition to who-knows-what other skeletons they had hidden away). Only Jesus could have given such a mind-boggling response. Time and again in Scripture, Jesus circumvents their yes-or-no questions and gives an answer they never thought possible.

Then He turns to the woman. “Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Sir.” “Neither do I condemn you.” What?? You don’t? Why not? You have every right to condemn me under the law. Isn’t that what You do? Apparently not. But why not? That is part of the key to the puzzle of His following remark.

If Jesus used “Go and sin no more” as a mandate to go and rid her life of any sinful thought of action, He would have implied some condition, even though it came after her release. Like the policeman who lets you off with a warning might say, “Now, keep your speed down.” (Not that I have personal experience with this one…) The implication is, “I’m going to let you off this time, but don’t push your luck – and get out of here before I change my mind.” (That’s often the feel of, “Go and sin no more.”)

The trouble is, nobody goes and sins no more. Everybody sins and sins and sins. If she had the power to meet her own needs, or rid herself of her own sins, she would not have been tricked into this in the first place. Forget the heart, this interpretation would say. Forget dependence on God and just change your own behavior. But this is a fragmented concept, as if real change comes from the outside in, instead of inside out. Jesus always starts with the inside.

Further, if we think Jesus had to warn the woman in adultery not to do it again, we don’t grasp the situation. I’m pretty sure she got the message right then and there that if by some miracle she did not die on the spot from embarrassment, or from stoning, she would never, ever, no never, get caught in this situation, ever, again. The trouble is not voluntarily choosing to be in that situation again; the question is, how? How do I constantly find myself on the raw end of the deal? Why do I keep letting men like this take advantage of me? Why do I do this over and over again? How in the world do I find a way out from my broken and wounded heart? Anybody so shamed and humiliated would be searching for a way out, vowing never to let this happen again. That was the question Jesus answered! He always answers our real need! For Him to say, “You don’t have to live this way,” was astounding news for this woman! I don’t? She had to ask herself.No, Jesus was telling her, you don’t.

Jesus here makes an offer of deep healing. Jesus offers to make us a new creation, to break the bond of sin and death! He would not reduce his earth-shattering offer of life to a silly throwaway line that simply gives her more of the Pharisee’s lifeless medicine. That sounds more like exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for, rather than reflecting the true, heart-focused Jesus.

“You don’t have to live this way” is consistent with Jesus’ offer to the woman at the well, whom He did not tell to stop living with her boyfriend, but instead offered her so much more than the scraps she was receiving. Likewise, He offers the woman caught in adultery freedom from the likes of these men who set up and expected her execution.

Jesus had compassion on the tenderhearted and showed them their need for Him. He never, ever shamed or humiliated people but instead gave them hope! Jesus soundly chastised only one group in His earthly life: the self-righteous religious leaders. This is the mode throughout His interactions.Come to Me for rest and peace and life – I will give you life. Rules don’t give life; rules produce death. To say, “Stop doing this,” would only heap death upon her shame and humiliation. But Jesus never did that! On the contrary, He heals the brokenhearted, He lifts our head, He offers hope and life.

To reduce Jesus’ words to “Go and sin no more” is to reduce the gravity of sin. It reduces Jesus’ work as some kind of moral cleanup instead of life from death! The only way to convince ourselves we’re able to “go and sin no more” is to reduce sin to something manageable. But Jesus said the very thought of sin is sin. He showed us that our sin is so large, so deeply rooted, and so unmanageable, that the only solution is to recognize that we desperately need Him!

The next time this interpretation is thrown at you as evidence of the seriousness of sin, as if you are not taking sin seriously enough because you don’t tell somebody to stop sinning, I entreat you to pause. Ask Jesus what to say. As hard as it is for humans to grasp a free-and-clear pardon, that is what Jesus offers. Don’t set that down and take up self-reform. Instead, let Him shape you personally, from the inside out, so that the sin areas fall away, replaced by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other attributes only the Spirit can bring. That is what He does!