Jesus is reported to have said a lot of things that are difficult to understand. One of them is this…to pray for your enemies and those who “despitefully” use you. When I read that when I was younger, I thought, “Yeah….right!” It didn’t make a lot of sense.
Then several years ago I got caught in a downsizing situation that was very difficult. There were some individuals involved in those decisions that I blamed…that I didn’t like. Actually, it was more than that–I hated them.
But this scripture kept coming to mind. Finally I gave in and told God I would pray for them. I’m sure that sometimes God cringed at my prayers, because sometimes they went something like “Okay, God…you told me to pray for them. So here I am. I don’t know what they need…and I don’t really care. But you take care of them!”
Not very Christ-like…but very real responses to the way I was feeling.
Fortunately I was able to find another job in that institution and to stay long enough for there to be healing and reconciliation.
But these last few weeks, I’ve found myself responding to yet another situation that has involved a lot of my friends losing their jobs…and being hurt and angry. I don’t blame them. That’s a normal–and sometimes healthy–response to what’s happened to them through no fault of their own…as long as they don’t get stuck in that anger.
What I’ve found happening in my own life, though, has been surprising and unexpected.
The situation was beginning to bring back some feelings and emotions from a few years ago. I knew I didn’t want to go back there, but I was really finding myself struggle. And yet…despite my cynicism and anger, I also found myself praying. That in itself wasn’t surprising–but what did surprise me was who I found myself praying for.
The prayers weren’t just for my friends who lost jobs and my friends who were still there but grieving losses, but I also found myself praying for those who had made some of the decisions that brought us to this point…some of whom I had had anger with previously. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure why I was praying for them sometimes, but I kept feeling the need to do so.
And it’s out of those experiences that I’m finding myself getting through this. It doesn’t negate what I believe is a need for significant accountability, but it’s also allowed me to respond more from a position of grace and empathy.
I like the way this scripture is expressed in The Message:
“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. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
We pray for our enemies not just because they need the prayers (they do)–but because of how it changes us as well.