13 minutes | Apr 8, 2020

Chapter 8: Loving Your Enemies Ain't Easy

My friend Karen is one of the happiest, craziest people I’ve ever met. I’ve never had a discussion with her where I didn’t end up feeling better. She is the most free-spirited person I’ve ever known. If there is any person I’d describe as full of joy, it’s her.The truly crazy part about Karen’s story is what an amazing survivor she is. She has endured unspeakable abuse in her life. She was abandoned by her father and abused by her mother’s boyfriends. She ended up marrying an older man, who she thought would protect her. Just a few months into the marriage, he began abusing her too. It started with him sharing their very private intimate videos with strangers online. This betrayal set her up for further exploitation as he transitioned into selling her online.Karen’s escape from her abuser was straight out of a Madea movie. After a year and a half of being abused, she began praying for the power to get away from her husband. She remembers that the complete loneliness was one of the hardest parts and what drove her to pray. She had no family or friends to turn to, because her husband kept her completely isolated from the world.She smirked a little as she recounted her story to me, “I’m not sure if this was an answer to my prayers or just rage, but one day, when he was stoned out of his mind, he hit me. It felt like every ounce of anger I’d ever felt all came together in that moment. I grabbed the iron skillet I was cooking in and I knocked him out.” At this point in the story, she laughed. “I didn’t think I could hit him that hard.”After knocking out her husband, Karen grabbed her social security card and driver’s license then ran several blocks down the road to a payphone where she called a women’s shelter. She remembers panicking because she thought she had killed her husband but also feeling like he was following her. Turns out, her knock-out punch sent him to the hospital long enough for the women in the shelter to relocate her to another state.It’s been twenty-some years since Karen knocked out her husband that morning. It’s hard to believe such a happy person has endured so much abuse. Her journey to becoming the positive woman she is now, hasn’t been an easy one. She went through many trials and traumas along the way which shaped her into a strong, courageous and compassionate advocate for other survivors.Part of the reason she is so free is because of how she has forgiven her abusers, which was no easy task. It took years of counseling, prayer, tears, growth, and strength from God. As Karen grew in her walk with Jesus, she realized more and more how much she did not deserve his love. The closer she grew to him, the more her love for others grew. Eventually, she was even able to extend this love to the people who had hurt her the most.Karen is quick to point out that feelings and the kind of love Jesus taught don’t always go hand in hand. She says, “Sometimes, you just gotta do what’s kind and best even if you don’t feel it.”Nothing tested her resolve in this, like her relationship with her mother.“It wasn’t easy to forgive anyone, but it helped that I could see they were all messed up from drugs and dealing with their own messed up lives. But my mom, she was jealous of me. I was just a kid and she didn’t protect me. How could she be jealous…”Determined not to focus on past hurts, Karen stopped. She knew she would never fully understand why her mother did what she did. Karen chose to focus on remembering that everyone needs to know God’s love. Even the woman who hurt her most.Karen’s journey to forgiving her mother began with sending Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards to her. It took a lot for her to be willing to do even this. She would always pray, “Lord, you know I don’t want to do this. I don’t like my mom. She hurt me deeply and has shown not an ounce of remorse. But you love her. I would like to want to forgive her, but I’m not there yet. Please heal my heart…”Only, Karen admits, her original prayers weren’t worded that nicely. She remembers them being raw, angry, and real. The version she shared with me all these years later was what she calls the PG-13 version. She always laughs about how the unedited original version had a lot more cussin’ in it. She would then say, “It ain’t like anything I was telling God was anything he didn’t already know. He just wanted me to share it with him.”Through many years of doing this, Karen’s heart softened. She realized all her mom was missing out on. She knew her mom was still a victim of constant abuse. Eventually, Karen found out her mom was in a nursing home. All the men her mom had given her body and soul to, through countless affairs, had left her penniless and alone now that she was aging and frail.When Karen visited her mom, she found out no one was helping her bathe. Karen would go in as often as possible and bathe her. At first, her mom wouldn’t look at her. Karen wasn’t sure her mother even recognized her. Then on one visit, her mother began to cry and just say, “I’m sorry baby, I’m sorry,” and “Thank you” over and over.Karen’s mom died soon after that visit. They never had a deep discussion or the kind of reunion you see on a Hallmark movie, but Karen found peace. Karen no longer saw her mother as purely evil; she saw her as a woman who never knew she was worthy of love.Karen’s story perfectly illustrates the completely different way of thinking Jesus called his followers to in Luke 6. Jesus’ way is so completely hard to do that I’m convinced it’s not possible without God’s help.I have been working on “loving” my biggest enemy, who abused a family member. I’m currently at the point of: Usually, I don’t want to retaliate. I kind of feel sorry for him. I pray he changes. I also sometimes pray he gets struck by lightning which God lets me say and helps me work through.So, if you think this next passage is easy to live out, Karen and I both want you to know we don’t think you are reading it right!As Jesus continued his sermon about what it means to be blessed in God’s kingdom, he said:“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 (NIV).The word for love in verse 27 is “agape,” which I’ve mentioned before is a word that isn’t possible for us to fully live out. It is often translated as “love” but sometimes as charity or benevolence. In our humanity, we can’t completely comprehend or live out “agape”. It refers to more than an emotion it is also an act of the will. It is choosing to practice love towards someone.In other words, it is much more than the natural feeling of intensely liking someone who clicks with our personality. Agape has to do with intensely valuing people and seeing their inherent worth. I can choose to imperfectly model “agape” love towards someone even if I don’t feel emotionally attached to them, like in Karen’s story when she wrote cards to her mom. Karen didn’t feel like she loved her mom, but her actions reflected an understanding of God’s “agape” love for her mom.At first, the idea of agape being separate from our feelings may seem like a relief (As in”thank goodness I don’t have to like all the annoying people around me!). But the choice is to something more intense than superficial and transient human feelings. When you think of the person who you resent the most in this world, God doesn’t call you to feel the same kind of love for them that you feel for the person closest to you. He does, however, expect you to see them as a human being with extreme inherent value. He wants you to know that despite all the things you see, God sees more and he still intensely “agapes” them.As a fellow flawed human being, you will never fully live out God’s kind of “agape” love in this world. But the more you understand his intense love for people you don’t like, the more you can grow in choosing to practice this kind of love. This means actively trying to do good things for some people in our lives as we wrestle with not liking them…and yes, hating some of them.Obviously, this takes wisdom too. I don’t believe for a second that “agape” loving other people means you should put yourself back in a situation where you could be abused again. For example, with Karen’s husband, the forgiveness story included praying he would go to prison and never get a chance to abuse another person. It also included praying for God to change him. Karen has forgiven him, but she is never going to reach out to him because she needs to protect herself.Jesus called us to actively seek the best for our enemies, for our sake and theirs. Sometimes, it’s not possible or wise to actively show love to someone who could still abuse us. In those cases, I recommend praying for the person and leaving them in God’s hands. I promise, it’s OK. God can work in people’s lives without our help.Loving ou
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