Love your enemies (do I have to?)

I count myself as someone who has very few enemies. Well, at least those who will admit to my face that they dislike me or those who I personally don’t care for.

Though there is one person, who I had almost forgotten until today, who was a real pain in the past. It was another minister who did a lot of harm in my congregation – saying misleading things about me to former parishioners of his who attended the church I was leading. This pattern of behavior continued into abusive behavior in a church where I had once served and then into our local association where he spread doubts about me, or so I was told by a close friend.

Now this was really weird to me as I had never really talked to this person beyond a formal introduction. We had never dialoged about church, former parishioners, or serving the same congregation – though at different times. We had no relationship and he had no understanding of me that could justify trying to malign me in the sight of others.

Then I heard other unsolicited accounts of him doing the same against other pastors in our area. I felt sad for him – how desperately insecure he must be to have a pattern of putting others down and exalting himself to feel good. How pitiful he was to concoct stories and mislead people, all for the sake of wooing them to like him or continue to feel an affinity for him long after what is considered a reasonable pastor-parishioner relationship had ended.

What a loser. For no reason known to me, he declared me his enemy – and I reciprocated.

Today I received a “prayer chain” email from a church I served while I was a student in seminary. I’m friends with the current pastor and we stay in touch on a number of levels. Many in the congregation know the pastor who sent the prayer request too, as he served this congregation for a short time between my leaving and the current pastor arriving.

The prayer chain contained a heartfelt plea for this man’s daughter-in-law who has just lost a baby in the first trimester of pregnancy because of terrible infection. Her infection is so widespread that her body shut down, nearly to the point of death. Today she began breathing on her own but her condition is anything but stable.

Seeing his name in the first sentence of the email, I almost deleted the message, not wanting to hear his concern. Reading further, the fleeting thought ran through my head that his email was a ruse – a miserable ploy to solicit empathy.

I’m not proud, but that’s what happens when you consider someone your enemy.

If that were the end of the story, I wouldn’t be writing this. I would have packed my pride suitcase and have moved onto the next thing in my day – forgetting all about his email and request for prayer.

But thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story. As I read the plight of this young family – husband, toddler, grandparents, extended family and friends – I couldn’t help but place myself in a similar situation.

I remember when my son Gus was born at 25 weeks and needed three months of hospitalization. I remember a miscarriage 15 months prior to Gus’ birth. I remember my father-in-law dying in a tragic car accident.

At those times and in those places I am certain that hundreds – even thousands – of people were praying for me and my family. We were notified that request for prayer had gone out on prayer chain email and phone networks all around the world.

No doubt among those praying were a few of my enemies.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

When I took a few moments to pray for the needs of this family today – for healing, for excellence in medical care, for the support of friends – I could have prayed begrudgingly or out of duty. Yet somehow I found it in myself to pray for those I’m connected to by a shared humanity and faith.

It’s a stretch sometimes. To back away from pride and hurt and approach another person – even one who has harmed you for no apparent reason – and see the God in them, see the humanity in them, see them for the brokenness that exists in us all.

I doubt that this pastor and I will be friends any time soon. But at least on my account, I’m pretty sure I have one less enemy.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Love your enemies (do I have to?)

  1. This is a very moving statement, Gregg….
    It caused me to think back to my own experience with a church executive who had difficulty looking me in the eyes after he forced the closing of A.D. I saw him frequently in the halls of the Interchurch Center and I decided I would try to “get through” to him, so each time I smiled warmly and said “Good morning,” or some similar greeting, calling him by name. I intended this to break down any barrier he might feel between us. Sadly for me, it didn’t work. Eventually he moved to some other job. He was the only Presbyterian who had responded that way.
    The situation is very different from yours, because I had worked with him over several years and he was not meddling in a congregation. Though my little effort didn’t work, I’m still glad that I tried to demonstrate my willingness to be civil.
    Your essay also reminds me of something that Dag Hammarskjold said in his book (the title of which I’ve now forgotten). He told of failing to help a colleague see that his work was unacceptable and eventually having to fire the man. He scolded himself in the book, saying that the person in a stronger position has a responsibility to help those whom he employs and that he had failed this person. It is a very hard part of leadership and supervision, but I think he was right. I believe his principle has broader implications, too, even for parenting (and grandparenting), and for committee leadership.
    Thanks for introducing this topic, for jogging my memory, and for leading me to your blog posts…
    Mart

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