Love your enemies; I am reading the Scriptures set for this Sunday, the Gospel begins with those exact words. Love your enemies. I have to pause to think about the word enemies, it is such a strong word, there are people I disagree with, but they are not my enemies, I would certainly hesitate to name them as such. There are people who have hurt me, sometimes deeply, but again, I am not sure I would name them as enemies either. My life is not threatened, nor my livelihood, enemy conjures up for me images of war, destruction and violence, I have experienced little of any of that in my lifetime.
Love your enemies, love, once again a strong word, do I seek to love those who have hurt me, who I disagree with? Maybe the latter is easier, I can disagree but seek to love, but those who have hurt me, what do I do with them? I don’t hate them exactly, but I don’t love them either, and I certainly don’t go out of my way to spend time with them, so how do I love these folk? Is there a difference between like and love. Maybe loving them is to wish the best for them without necessarily having to agree, and without denying the hurt or pain that you still live with, maybe that level of letting go is where forgiveness begins.
In some sense I suspect that we all live with this on an ongoing basis, life is about living, learning, letting go, and choosing forgiveness and even love, sometimes over and over again. That can be costly and deeply challenging. Events and memories often trigger the need to let go all over again!
So, loving and forgiving and living are all part of life’s challenges in this world where nothing is perfect they are so necessary, and definitely things we need to grapple with. As for enemies, I am still pondering that word, because I find that the enemies I struggle with the most are the voices inside my head, my own thoughts can be much more destructive and can wreak a greater havoc in my life than any other force, circumstance or human being can, how then do I befriend, and come to love these voices, and how do I begin the journey of forgiving myself for what they are accusing me of?
Maybe the inner and outer enemies/ detractors need the same treatment, maybe the key is to understand and accept the deep complexity of life, the fact that none of us ever get everything right, and that most people don’t set out to hurt one another ( obviously there are exceptions), but life itself can be tough to navigate, we all have our own stories. Maybe what we also need is to drop the belief that we should be fine, or okay, and flourishing, that we should have good news stories to tell, an endless Facebook feed of smiling selfies! Learning to love ourselves can of course be one of our greatest challenges.
I have to ponder that sometimes I make enemies of others because of the way that I perceive that they perceive me. Read that again! I have to ponder that sometimes I make enemies of others because of the way that I perceive that they perceive me. I have conversations in my head, conversations where I am usually the bad guy in other peoples thinking, or where I believe that I am being criticised when the reality is that I am not.
The gospel goes on to challenge us to be generous, to give away your coat, to go the extra mile, all of which were deeply subversive acts, and much like the act of forgiveness they are about reclaiming your own power in some way. To give more than is demanded is an act of generosity in the face of a demanding world, and possibly oppressive culture, to give yourself more, may need thinking through at a much deeper level and may involve asking what it is that you really need, over reaching for a quick fix of some kind.
Finally we are told not to judge, don’t judge, don’t assume you know others motives, don’t hold a grudge, forgive, let go, be kind, be gracious. Live in love with yourself, and with others…
When Jesus gave us the parable of the prodigal son he made a point of saying that the father forgave the son unconditionally. I take from that the fact that God forgives us unconditionally. We have no reason to live with perpetual guilt or feeling of condemnation, because we are accepted by God just as we are. Furthermore it is as though God forgives us and forgets the sin, error or stupidity. This is amazing love and that fact never ceases to amaze me!
Now we live in a world where we may be motivated to forgive, but to do so would put other people at risk – I am thinking of murderers, paedophiles, abusers etc. where I feel I should forgive, but remember the offence and treat the perpetrator accordingly. So God forgives and forgets, we forgive but remember. I have struggled with this and have decided that there has to be a difference between motivation and practice, our love for others must be conditional, and God expects us to forgive and remember the offence.
Does this apply to forgiving ourselves? Suggest it probably is: In our inner life there are times when we know we are forgiven but it is probably a good idea to remember where we went wrong, so we will not do the same again.
So here is the big question – Is this right! I wish I knew!