The smile on my friend’s face as she sat across from me, sipping her Diet Coke, belied the pain of the story she had just shared. It was a story that could have been ripped from a telenovela script: one of betrayal and injustice, with dire implications for her relationships, career, and reputation. Her life had been upended in the short time since our last meeting, but here she sat, recounting the shocking details of her past few months as casually as if she were reporting on the weather.
I was uncharacteristically speechless as I took it all in, but when I’d finally collected my thoughts enough to respond, my first words were: “But what will you do?” Because to my mind, the wrongdoings she had endured required straightening out; those who had harmed her must answer for their cruelties. The situation demanded justice!
My friend’s response was more astonishing than all the salacious details of her recent hardship: “I’m praying for them. Because they are not my enemies. This is a spiritual battle, and I’m fighting it with prayer.”
I was nearly brought to tears by her graciousness, faith, and Kingdom perspective. Where I was seeking retribution and retaliation on behalf of my friend, she was responding to Jesus’ call to pray for her wrongdoers, repaying evil with kindness and substituting gentleness for the bitter anger to which I felt she was entitled.
When I asked my friend how she was able to supernaturally love her adversaries in this way, she admitted the response had not come naturally. When the incident began to unfold, my friend did take action, but not the ones I would have thought to take: she shut off her phone, disabled all of her social media, and holed up in her apartment for several days with nothing but her prayer journal and her Bible. She prayed for the Lord’s guidance and spiritual protection, waging war from her knees. It was through the Lord’s strength and Biblical fortification that she was able to begin loving her adversaries in this way, with a love that flowed freely from an even greater love for the Lord.
The love my friend has displayed in the ongoing drama of her situation is exactly the type of love that Jesus spoke about in Matthew chapter 5. It is a love that extends beyond easy, comfortable love of neighbors who look and act like us, who treat us well and who seem to “deserve” our love in response. This love is the hard kind that does not come easily or naturally. It is a love that butts up against our comforts and innate desire for fairness and nicety. It is a love that won’t look normal or possible to the watching world, because it is an altogether supernatural kind of love. It is a love that (I believe) is impossible to extend without the divine strength of our Father.
When Jesus called His disciples to love their enemies, He added the reminder that they were children of their Father in Heaven. And as His children, created by God and in His image, they had been given hearts embedded with His capacity for unearthly love. They could love this way because He had done it first.
The most recognizable verse in all of Scripture reminds us that “God so loved THE WORLD.” Not “God so loved the deserving people” or “God so loved the good people” or “God so loved the people who were easy to love” . . . No, He loved each and every individual—including the worst of sinners, the evilest of villains, those whose names we shutter to even utter. . . even the ones who would nail His Son to a cross and defame His name. When Jesus invited His followers to step up their love game, He was asking nothing more of them than what had already been modeled by their Heavenly Father in the very embodiment of God the Son.
My friend understands this. She has heeded Jesus’ call to love her enemies, and though her situation has not resolved as I feel it should, she has experienced peace within her trials. Her heart is secure, her integrity is in tact. And I have no doubt she is racking up some serious rewards in Heaven as she honors the Lord in her sacrificial love!
Heavenly Father, you have asked us to love in a way that feels impossible and IS, without your help. But with you, this love is possible. Please help us to respond to your love for us (who are entirely underserving) by walking in your footsteps, bearing your image as we live out generosity, graciousness, and not-easy-but-always-holy love.