What is an enemy? I think there are different levels of enemies. Some you despise and given the opportunity would hit with your car. Others are those who for reasons you can’t explain try to do you harm. To me a real enemy is someone who you would be happy if something bad were to happen to them or angry that something good happened to them. That could come in the form or vengeful actions against them or simple apathy and joy at their own demise.
I have to categorize it this way for myself because for a long time I didn’t really consider myself to have enemies. Sure I had people I didn’t like associating with or for one reason or another didn’t like me. But I really didn’t wish to do them any harm, and even felt sorry for their poor outlook on life that caused them to feel like they needed to take it out on me. Then as I thought about my reactions to their misfortune I found I was a happy about it or at the very least didn’t care. “They totaled their car? Good, it’s poetic justice” or “they’re having testing done for cancer? I don’t care”.
It’s sounds so cold and calloused when you say it out loud like that, but isn’t that how many of us feel with our “enemies”? I came to this realization when trying to deal with an individual who for years had worked behind the scenes to bring me down. There was more than one time I found out they had gone to leaders to discuss their view of my low performance. They would gossip to others even going so far as to suggest I be removed from my position. Each time people would fill me on this person’s behavior and I’d respond with “my actions speak for themselves and I will not retaliate. I’m the bigger person.”
But being the bigger person just meant I was making myself holier by not gossiping. The challenge came one day while reading Matthew when Jesus instructs his followers to “pray for your enemies and love those who curse you” (Matt 5:44). Could I do that?
Could I be the better person and not pray for the well being of a person who is trying to undermine everything I do?
I decided to try it. I added it to my new years resolution to pray for them every day. It was painful at first. I didn’t want to pray blessings on a person whom I knew wouldn’t do the same for me. I didn’t want to think about them having wealth, health, and happiness when they were so obviously trying to make my life miserable. But I did it. Even telling God “I don’t want to pray for this person, but I am”.
I kept it up for a few months and eventually came to the point where I didn’t avoid that person anymore. Somehow I didn’t feel any animosity towards them or their ill feelings toward me. I even went so far as to send them a card of encouragement.
It’s amazing how peaceful my own heart became after that. And as I thought about it, maybe Jesus wasn’t telling us to pray for our enemies for their sake, but for our own. Whether the heart of the person you’re praying for actually changes or not is irrelevant. It’s your own heart that changes in that process. It’s self improvement.