One of Jesus’s most recognizable teachings is about loving your enemies and “praying for those who persecute you.”
While this is a wonderful sentiment, it is difficult to put into practice, and I daresay most Christians - myself included - rarely engage in loving their enemies and praying for people who mistreat them.
I am reading a Christian spirituality book right now called Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. Like most Oregonians, he is rather unique, and he seems to have an unusual combination of liberal, progressive ideas about the Christian lifestyle, backdropped against what seems to be a basically evangelical concept of God, Satan, and the ultimate forces of good and evil.
In a chapter I read last night, he was discussing how he went from being a Christian who basically couldn’t stand church - because of its hypocrisy and tendency toward self-righteous conservative politics - to someone who absolutely loved church because his church had gotten rid of the politics and the self-righteousness, and instead focused purely on community, love, and helping people - not for the purpose of evangelism, but simply for the purpose of helping to end poverty, hate, crime, loneliness, etc, and spread love and acceptance. From his description, it truly sounded like a church attempting to emulate the teachings and lifestyles of Jesus of Nazareth, difficult as that may be in our post-modern, self-absorbed culture.
Anyway, the chapter got me to thinking about compassion, charity, love for all people, even my enemies, etc - which is something I have been convicted about for quite some time now.
This morning in the shower, for whatever reason, I was dwelling on my job at Tempur-Pedic, which ended a year and a half ago, and how miserable I had been there, and all the people (two, specifically) who had mistreated me. I started to feel angry and upset, and then I suddenly began thinking about the “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” teaching.
I decided to pray for those two individuals that I was thinking about.
Not a prayer to ask God to forgive them for treating me bad, or to ask God to help them to realize what jerks they are, but rather for their well-being, their happiness, their personal and spiritual peace, their families, etc.
It wasn’t easy. In some ways, it didn’t even feel genuine.
But what was genuine was my desire to follow this difficult teaching from Jesus.
And I discovered, sort of to my astonishment, as I prayed, and particularly when I was finished, that I felt better. In some ways it was very freeing. In the past I’ve attempted to consciously “forgive” those people for what they did, but it never really helped me to get past those experiences. Praying for them like this, on the other hand, felt very freeing. I found myself thinking that I would continue to pray for them in the future.
I don’t want to misrepresent it and say that I’m now completely free of the hard feelings, but I can see how this practice of praying for my enemies may help me to eventually move toward that.
This is the kind of life I want to lead. This is the kind of Jesus that I want to follow. It’s not about an Eternal Life Insurance Policy. It’s about enriching my life, and the lives of those around me, now, in the present. It’s about touching that otherness, that transcendence, that ground of being that I conceive of as God. This, I believe, is the ultimate path of spiritual happiness and peace.