Must I Really Love My Enemies?
Love my enemies? I don’t think so. The word enemy precludes that whole notion of love. If someone is my enemy, there’s a reason for that status, usually a pretty solid one. I don’t just randomly decide, “Okay, you are my enemy, and I don’t love you.” No, to attain enemy status, a person must commit a grievous error, sin, or action toward me, or especially toward any of my children. Therefore, I do not love that person. In fact, once someone has achieved enemy status in my scorekeeping book of life, I don’t want anyone else to love them, either.
Love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (a whole other topic) are difficult enough to extend to those I love on a regular basis because relationships are a challenge. After someone has crossed into enemy territory, it becomes a gargantuan feat to even think about love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. A huge part of me prefers the “eye-for-an-eye” approach, the feud that passes from generation to generation, the path of “I don’t love you, and I’ll do my best to make certain that no one loves you.”
Ah, but it’s a rocky path. That path, the enemy path, is harder to navigate than the one of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness. I make that path and cultivate thorns on it. I place vipers where footsteps fall. I nurture tangles of poison ivy. I keep it just navigable, however, so that even though difficult to traverse, I can continue my sordid quest.
It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. The verse I read this morning in Luke 6:27, “Love your enemies,” doesn’t say anything about it being easy to love my enemies. Buddhism, Judaism, and other world religions advise against holding a grudge and keeping the fires of hatred burning. The very word “holding” implies the weight of any grudge we carry. To keep a fire burning, it must be fed. To continue to hate my enemy, I have to gather the wood to feed that fire, the wood made of anger, hurt, pity, resentment, and minutes, hours, and days of my life devoted to that bitter harvest.
But, I don’t want to love my enemy. Hating, criticizing, trashing, gossiping, and carrying grudges generate a huge adrenaline rush. Adrenaline is addicting. However, do I want my inability to love my enemies to suck up my life force? Do I want or need anger and lack of love to produce negative energy?
“Can’t I continue to not love my enemies?” I ask myself. “No, you can’t!” echoes the voice inside my head. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s a good friend, maybe it’s someone who loves me in spite of everything I’ve done to become their enemy. (The voice also sounds a bit like Jillian Michaels in the 30-Day Shred DVD.) In any event, it’s clear. No, I can’t continue to not love my enemies.
Conversely, agape, selfless love of one person for another, produces a feeling of calm contentment. It’s light, airy, free floating. It’s a tall order to focus on agape, to let go of anger, hurt, and resentment--to banish adrenaline-inducing enemy emotions to another arena in which I no longer am a combatant.
Love my enemies, really love my enemies? Just thinking about it produces a thud in my gut. Can I do this? Is it possible? Great examples exist of loving our enemies: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus. Nameless, non-famous people also move about our lives with a cheery smile, a warm greeting, a hand held out to help, a happy disposition, a free heart because they have learned to love their enemies.
It’s unrealistic for me to say, “Okay, I’m better now. I have changed. I will love everyone.” That probably will not happen quite so quickly. Aspiring to any change, a positive change, is the beginning of making such a change. Perhaps the next time I enter enemy territory, I won’t wield my spear, but instead take a silent step forward, my heart open, my hand extended in peace and my white flag lightly lifted by a cool breeze. It’s not exactly love, but it is a step on a path that in my heart I know I want to take.