“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44
Sometimes Jesus says things like that and as I read them I think to myself, “what is he talking about?” or “how is that possible?” or “I’m glad that doesn’t apply to me.” I heard it a lot growing up but I don’t think I really ever understood it or felt that I really had any enemies that I needed to try it out on. It was a teaching that I kind of just stuck in the back of my mind and didn’t consider too often.
My second semester in college I had a wonderful French professor; I liked her because she was bold and she expected a lot out of us. After that semester, I would go to her office sometimes just to chat and catch up. She was always interested in how my French was coming and what I was up to and we always had great conversations. I don’t really remember how we got on the topic, but one day I remember her saying something that rubbed me the wrong way. It was something to the effect of “all this business about everyone loving everyone else is ridiculous—we can’t do it.” I was kind of surprised in the moment because usually I appreciated her bluntness and usually I agreed with what she said. That old teaching popped up from a dusty drawer in my mind and I knew that I disagreed with her, but I didn’t really have a good response and as I tried to come up with something to say she had already continued onto something else. That memory has always stuck out to me and I always wished I had been able to defend and explain what I believed to be true even though I didn’t understand it. Recently, God has been helping me connect the dots between his call for us to love our enemies and the fact that I naturally don’t get along with some people and others, in my humanness, I simply dislike. I don’t really feel like I have many personal enemies, but there are plenty of people that it’s hard for me to love—just because its hard though, doesn’t mean I’m excused and if God commands something, He must have a way for us to do it.
Although I know I can’t fulfill that commandment on my own, I feel certain that with God’s grace I can. Little ideas have been popping up in my head and I’m finding that the beginning of learning to love our enemies is a clarification of the word love. So what does it mean to love someone? The 2006 Lifeteen summer camp theme was based off of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical entitled, “Deus Caritas Est” (God is love). Six out of seven days a week for a month I wore a shirt that said “Deus Caritas Est. Love: More than a Feeling.” Even though we looked and felt like pickles, I appreciate those shirts because I learned some Latin and I’ll never forget that love is not just a feeling. C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “[…] ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’.” That’s definitely good news, because I think we all know that we can’t just will ourselves to like someone.
So, love is not a feeling. Love is a decision. Listening to Christopher West speak on TOB I learned that love in marriage often times means making a decision to live up to the commitment you’ve made. You won’t always have fuzzy feelings for someone, but loving them means choosing to stay by their side and love them through their flaws, their sin, their hurtfulness, and their brokenness.
Love is unconditional. I know that if I try to “love” someone because they’re nice to me or do good things or are funny–it’s just a feeling and that feeling will disappear as soon as they say something that hurts my feelings or they ignore me or do something I don’t like. Then, too, with those criteria I’ll certainly never be able to “love” my enemies because it’ll be very rare that they’re nice to me or do something I like. Trying to define love as nice feelings toward someone, I’ll never be able to love unconditionally. If though, with the grace of God, I can learn to love someone for who they are—His son or daughter—I can begin to love them unconditionally because they are always His son or daughter, that doesn’t change. Then if they do something kind or generous, I can appreciate it and thank the Lord, and if they do something hurtful, it will simply serve as a reminder for me to pray for them. I think this is the love that the world is searching for, the love that satisfies, that only comes from the Lord, a love of people for who they are and the only way we’ll be able to love our enemies.
Lord, help us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt who we are in you—our value, our dignity, our worth that you yourself placed in us. Help us to believe in your unchanging love for us and see and love others for who they are: your sons and daughters and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Lord, give us the grace to desire all of these things. Amen. God bless you all, my family!!