By Marc Rademaker
It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and it seems as though nothing can ruin my mood.
But upon scrolling through social media or the news, I come across that one person. It’s that politician, celebrity, or individual in my life whom I “can’t stand.” They’ve done something annoying or inexcusable again, and my mood has become sour.
We all have people who, to some degree, we can’t really stand to be around or hear about. It can be a political figure whose behavior or decisions we can’t stand. Sometimes it’s a classmate or coworker who is simply abrasive for an indistinct reason. There may be an individual who has wronged us in the past whom we can’t seem to forgive. Regardless of who it is, it can feel like the mere mention or thought of them is enough to completely alter our mood.
“Why do they have to keep making these decisions?”
“Why can’t they just be better?”
“Why are they so insufferable?”
These questions and other similar ones are what I often find popping up in my head in these situations. But, in essence, isn’t my pessimistic response also a disservice?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jesus makes it pretty clear. I can do a lot more good by praying for the person than I can by complaining about them. It’s only after taking a step out of my annoyance that I can realize my furrowed brow, clenched fists, and salty attitude are not a solution to whatever wrong I feel. When I allow myself to amplify my own feelings about an individual, it may be easy to blow them out of proportion.
I’ll give two scenarios for responding to that “I can’t stand them” person.
In one example, I respond how I might normally. For example, I see that person on the news. They’ve done something egregious yet again. I start to stew in the resentment I have for them. Their poor decisions and behavior are amplified in my eyes. That is all I really see them for. Odds are, I’m not silent about this negativity either. Those around me will hear about my frustrations toward this individual, and they will probably start to resent them on some level as well. We all leave the situation feeling tense and annoyed, with no resolution found.
I’m faced with the same situation again but with a different choice and outcome. This time, that same individual comes onto the news and I start feeling the same frustration. But, instead of giving into the instant gratification of being upset, I take a step back. I acknowledge my clenched fists. And those clenched fists turn to folded hands. I start to pray for that person, and not in the sugar-coated resemblance of a prayer that many of us may have once thought or still think prayer encompasses. No, I do my best to be completely honest with God and not hold anything back about my feelings toward this person. But in this case of not holding back my feelings, I am addressing them with someone who has the capacity to take them on. It can at times seem like prayer is not a solution, but something that just buries the problem in a lack of action. However, I am in fact giving the problem to someone with a lot more wisdom than me and lifting it up to someone who can take every burden – and already has by dying on the cross. When I pray for my enemy, I am honest in how I feel about them and working to understand two things: why I feel this way and how I can move forward to appropriately respond to this feeling.
Maybe the terms ‘love’ and ‘enemy’ are what make living out this ideology so difficult. Love is a word that is used in so many different contexts today that its meaning can be interpreted as either too diluted or too concentrated. I don’t have to be best friends with everyone I love, especially if I find it difficult to be around them. But I am also called to still give them the human decency to see them as such: a person who makes mistakes just like I do. As God said, every person, even those about whom I may be griping, still show love to those they know. The only way to really take the higher ground is to show my enemy love as well.
The word enemy has such a negative connotation that we may not think of anyone as our direct enemy. Instead, change that to say someone who annoys you, someone who you may have written off as a bad person, the figure whose ideals you disagree with. Those people are our modern ‘enemies’ and ultimately the people who are hardest to love.
And how will they know the unconditional love of God if we are not trying our best to show it?
I’m not going to pretend that I can perfectly follow this practice every day. I can be found ranting about someone who bugs me or being outwardly exasperated about some politician or celebrity. But everyone, not just friends and fellow Christians, is deserving of God’s mercy and of ours.
Why? Simply because the Lord told us so: “As we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In essence, we are challenged to still love those who wrong us in the face of their very wrongdoing. We are pushed to be the unconditional love of God to our enemies, and we will fail in that. A lot. Nevertheless, it is in giving these annoyances, frustrations, and inability to stand others to God where we really find victory and peace.
It is not easy to want what is best for those who seem to desire our worst. But who are we to decide who is deserving of love, and of prayers?
Even if you can’t stand them, be humble enough to kneel for them.