Lately I have been reading murder mysteries. Ever since Serial ended, I kind of couldn’t get enough of crime solving. One of the things I noticed in this genre, both on TV and in books, is that one of the first questions the cops ask friends of their victim is: Does he have any enemies that you know of?
Which got me to thinking, do I have an enemies that I know of? What constitutes an enemy? Do I have people I have considered enemies who really aren’t?
As far as I know, I have no true “enemies.” There are no people in my life who are actively out to do me harm. Which I am thankful for. But this realization put something into perspective for me.
Jesus says the height of love is this: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
This is a shocking statement, especially in light of so much violence and persecution going on in our world today. More (beneficial) conversations should be had on a global level about what it means to love our enemies.
But on a personal level, I have to be honest and say I have no enemies.
So what does it mean that Jesus calls me to love my enemies?
I do not have enemies, but I do have irritating people in my life: jerks, annoying people, and difficult people. And a call to love my enemies gives me some much need perspective on the people who are jerks, difficult, and irritating.
Perhaps you have people in your life who are wishing you harm, if so this statement from Jesus needs to be worked through in different ways: counseling, boundaries, and difficult conversations. This post may not be for you. My talented colleagues will have things to say to you later this week (see how I passed off the hard stuff?).
But for those of us who have no enemies and still have people who are difficult to love, this verse signals some much-needed heart repair.
With enemies, I think what we typically struggle with is violence and revenge and the desire to harm others as we have been harmed. But with difficult people, we deal with a much more subtle form of violence and revenge: judgment.
Judgment is a word that means different things to different people, so let me explain how I mean it. Judgment is when you look at the attributes, behaviors, or values of another person and think those attributes or behaviors somehow make them less of a person. You might also call it contempt. A person does something or believes something and you decide it makes that person worthless.
Or at least worth less than you.
When I find the people who annoy me or irritate me or I find difficult, there is usually something about them that I think makes them worthless. Whatever it is that makes them a difficult person in my life is also the thing that creates my disdain for them.
Judgment says that because you see things differently than me or you act in ways which rub me the wrong way, I think you are less valuable as a human being.
Contrast that with enemy love. Enemy loves says that even when a person actively wills you harm, they are still a person Christ died for and therefore has given infinite value and worth.
And those are the people who want to hurt me, not the people who just annoy me.
Jesus call to love our enemies provides a lot of perspective for the irritating people in our lives. So here’s three ideas for dealing with judgment and annoying people:
1. Agree with God. God thinks that annoying person has infinite value. Enough value that God was willing to die for them. There is no stopping God’s love for this person. The first step in avoiding judgment is simply agreeing with God. Our opinion should be that God loved this person enough and thinks they are valuable enough to die for.
2. Pay attention to your emotions and reaction towards the person. Sometimes just paying attention to the emotions we have towards people helps us to change our reactions. When we know we are going to have an emotional reaction, we can prepare for it, and counter it. Countering it usually starts with agreeing with God. This generally requires a lot of prayer and asking God for the strength to change the way you react to someone.
3. Move towards them. When we dislike people, the first impulse we have is to shrink away. We avoid them or try to be as curt as possible in our interactions. But love move towards people. Find a way you can move toward someone and see how it changes your opinion. They will probably still be irritating, but you are changing the way you are relating to them.
What about you? What have you found to be helpful in loving the difficult people in your life?