Today, I was moved on so many levels, I needed to share. Last week's blog talked about the wonderful and gracious love our Heavenly Father unconditionally provides to us. Today, we are going to take this a step further. God so incredibly touched my heart today and brought me to such a place of openness - a time of reflection.
Our wonderful pastor this morning preached on a passage that we have often heard, Love Your Enemies - Raise the Bar of Your Love. The more I sat there and listened to the message, the words that the Holy Spirit pressed upon his heart, the more I reflected over my life and the times when I have not done that, and the hurt that I endured. I thought about the moments when I asked God's help in providing me to love those that didn't show love or kindness to me. I remembered how he graciously redeemed me to a better place. I thought of those in my life, now, who I need to bring this love to. Most importantly, I thought of those people who I might have shown behaviors or said things that made ME be the person that they may be bringing to God.
As I thought and listened about loving our enemies, I really broke it all down into three categories:
- Those people who have been involved in my life that have brought distress, difficulty, or destruction.
- Those people who have been involved in my life that have brought only love, hope and joy.
- Those people who have not been involved in my life at all - strangers.
I realized as I looked at those three categories that there have been times in my life that I have a greater ease to reach out and show God's love to a total stranger than to a person who might have brought me distress or difficulty. A Total Stranger!! I was more willing to take a risk and show acts of kindness and pray for a stranger than for a person who was close to me, who hurt me. WOW - that was an eye-opening thought. It made me realize that I needed to look back at those moments of giving and ask myself, "What made the situation so easy for me to give to a stranger than to give to someone I know - regardless of the situation?"
When we know someone, love someone, and they hurt us or bring hardship to us, our initial reaction is not to turn the other cheek, but to find some measure of understanding. If we can't find the understanding - then ill feelings set in and resentment sets in. All of this leads us to not reach out our hand in love, but to turn our backs on them. God will give them what they deserve! What they deserve is us, what they deserve is our love, what they deserve is the unconditional love that God gives us to be given to them. Is it easy to do? I think you know the answer to that question.
Yet, it is possible. As our dear pastor shared this morning, reaching out an extended hand in love can come through the most powerful act of all - the simple act of praying for that person - and ourselves. I know how powerful that can be. There have been times in my life where resentment was so strong that it carved out a dark place in my heart. In desperate times of reaching out to God, he reached back to me. He told me one word, PRAY. And I started - and I prayed. Sometimes my prayers were heart-wrenching and raw. Sometimes they were full of understanding and love. All times they were given to God.
The change started, it happened. Did it happen with the person/people who I resented? I'm not quite sure to be honest with you. I KNOW it happened with me. My heart was less hardened, my soul was finding peace. There is an incredible feeling when that peace falls into each part of your being, it overflows you. That's what happened. At that point, I knew God's love had entered my world in a richer place. So as I reflected today, I realized that there have been times since that change point where I have forgotten the art of prayer. To pray for my enemies, to pray for those that hurt me, to pray for those that I resent, and to pray for ME in that situation as well - to open my heart and my eyes to change.
What is wonderful is that I wasn't the only one impacted by today's words. Others eyes have been opened by our loving Pastor's words. People in my family and in our congregation. As we take our love a step further, we know it won't be easy. What we do know is that we are prepared, we have prayer, and God, on our side to help us. Resolution may come, it may not. All we can do is pray, a simple prayer. "God, Help _____, help me. Help us." Start there. I know the rest will come flowing.
Those that we love deeply and strangers? Don't forget about them - we need to continue to show our love to them as well. Yet, loving our enemies takes our love, God's love, a step further. Take the step, of simple faith, to peace.
"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (NIV) Matthew 5:44