By Caryn Rivadeneira
A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon this good old verse from Matthew 5:43 in a devotional:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
While I’ve read these words of Jesus a zillion times, since I’ve never been the sort to have “enemies” I never gave them much thought. This time, however, was a different story.
Last year my husband ran for public office. He lost—but did well enough that he gained a few enemies, people who view him as future threat to their power. And though it’s been over a year since that election, there are still people whose livelihood seems to be about smearing my husband’s name and preventing him from running again. (I live just outside Chicago—does that help explain things?)
So when I read these words, I went into my husband’s office to chat with him about this—wondering just what it looks like to love our new-found enemies. He and I agreed to start by doing what Jesus said: to pray for them. Amazing how it works. It’s very hard to hate or want to seek revenge on people you pray for.
I thought I’d arrived. Got it, Lord. Check this whole loving-my-enemies thing off my spiritual maturity to-do list. Done.
But then I wrote a little piece about co-ed wrestling. I didn’t think that my position—that Christian faith shouldn’t have prevented one high school boy from wrestling a girl competitor—was that big of a deal.
Apparently, it was. While this was an issue with plenty of room for disagreement, the back-lash from some camps was swift and cruel. My intelligence was questioned. My sexuality was questioned. My morality questioned. My faith was questioned—even denounced by some.
I joked with one friend that the only thing keeping certain people from calling me the Antichrist was that they probably didn’t believe a woman could be the Antichrist. Men only and all.
All this to say, I was gaining enemies of my own. And my first instinct was neither to love nor to pray for them.
I guess I wasn’t ready to check “loving and praying for my enemies” off my list after all.
But this is what I love about God: he gives us so many opportunities to stretch and to grow. Since it was pretty apparent at how I failed at loving my enemies, I’ve been working hard—again—to pray over each new word written against me (or women, in general). And I’m amazed at what God does when we pray for enemies. Makes our own hearts and souls much nicer places.
But more than that, I love how God does call us each to keep stretching. How being “arrived” is something God never wants us to settle for. We’ve always got more work. Always have room to reach higher.
How have you felt God stretching you beyond where you thought you’d “arrived”?
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom and the forthcoming Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Life Even When It Lets You Down. Caryn is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and lives with her family in the western suburbs of Chicago.