I just read a Facebook post which is the inspiration for today’s blog. My friend, Pastor Vanessa Brown, wrote about “radical inclusivity,” which is a term I believe that Bishop Yvette Flunder coined to describe the love of God as inclusive of everyone. The sentences that, sort of, jumped off the screen and got in my face were these: “I am realizing everyday that being radically inclusive is not just something that is easy to walk in or do . . . Every time you think you’ve mastered radical inclusivity, something else comes along to challenge you in that love.”
She’s strumming my pain with her fingers; singing my life with her words! I am currently in one of the greatest emotional and spiritual struggles I’ve been through in a long time, as my ability to love everyone and to see everyone as a beloved child of God is being sorely tested. It is so hard to view people who mistreat us as beloved children of God. I own that it is, for me, and I have heard lots of folks say it is for them, too. We want God to be on our side. We want God to see how right and mistreated we are, and how wrong the other person clearly is. It just gets under our skin to think that they are walking around, living their lives, enjoying their food, probably even smiling and laughing! How dare they - when their inexcusable behavior toward us has reduced us to an angry and/or hurt and/or obsessive walking, talking, mass of misery?! How dare they be okay? How dare God let them be okay? What kind of God can love them?
The short answer is the same kind of God who loves us. The same God who has loved us when we were at our worst. The same God who loves us now, even as we are ranting and raving and wishing all kinds of evil on our enemies. That’s the kind of God who can love our enemies, too.
My spiritual struggle is very painful, because I know and I preach and I teach that forgiveness is an absolute non-negotiable for Christians. I still believe that it is, and I know that I have to practice “FEFE;” my made-up word for “forgive everybody for everything.” I choose to practice FEFE, because Jesus taught that and it really does enhance my spiritual well-being which improves the quality of my life overall.
The hard part is moving beyond “bare bones” forgiveness to actually loving our enemies. It just gets hard to do when people do things that I am certain, by any standard to which you hold up their actions, are just plain wrong. And it gets harder when the person who does the wrong is someone who we know to know better. Like, there simply is no way s/he could believe this to be right or fair; no way to justify it. Period.
But the thing that I have seen, over and over, again is that people do find a way to justify their actions and, sometimes, even do so sincerely. Whatever they have told themselves to make themselves okay with what they’ve done, they believe it. Because here’s the thing - no matter how crystal clear and unquestionable something may seem to us, it is always possible (and often the case) that the other person is having an entirely different experience of the exact same facts and circumstances. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen that, in my work as a lawyer, professor, and pastor.
So I am trying to bring that experience to my current struggle to love people whom I view as enemies. I’m repeatedly reminding myself that no matter how clear things seem to me, it is entirely possible (and highly likely) that they are seeing (feeling, experiencing) something totally different. And their experience is just as real to them as mine is to me. I really want whoever reads this to hear me when I say I am working very hard at growing into truly loving them. I really want to get there. Toward that end, I’ve been reading articles about loving our enemies, looking for help and inspiration. And the thing that I see most often is pray. Pray - not about them, but for them. And, of course, I resisted it at first. But it’s hard to argue with something when Jesus said it and it resonates as truth. (See Matthew 5:44.)
I think that conflict is a part of life, and as much as I wish I could avoid it completely, that probably will not happen until I go - as the old song says - “where the wicked shall cease from troubling.” And I don’t want to go there today. So I accept loving my enemies as something that I want to do, because I believe God wants me to do it. God loves them, and we are called to love each other. I choose to view this as growing into the “next level” in my walk with God. Please pray for me that I will faithfully endure my growing pains.