“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”
Turning the other cheek takes strength. And I don’t have that strength. Not anymore at least.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you: Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 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, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It takes a big man to return love for hate. It takes courage to really love your enemies. It takes strength to resist the desire to exact justice, to return violence for violence, hate for hate, strong words for strong words. And it is more than ignoring what bothers you. It is standing up. It is speaking up. It is doing what is right even if it doesn’t serve your own interests and it goes beyond non violence. It is more than just shoving the emotions down far and faking a smile. It really is putting the interests of a person ahead of yours- to show them grace and love- a person who you know is wrong- a person who may be wronging you, who may hate you, or who may wish you harm.
And I have to tell you, that maybe for me it was easier back as a younger Christian- to sort of play non violent resistance, to love that “enemy”… to put up, to deal with, to walk away… to speak grace into the life of another. Maybe because it was because I knew God had my back. I knew that whatever happened, doing the right thing was always the right thing, and I had no reason to defend myself, that whatever wounds would heal and in the end, all would be well. Blessing someone who was cursing you? Possible. Sensible. Preferable.
But then my son took his own life. All is not well. And that confidence in God was damaged. The strength to walk away, or to leave myself defenseless became very very difficult. And I think because it hurt so much and it continues to hurt, considering the interests of others takes more effort than I can often muster and putting the interests of others becomes nearly impossible. Returning love for hate, good for evil, grace for harm- It was never natural, and now it seems almost too alien, that there is something like an opportunity to share pain, to give a little back, to hit back and to take my own shot at what feels just and right. Cursing someone, anyone, especially if they cursed me seemed like something I have earned.
I have to protect what little remains, what bits of damaged soul I can gather– I have to fight for them. I have to put up a defence, a strong face, I have to fight back because I am hurt. Because I am alone. Because I am damaged. And I have to…
I know that pathology. It is common among those raised in poverty. And one reason why many poor neighborhoods are rife with violence and crime. Why vandalism and destruction sometime seem like rational actions. And it results in some pretty messed up people doing some pretty messed up stuff.
So finding my way back to not only receiving grace, but giving grace, it isn’t easy. And maybe on my own strength it isn’t possible. It never has been. Finding that trust in God again isn’t easy. That knowledge that whatever vengeance there is belongs to Him is rare. But I know it exists, and praying for people, even those who mistreat me, is the right thing to do.