A friend and I have developed a coping mechanism for forgiving reprehensible people in our lives who have hurt us. It goes like this:
Forget about trying to love these people. The warm fuzzy feelings just aren’t there and we’re in no mood to generate a substitute.
We will, however, refrain from actively hating them.
I am mature enough to acknowledge that I am immature. Like a plant in the garden, I am growing, still needing care, not quite the towering oak spreading a canopy of grace over the world at my feet. Actually, were I to describe myself as a plant, I would choose something shorter – like a pumpkin, or summer squash.
Meaning that, in my zucchini/crookneck world, if the realistic choice is between artificially generating feelings of bonhomie toward a reprehensible, arrogant, conceited, supercilious slob of a human being or just knocking that dervish out of my mind altogether, I’ll kick the bum out.
“You should love your enemies.”
(By the way, I know that it’s not you slapping me around with these admonitions, which probably grate on you as much as they do me. Some irritating invisible individual is blathering about in our brains.)
The notable C.S. Lewis, who by outside accounts was a crusty, irascible, impatient sort of being, mused on this issue of loving one’s neighbors as himself in his hallmark book Mere Christianity, which you can either download onto your e-reader or, since its cover won’t give away your embarrassing reading habits like 50 Shades of Grey, is safe to carry around in hardback or paperback form.
“Well, how exactly do I love myself?” Lewis asks, reasoning that he does not exactly “. . . (have) a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society.”
He continues, “. . . thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief.”
Indeed it is.
Years ago I shared a city that was much too small for the two of us with a woman who was outwardly gracious and kind to every citizen of the community but very, very different to me. As these situations usually go, we ran in many of the same circles, and when I wasn’t in the same room with her, I was listening to her praises cascading from the lips of others.
Early on I realized that schooling my outside features to pleasant neutrality was not enough; inside, I could either seethe at the woman or let her go outside the cage of my mind. Because she never did accommodate me by moving to another continent, I was forced to take the high road, for my own sake, and determine to not hate her, which I most effectively did my removing her from my thoughts altogether.
I loved her – my enemy – by choosing to not make her a substitute god to which I offered too many waking thoughts – bitter, acrimonious – as if they were a prayer.
Not the best solution, but one that worked, allowing my spirit to survive – even grow – to the point that before we parted company I was able to vaguely understand her, pray for her, sympathize for her hurts that I understood and sorrowed for.
But I never did like her.
So love your enemies and forgive them as best you can – and an acceptable place to start is by not denying that they hurt you and you don’t particularly like them because of this, and while it would be so spiritual to pray for their well being, you’re not there yet, and until you’re strong enough to resist eating the entire chocolate cake in one sitting and totally destroying your diet, you’ll just forgo temptation and keep the stuff out of the house.
The paintings in this blog are all created by Steve Henderson, the Norwegian Artist, and are available through the Steve Henderson Fine Art Website — originals, signed limited edition prints, miniatures, and note cards. Owning fine art is a reachable reality.
Carolyn, what has helped me with the whole prickly stickiness of forgiveness is this definition: “Letting go of the need for revenge”. (Don’t remember where I learned this or I’d give credit!)
The idea is that you can forgive a dog for biting you, but you don’t need to shoot it nor make it your friend. It is a bad dog, and bad dogs bite.
Not sure it qualifies for “loving” my enemy, but it is the best I can do with a Bad Dog in my life. Then, I think of the verse (in Corinthians, maybe?) that says, “Above all, love must be sincere”.
Jana — your bad dog analogy is a good one, with the obvious caveat that people are more complex than dogs, drat it.
When you do the best you can do, with what you have to work with — Right Now — and you do it, then your love is sincere. It’s when we try to pretend that we’re feeling something that we’re not, and we trick ourselves into believing this, that we’re being insincere. I don’t think that you have to worry about this, my friend.
I do love your writing style and your take on life. I don’t comment or mention it often, but I think it frequently.
One of the phrases I like for these situations goes something like this–“holding on to bitterness towards someone else is like taking poison and expecting them to die”, which is another version of “don’t let them take up any of the valuable space inside your head”.
I’m in my sixth decade on this earth now, and I find that as I get older it’s a lot easier not to get excited about the extraneous stuff. Probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve tried to walk away from toxic individuals for long enough that now it’s only by random chance that I encounter them.
Judy: You have a good attitude about life and dealing with it. I like your quote about the poison — funny, but oh, so true.