Love Our Enemies? But, like, HOW?!
Jesus invited his followers to love their enemies and bless those who curse them. Easier said than done. But here's a process that has helped me find a way to do this.
(This article first appeared in the San Diego Tribune, Oct 30, 2022)
You’d be hard pressed to find, among any of the world’s great religions, philosophies, or spiritualities, instructions about living your best life that do not involve love.
To put that another way, love is clearly an important feature of not only what it means to be human, but what it looks like to live a flourishing, wholehearted, abundant life. Of course, what it means exactly to live love, show love, or receive love is a subject of great debate. But for the moment let us lay such debates aside and merely agree that in its most generic and plain manner, love matters.
Most of us, on most days, strive to experience love. Whether that’s making breakfast for our children in the morning (love of kin!), driving ourselves to the gym so we can get a workout in (love of self!), smiling at our server who clearly looks like they’ve had a rough shift (love of stranger!), or winding down our day snuggling on the couch with our favorite person to catch up on Top Chef (love of partner!). Intuitively we understand that a day lived with love is preferable to one where it is lacking.
Again, we’re not covering any new territory here, I realize that. “Yes, Colby, love is a good thing,” I hear you say, “We got it. Anything more interesting to say?” Fair enough.
How about this: Where does love fit in when it comes to that person you went to high school with, who friended you on Facebook ten years ago, and now routinely shares stories and posts that make your blood boil? Normally you just ignore them, and well you should. But occasionally they show up in your posts, leaving comments and pasting links that directly challenge your position. It’s not that you can’t handle people disagreeing with you (although I suspect we all are less great at that than we tell ourselves), it’s that they are so annoying about it. Making it worse, for many people it’s not an-old-friend-from-high-school, it’s their aunt. Or sibling. Or parent. So where does love fit in when it comes to people you care about but who’s convictions and values in life directly oppose (or maybe even violate) your own?
Perhaps the above scenario is both too cliche and too easy to brush off, so let’s get off the internet and in to your actual life. How about, where does love fit in with that one barista that works Tuesdays and Thursdays and quite frankly never seems thrilled when you walk in for your morning Americano? Your general bent is to treat all people with kindness, but they make that goal extra hard when they never look you in the eye and grunt when you greet them. When people grate our nerves in real life, how do we show them love?
Or what if the person who grinds your gears is someone you live with? Or work every day with? If it’s not someone we can simply opt to avoid by taking a different route that day, how do we show up with love in our hearts for people we’re stuck with?
Finally (this is the last example, I promise, then I’ll get on with it), how do we practice love toward entire categories or demographics of people with whom we vehemently disagree with?
How does the far left embody love for the far right?
How does the religious fanatic show love to that other “false” religion?
How do people who have been harmed by others find a way to avoid sinking into hatred, but instead move toward the light of love—even for those who’ve hurt them?
One of the first lessons Jesus taught his followers was about the banality of loving people who already love you, and being good to folks who have been good to you. No, for Jesus that was pretty much par for the course. Any decent human ought be able to pull that off.