I felt so confident, I didn't even see it coming- the first scripture of the day:
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48 NLT
"Today," our pastor announced, "we are going to talk about loving our enemies." My heart froze mid-beat.
You guys, before we go on, I have to confess something I'm not proud of. Truth is, I have hatred in my heart for a particular man. I have justified this hate because this man is really a bad guy. He preaches the name of Jesus, but he tells lies and he deceives large groups of people and he slanders people's names- mine included. He is a bully and a liar and he gets away with it. This makes me mad. When I think about him, all I can think of is the evil smirk on his face as I suffered through one of the worst moments of my life and I just want to spit nails.
So, naturally, his name is what came to mind as our pastor continued to explore the biblical evidence for Christ's requirement that we not just love the people who love us- that's easy- but to love also those who persecute us.
Throughout the sermon, I listened and took notes like a good little church girl, but on the inside, I was plugging my fingers in my ears and singing "LALALALALALA I'M NOT LISTENING" and when that got annoying, I folded my arms and made a mental pouty face and stomped my foot to prove that I didn't have to hear this junk because I HAVE MY REASONS, MISTER, AND THEY ARE GOOD ONES, OKAY?
At some point, I tired of my childish, bratty, stubborn behavior and I looked down at my notes. Apparently, I had written these words,
(yes, I redacted the name, and yes, I am a church doodler. one confession at a time, please)
I have to tell you, I read over those words in my own
scribbling handwriting and I was a little stunned. It's true- I know this in my head- that Christ loves this man as much as He loves me. But to see it in print just stopped me in my tracks. I knew in that moment that it was important for me to really believe this (not just know it to be true) because this kind of arrogance- the kind that says "Jesus loves me and He does not love you" is not pleasing to God in the slightest.
I made an effort to unclench my jaw and let the Word of God sink into my heart.
I'm not sure of the order from here on out, but at some point I did hear our pastor say "Forgiveness is releasing someone else to God and letting Him be the judge." He talked about debt and releasing debt, and it occurred to me that I am holding an account of the things that man at whom I have been directing my spiteful thoughts for the last year owes me.
He owes me an apology!He owes me a PUBLIC apology!
He owes me ... what? to have my church back, my job back, my reputation back... what? The list is huge. I couldn't imagine how he could even afford to settle the account he had racked up. An apology wouldn't really cut it. Too much damage has been done. I don't think I'd even really believe it or feel like it was enough. Plus, I am pretty sure he's not really interested in settling this problem. So, my resolve to sit here and be the judge of this man is doing me no good at all. Letting go of this and letting God judge the situation would certainly be the smart thing to do. Still....
(and this is the part when I get all real, folks, so if you were looking for a marshmallow peeps and rainbows blog post, you may wanna avert your eyes for a few paragraphs)
So, at some point, the pastor says something like, "And some of you- if you were really to admit it- are thinking to yourself, 'If that guy's whole family got chopped up into little pieces, I wouldn't even care.' And I'm here to say, you guys... that is not okay."
What a terrible thing to say! What person who loves Jesus and who claims to be a child of God would even identify with that kind of statement?
Do you know that I have had thoughts like this? Not necessarily about his family, but I have pictured him having a heart attack, having to dig a huge hole and then being pushed in, being jumped in a dark alley... and these things did not cause me sadness in the slightest. I'm so ashamed, you guys.
that was all I needed... my resolve just broke. No matter how I tried, I could not keep the tears back. They spilled out over my cheeks and onto my neck and I finally had to dig through my purse for a tissue because my nose started to run too.
I have allowed my hatred for this man to actually turn me into a terrible, discompassionate, hateful person and THAT IS NOT OKAY. Enough is enough. Sometimes a good look at your true self is all you need to make some serious, drastic changes.
So, today, I am officially, publicly, and once-and-for-all-ly stating here that I forgive that man. I will no longer speak unkindly about him, I will no longer entertain horrible thoughts about him, I will no longer hold an account of his wrongs. I understand that Jesus loves him as much as He loves me, and I will stop praying for his fall, and start praying for his return to Christ. Not because I think that man deserves it, but because I know that God deserves it. He tells us he loves ALL of His children- He wants that NOT ONE would perish. Because I have been a recipient of the grace of God- because I have had my debt washed clean, I hereby release the debt that is owed to me by the person who has hurt me so deeply.
*whew* I think I need a nap.