“You have heard… ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If you read your Bible at all or have spent time in a church, I’m quite sure you’ve heard these verses. My mother had me memorize them as a child. I’ve heard sermons preached about them. I’ve rehearsed them in my mind and I’ve tried to live them. They aren’t easy ones to read and they are even harder to live by. But, honestly, I haven’t had a whole bunch of enemies in my lifetime. Not a whole lot of persecution. And, so, although these verses were impressed on my heart as a young child, I’ve not had to really, really think about what they mean for my life personally until much more recently.
And now… these days… I think about them a lot.
How do you love the ones who have hurt a child that you love?
These aren’t my personal enemies. I have endured no abuse at their hands. They haven’t left me hungry. Or locked me in a room. They haven’t hit me. Or made me watch horrible things happen to others. They haven’t left me alone for days. Or continually told me that what they are doing isn’t abuse. They haven’t blamed their problems on me. Or forced me to eat spoiled food. They haven’t kept me wandering the streets where bad things happen. Or created an environment where I am so scared to go to sleep at night that I keep a knife under my pillow. They haven’t molested or raped me. Or lied about my presence to save their own skin leaving me in danger and alone.
Not to me. They aren’t my enemies. They have not hurt me.
But all these things. Horrible tales and so much that isn’t even said. These things have happened to children that I love.
And what am I supposed to do when I read the reports. When my blood boils. When I sort through the “belongings” that come with a child and all of it should be in the garbage can. When I put ointment on bruises and bandage cuts. When I rinse grime out of baby hair that is as old as they are. When I sit through the night terrors. When I stroke the back shaking through the sobs.
Love. God calls me to love.
What am I supposed to say when those precious voices I’ve come to adore speak lovingly of “Mama” or “Papa,” “Grandma” or “Grandpa.” How can I genuinely listen and care when all I remember are the ER pictures. The words read to me by the social worker that just keep scrolling through my mind. When I look at this darling child and my mind flashes back to how they looked when I first met them. Where do I find the words to affirm their love for this person? How do I find the willingness to pick out that one evidence of their loving care and rehearse it over and over to this waiting child?
Love. God calls me to love.
And now it’s time to meet those people. To extend my hand in a handshake. To explain my “title” without demeaning them. To share about their children with them. To sit next to them as they hold and snuggle, play with and cuddle those children. It’s time to unbuckle the baby from the car seat and stretch out my arms – to offer that baby back to the mommy who hurt it.
Love. But how!? God calls me to love. But they don’t deserve it! Love. As you have been loved.
I cannot do this on my own. I cannot separate the blinding anger and the desire for even the smallest bit of revenge. I cannot truly smile sweetly or honestly say kind things to my child’s upturned face. I cannot make small talk while truly caring about the answers. I cannot receive a little one back into my arms without triumphant victory streaming through my emotions and declaring itself in my stance. I cannot do this on my own.
And so I turn to other verses. To other stories. A story of a man who was forgiven a completely unpayable debt. How he turned, in utter thanklessness and demanded a fellow worker to pay a small debt. A pittance compared to what he had been forgiven. He didn’t recognize the gift he had been given. So he was unable to pass it on. (Matthew 18) Or the story of a lady. A lady with long hair. A lady who bowed down before Jesus and anointed His feet with costly oil and her tears. Washing His feet and drying them with her tears. Jesus said that because she loved so much, she was forgiven. Much. Everything. All her sins. (Luke 7)
I have been forgiven EVERYTHING in Christ. Everything. And the only way that God can look at me with favor is because Jesus Christ, His perfect Son, stands between God and I. Covering me with His blood. God chooses to see Him. And not me. That is the ONLY way I am viewed as holy. The only way I can be loved.
And when I remember this. When I remember the debt of sin that I could not pay. When I remember the love that was poured out on the cross for me. When I remember what I am without what I have been given. Then my smile comes a bit easier. I can answer my children with love in my heart that begins to match their own. I can give and receive children without jealousy or triumphant thoughts. I can begin to see them…as God saw me. A sinful, desperate, broken wretch. With no way out. No way to be free. No one reaching in.
I cannot save them. I cannot make their choices for them. I cannot choose the path that they will take. But I can reach out. Smile genuinely into their hurt and confusion. Sit beside them without longing to be someplace else. Recognize the brokenness that is within me as well. And I can love. Freely. Without jealousy. Without vengeance. Without bitter anger.
Because I know what it is to be lost. And I know what it is to be loved.