Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, for those who persecute us. But what does that really look like? What does it mean?
A few weeks ago, one of the prayers in my daily devotions put it in a new perspective for me:
Give peace to those who have destroyed our peace.
Grant love to those who have refused us love.
Protect from injury those who have done us injury.
Grant success to those who have competed with us to our loss.
Give prosperity those who have taken what was ours.*
When I read those words, I think I said something along the lines of, “Wow. Ouch.” It hit home in a new way for me.
Because when we think of enemies and persecution, we tend to think of politics and oppressive regimes and people out to destroy us. We think of villains and psychopaths and Bad Guys.
But here’s the truth: for most of us, our “enemies” and our “persecutors” are rarely people out to get us–they’re just people competing for the same things, or people in a season of joy while we’re in a season of sorrow. They’re our friends and families and coworkers and acquaintances, and they rarely intend to do us harm. They’re just living their lives while we’re living ours, and that puts us all in conflict with each other.
Jealousy sneaks in. Comparison. And it hurts. Even if they don’t mean it to, it hurts.
In the Patrons & Peers group a few weeks ago, we were talking about how sharing our joy can cause others pain. Does that mean we should refrain? It was a genuine question, one asked from a loving heart. We all know that feeling, right? I’ve been there. When my sister was laid low with cancer treatments, it felt pretty petty to want to rejoice over a new book contract. Shouting about our milestones could make someone else stumble. And yet…
And yet, we need to rejoice. We need to rejoice with each other. When our brothers and sisters in Christ are singing for joy, we need to sing with them–even when we’re the brother or sister wanting to weep. And we will weep–and then their role is to weep with us. That’s what it means to belong to the family of God.
But it’s hard. We all know that too. When we’re struggling with infertility, every announcement of a coming little one, every gender reveal, every birth pierces our heart–and yet it’s not because we don’t wish that joy for them, right? It’s that we want it too.
When we’re working and struggling and doing everything we possibly can for that success in our jobs, only for the deal or the contract or the promotion to go to someone else, it hurts. Why not us?
Here’s my confession: even after 30 books in print, I still feel this regularly, and to my shame. My books don’t hit bestseller lists. It’s happened exactly once, on a book that had already been out for a year. Never on a new release. Intellectually, I know this doesn’t really matter. From a financial standpoint, what matters is that they sell fine. From an eternal standpoint, what matters is that I write the stories God puts on my heart and then hold them out to Him, to do with what He wills.
But I’m human–and I’m a competitive human, at that. One Wednesday a few weeks ago, about a month and a half after another book released and didn’t hit any big lists, I popped onto Facebook and scrolled through my feed and saw three of my writers friends rejoicing over hitting the bestseller list.
These ladies are my friends. Actual friends. I love them. I love their books. I want their books to succeed, because their stories are fantastic and their writing is great, and I know they have hearts for God and His messages just like I do.
Even so. I couldn’t stop the sorrow that washed over me. I couldn’t stop the feeling that came, that said, Why am I not good enough? Why can I never do that, never achieve that? Lord, what am I doing wrong? Why am I overlooked?
Because that’s how it feels when we’re in those moments, doesn’t it? That we’ve been overlooked, passed over. That we’re not seen, either by man or by God. All the intellectual knowledge in the world about His love for us doesn’t change that in those moments, we feel alone and forsaken. And then on top of it, we feel guilty for feeling that way. For not being able to rejoice with our friends. For the very fact that in that moment, those people with no ill will toward us at all, have been cast in our mind as our enemies–or at least our antagonists. They’re not, we know they’re not. But it feels like it. Their joy brings us pain.
On that particular Wednesday, the words I quoted above were still fresh in my mind from when I’d read them the day before, but I hadn’t quite squared them with my own heart yet. So we dropped the kids off at youth group and drove to church for the evening mass, and I confessed to David how I’d reacted that afternoon. I wasn’t proud of still feeling this way after all these years in the industry. I want to be better than that, above that response. I hate that at my core I’m a jealous, competitive person. I hate that sometimes, out of the blue, it’ll still overcome me. And yet, there it was. Those dark feelings. The heavy weight of feeling unseen, unappreciated, unsuccessful.
Fr. John was there that night–the same one who said my name back in January when he handed me the Eucharist, which touched me so deeply. He read the Scripture passages and launched into his homily with this: “We all long to be recognized for the good work we do. We all yearn for affirmation. That’s very natural–and it’s very good, even…” Okay, he had my attention. He went on to talk about how doing the work of God is how we please God, and that He will affirm us–that the ultimate affirmation will come when Jesus welcomes us into heaven. Things I know, of course. But hearing the reminder at that particular moment struck me.
Then it was time for communion, and I took my place in line, that Do you see me in this pain, Lord? still echoing in my mind. Idly, I listened to each time Fr. John said, “The body of Christ.” He wasn’t using names that night, like he usually does. Not even when David went forward right in front of me. That was fine. I already had that revelation. That epiphany was already settled in my heart. I already know that God knows my name, that He sees me, that Christ offered Himself as sacrifice for me.
Then he looked up at me, hesitated half a second, and yet again said, “Roseanna. The body of Christ.”
As I knelt back at my pew, I could sense the words, some God’s and some mine. See? I see you. I know how you feel. You’re doing what I ask you to do, and MY affirmation is all you need… I know that, Lord. I know you do. Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for making it so clear that You’re walking this journey with me.
And then, just to hammer it home, the Scripture in our evening prayer that night was Phil 2:12-15: “It is God who, in his good will toward you, begets in you any measure of desire or achievement. In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach.”
Even so, it took another day or two of letting it all sink in, of turning it over in my heart, of joining it with that prayer for our enemies, for it all to coalesce.
We need to forgive our friends for their joy when we can’t feel it. And that needs to look like that prayer. In the moments when we hurt the most, we need to pray the most, not for us, not for our own reactions even, but for them. When jealousy strikes, I need to pray for their success. When comparison hits, we need to pray for their joy. When we lose the bid, we need to pray for them to do the job well. When someone else receives the news of pending life and we’re barren, we need to pray for their health and happiness. When we don’t get the promotion, we need to pray that the one who did will be blessed and will bless others. When our friend is suddenly spending more time with someone else, we need to pray that that relationship will flourish and that other person will thrive.
Wherever the pain point is, that’s where we need to pray. For them.
And you know what? The more you pray for them, the more you’ll love them. The more that pain will fade. The more the resentment will turn to love. And the closer you’ll draw to the heart of God.
Forgiving is never easy, even when it’s not a sin we’re forgiving; even when it’s simply someone else’s joy or success when we want it too. Rejoicing with those who rejoice can be a difficult command.
But it’s one worth pursuing. Because only when we forgive them their joy can we finally share in it.
* From Magnificat, Vol. 24, No. 13, Tuesday 14th, Mass
But I’m so good at grumbling and arguing…. 🙂
SO well said. The older I get and the more relationships I experience, the more I see that rejoicing when others rejoice is often harder than mourning with those who mourn.
Thank you for this!
Ha! It is a particular talent of ours, isn’t it? LOL. And yes, it really can be more difficult. Which is sad and makes me think there’s something wrong with me, but there you have it, LOL.
This post hit me in the heart. I’ve been resenting that all my friends have their husbands with them, and mine was taken from me. Now I know where I need to change my prayers.
So glad it resonated, Kerry! That has to be SO, so hard. I pray that as you pray for them, God fills you up in some amazing ways.
25 years ago, my first husband of 21 years had a mid-life crisis and thought the grass was greener elsewhere. He sent me divorce papers which rocked our teenage children’s and my world. A wise older woman (I’m now the age she was) kept reminding me to “pray blessings on him and his new wife”. Talk about counterintuitive!
But the more I prayed for them, the better I felt, and the root of resentment and sense of betrayal dried up. God redeemed what the locusts tried to destroy, and I am blessed and thankful. My 3 children and their families are walking with The Lord. Now that right there, as we say in the South, is JOY!!!
I just finished reading Yesterday’s Tides. Wow! Double Wow! How seamlessly the two storylines fit together! I have never been to Ocracoke, but it sounded like a marvelous place. I have never pre-ordered your books, but I do read the Sneak Peeks, and I am always eager to find your books in my local library and/or bookstore. Your books that I have read are: A Stray Drop of Blood, the Shadows Over England series, The Codebreaker series, and The Secrets of the Isles series. I loved the way you brought characters from other series into Yesterday’s Tides. Wow! I got to read about Barclay Pierce again! Excellent writing & plotting!
For what it’s worth, I have more of your books and have read them more often than most bestsellers 🙂