RELATIONSHIP QUESTIONS (#32 in a series)
To access previous posts in the series, use the “Relationship Questions” link under “Categories” and the “Older Posts” button.
You’ve told us that we need to embrace the fact that God loves others, even the people who have hurt or offended us. And you’ve said that we have to do it when we’re calm. How do we do this?
When other people hurt us, they feel like our enemies, at least in the moment. And while it’s easy to love our friends or the people who love us, it’s hard to love our enemies. But that’s what God does. That’s what God’s Son did on the cross. And that’s why Jesus taught that it’s especially when we love our enemies that we show that we’re also children of that God (Matt 5:43-48).
OK, maybe we know all that already. Hallelujah and amen.
And then someone cheeses us off and we hate them for it.
If we want to respond more lovingly in the midst of conflict, we can’t wait until the conflict has already begun. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to be compassionate when we’re mad. But I am saying that it’s a steep uphill climb when we’re in the grip negative emotions, especially if we don’t already have an intentional regular habit of thinking that way. We have to practice compassion when we’re calm if we want that mindset to be available to us when we’re upset.
Who has time for that? you might wonder.
Perhaps the better question is, who has time to stew in resentment or sweep up the relational fallout after a fight?
There isn’t one right answer to the question of “how-to,” no one-size-fits-all practice. But I offer these brief suggestions, some of which have been mentioned in various ways in previous posts:
- Start with deep reflection or meditation on God’s love for you. I know: to some, that might sound self-centered. But you cannot operate from a position of grace unless you have truly received that grace yourself. Otherwise, you will try to be “good” at loving other people as a way of compensating for a sense of unworthiness, leading to defensiveness and resentment when things don’t go as planned. So do whatever you can to take in what the Scriptures say about the amazing love and mercy of God…for you, personally. Keep at it until you get it, and know the freedom that comes with it.
- Know your own vulnerabilities, and reflect on your shared humanity. Researchers point out that one of the elements of compassion is the recognition that we’re all in this together. What I wrestle with, others wrestle with too; their struggles are not all that different from my own. So instead of just seeing the person who hurt you as an enemy, reflect on the fact that we all stand in need of the mercy of God; we are all trying to find some way through the minefield of a sometimes messy life.
- Pray. This may take many forms, such as a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s mercy toward you, or a prayer for insight and compassion. Above all, do what Jesus did: pray for your enemy. Not that they would be struck by lightning; not necessarily even that they would see the error of their ways. Pray for blessing, openness, courage, the healing of pain — all the things we might need ourselves.
- Imagine the possibilities. If you were the compassionate and loving person you want to be, how would you act differently toward that person? Envision it. Rehearse it. Pray for it to be possible with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Regular practices like these will help move us in the right direction.
And in time, they’ll help us stay calmer and find compassion when we need it most.