Years ago, I was in a theology class which touched on ‘love your enemies‘. To my astonishment, a pastor of a large church burst out, rather angrily, “I don’t know why we keep talking about this. We are Christians. We have no enemies.” My jaw dropped.
As someone who has been rattling around churches for nearly 45 years, I am yet to discover or even hear of a congregation which attempts any depth of relationship where there are no wounds, no grudges, no animosities, no antipathies, no enmities, no hurts, no wrongs, and no long-held misunderstandings. Wounding and being wounded are part and parcel of being Christ’s wounded and scarred body; learning to love, endure and forgive through betrayal and beyond is our core work. Jesus talked about it regularly, and powerfully witnessed to it in his own life and relationships. We are not exempt from the experience or the responsibility.
But sometimes we are so hurt or angry that we cannot even imagine how to begin. Luckily, Jesus has given us a set of words which we can use even for those who hurt us: the Lord’s Prayer / Our Father. Pray it on behalf of the person who has hurt, wounded or misunderstood you, by inserting their name at the X. Do it over and over and over again, every day for as long as it takes for you to love them, forgive them, and work out how to continue in relationship with them again. I have used ‘trespass’ where sometimes we use ‘debts’ or ‘sins’, because often conflict feels like someone has crossed our boundaries and trampled all over our private world.
I must confess that, unlike the saintly pastor in my class all those years ago, there have been times when I have struggled with one person or another in a church, and I know there are times when people struggle with me. So I can vouch wholeheartedly for this discipline of praying the Lord’s Prayer for someone with whom I have a fractured relationship: it is transformative, slowly softening both heart and mind, and opening up new avenues of healing. And perhaps that’s what that other pastor really meant: that if, like Jesus, we can love, forgive and deepen relationship even through betrayal, we will have no enemies. Only each other who, despite our capacity to wound and be wounded, are called to discover fullness of life together in God.
A Prayer for Enemies
X’s Father in heaven,
blessed be your name.
Your culture come in X,
your will be done by X,
on earth as in heaven.
Give X today their daily bread,
and forgive X their trespasses
as X forgives those who trespass against them.
Save X from the time of trial,
and deliver X from evil. Amen.
Grace and peace,
Emailed to Sanctuary 22 May 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Image credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash. I can’t remember where I first came across the idea of praying the Lord’s Prayer for our enemies. It might have been in a book by Morton Kelsey, but I’m not sure. And a proviso: loving and forgiving does not mean accepting abusive behaviours or allowing them to continue. But that’s for another time.
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