Author: Nicole Speer
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ~Matthew 5:44
I am writing this devotional the weekend our President is in the hospital fighting COVID-19, the virus he downplayed and claimed was a hoax. His and his conspirators’ unwillingness to address a global pandemic needlessly killed more than 210,000 of our fellow Americans and sickened millions more. As if this massive death toll wasn’t enough to condemn him, over the past year his administration has conspired with hostile foreign countries to threaten our national security, openly advocated for white supremacists to engage in terrorist attacks, sent military personnel to attack and kidnap peaceful protesters, stolen children from their parents, and threatened the very foundation of our democracy.
In the face of so much intentional and unnecessary cruelty and suffering, I have been surprised to find myself sincerely praying for his and his conspirators’ health and full recovery.
When I started attending church, one of my goals was to understand how to love those whose actions and inactions perpetuated cruelty and oppression. I knew Jesus had instructed me to love my enemies, but I could not wrap my head around how or why. How could I love those who actively work against love? And why would God ask me to do this seemingly impossible task?
It turns out I didn’t need to learn how to love my enemies. I needed to learn how to love myself.
Shortly after joining our community, I made a concerted effort to practice finding compassion for those who knowingly inflict harm on others. Not forgiveness, which is not mine to give, but compassion. As I wept for the children stolen from the arms of their parents, I contemplated the brokenness of the people who would carry out such heartless and cruel orders. As I wept for the Black Americans murdered by those who were supposed to protect them, I wondered how it would feel to live with innocent blood on my hands. As I wept for the hundreds of thousands of people who died from an uncontrolled pandemic, I thought about the loneliness of those who prioritize money and power over human lives.
After a while some hard questions began to enter my mind, including one that was pivotal in shifting my thinking: As a white person whose ignorance made me complicit in the suffering and oppression of people of color, did God despise me the way I despised those who intentionally furthered this oppression?
By directing my anger and outrage toward those who intentionally inflict harm on others, I had been exempting myself from blame for upholding cruel and oppressive systems. None of us who are white are guiltless in the suffering and oppression of our siblings of color. None of us who live in this country are guiltless in the suffering of any oppressed people in our communities. We can either hate ourselves or love our enemies. When I accepted that people can be broken and cruel and imperfect and still be loved, I was able to acknowledge that even in my own brokenness and cruelty and imperfection, I am loved.
Loving our enemies does not mean we stand down in the face of great injustice. It means we do not let hatred fill our hearts or fuel our spirit in our work for justice. It means we make a conscious choice for our actions and words to be driven by love and compassion toward all of God’s people. It means we work to create a world where everyone can thrive and live with love.
I never imagined that the answer to loving my enemies would be found through loving myself. But as I pray for a President whose broken spirit has inflicted so much cruelty and suffering on people all over the world, I find myself acknowledging my own brokenness and my own role in creating and upholding this cruel and oppressive government. And I pray for healing for us all.
Lord, heal the wounds that leave us doubting your love. Help us remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s admonition that we must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. Amen.