We often identify the enemy out there.
The bully of a boss. The boyfriend who cheated. The terrorist who attacks.
But what if the key to loving your enemy out there is loving the enemy within?
To understand this, you’ve got to understand what a wonderfully made and gloriously complex person you are. St. Macarius of Egypt (4th c.) understood:
“Within the heart are unfathomable depths. The heart is Christ’s palace: there Christ the King comes to take his rest with the angels and spirits of the saints, and he dwells there, walking within it and placing his Kingdom there…The heart is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough uneven places are there, and gaping chasms. All things are there.”
You – yes YOU – are this glorious contradiction!
Now, this enemy is more than your “sin nature.” Sin exists in an insidious cocktail of woundedness and shame and hiddenness and fear (Gen. 3). Our stories tell the tale of selves made in the image of God, but shattered. In our earliest days and throughout our lives, we learn to edit our stories – to compartmentalize and hide, to stuff parts of ourselves away – parts we suspect others would rather not see, and parts we suspect God might not love.
There are parts of you that you despise. Parts you’re ashamed of. Parts you’ve forgotten about, strangers to you. Parts which feel out of control.
But none of these parts are strangers to God. God, in Jesus, comes to meet the stranger, the despised, the wounded, the alienated.
Martin Smith asks this question:
“What chance is there of loving and respecting others if I refuse to meet and listen to the many sides of myself? How can I be a reconciler if I shut my ears to the unreconciled conflicts within myself?”
Loving our enemies requires us to love ourselves, or rather – experience the loving kindness of One who would pursue the darkest corners of our being.
Like Jean – who discovered in our work together that was living a perfectionistic existence, with everything neatly put in place. She was an extraordinary beauty on the outside. She was a model of self-control and moral purity. But while she was praised by many, she discovered that her perfection came at a cost. She beat herself up – through exercise, bad eating, and self-criticism for any minor slip-up. In time, she recognized that very early in life she responded to a dominant message – You must always look good, be thin, and be nice. Any part of her that didn’t fit this narrative or contribute to its success was stuffed away, albeit without her conscious knowing.
Jean had no clue that she hated her body. That she hated any imperfection inside of her. That she despised desires which craved food, or sexual intimacy, or even a bit of rebellion.
What floored Jean, however, was the discovery that she had become a moralistic judge of others. Despite her apparent godliness, Jean would evaluate everyone she met. The discovery of her Pharisaism crushed her. Again Martin Smith writes:
“Now I begin to see that the spiritual life is based on a basic honesty which enables me to recognize that everything I find difficult to accept, bless, forgive, and appreciate in others is actually present within myself.”
Loving the enemy begins with a basic honesty with ourselves, an honesty which we’re capable of knowing that Jesus is a friend to the stranger, to the exile, to the alien – even strange, exiled, and alienated places within us.
Jesus lives to love: For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Rom. 5:10)
From the moment of our first alienation, God came pursuing. God’s first words after we sinned: Where are you?
The same God comes looking, in and through Jesus. He searches out our hearts, every part of our hearts. (Psalm 139)
Do you want to love your enemies? It’s time to let God begin searching your heart. ___________________________________________________