Love Your Enemy
When we are hurt or wronged, maybe even embarrassed, revenge is often a desire that finds its way into us. I don’t know what it is about being human that makes us want someone to have to pay for their wrongs, but I do think it comes naturally. You’ve done something wrong to me, now I will do something wrong to you and then we’ll call it even. I navigate this all the time with my foster kids. Someone does something that is hurtful and wrong and then they do something back to even the score. And then, when there are consequences for their actions, it seems unjust because they were just evening the score.
Heck, let’s be honest, it’s not just my kids that react that way. I too find that my tendency is to desire revenge. I don’t call it that, of course, but that’s what it is. Just the other day someone said something incredibly critical of me and my first reaction was to think of all the things I could be critical of them for. As if that is the best way to receive criticism. It’s so foolish, and yet sometimes it feels like I cannot help myself.
But what it comes down to is this—I am responsible for my own actions. It is my responsibility to respond like the person I want to be. This means that there are times when someone gets something wrong, or it at least feels wrong to me, that I have to go to that person and explain why it was hurtful. And sometimes that means I’m making myself vulnerable for more hurt, but I think most often it opens up a dialogue, it creates an opportunity to both hear and be heard. It opens the door for reconciliation. It is the path, I think, that is best.
We have a criminal justice system that is built on the idea that when you do something wrong you receive your punishment for that wrong. And sure, we may feel like people are “getting what they deserve,” but who is really helped by this? Why are we not more intentional about building systems where we work toward reconciliation, rather than writing people off.
No life is unredeemable. Relationships can be mended, even when they feel badly broken. Many times those mended relationships look very different. Keeping good boundaries matters. And we get to do that while also opening the door for reconciliation.
So, for me, the first step is to work on my stuff—the ways I want revenge. The second step is to try to help my kids see the value in that. But I don’t think it can stop there. I think it’s time to start working on those systems that write off reconciliation as a possibility. Those systems that perpetuate cycles of violence and poverty. Perhaps it’s time to start actually loving our enemies.