By now you are likely aware that I believe that every person deserves grace and love. But actually, it would be more accurate to say that I believe that no one really deserves grace or love. Love isn't something that we can earn. If we try to earn love, we will fail, because every person alive is flawed. No one is perfect. We have all done bad things. No one really deserves to be loved one hundred percent of the time. We have all acted selfishly and we have all hurt others. In my opinion, if you have to earn love, then it's not really love. Because true love is not conditional. It continues even when you are at your worst and even when you wrong the one loving you. I know that not everyone views love in this way, but I do. And this belief has been a difficult one for me. Being committed to this definition can be painful. It would be a lie to say that loving your enemies is easy. It actually kind of sucks.
What happens when someone purposely hurts you? When someone acts in a way that is not at all loving? In fact they act so selfishly that their choices benefit themselves while causing you pain. What if you did nothing to deserve what they did to you? What if they truly don't deserve your compassion? What if they deserve to suffer the consequences because they inflicted pain on another either out of selfish indifference or malice? Maybe they hurt you on purpose or maybe they didn't mean to hurt you but were just acting selfishly and didn't care enough to think about how it effected anyone else.
Our culture pretty much views love as a feeling that you should chase. It is a feeling reserved for potential lovers and people we care about, not for our enemies. When someone is mean to you, you have every right to be mean right back. They deserve what's coming to them and you can, perhaps even should, retaliate. Our compassion is reserved for the victims, not the ones who inflicted the pain. In fact, despite our supposed war on bullying and hate crimes---hate is deemed "okay" when you're hating someone who did something deplorable. But...hate is still hate. Can we not see the irony in that sort of thinking? Can we not see the brokenness of the person who did the deplorable act?
Dr. Martin Lurther King, Jr. summarized this idea well:
"There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must not do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system."
- MLK, Jr. from his 'Loving Your Enemies' sermon
It is a very painful path to strive to be the kind of person who shows this sort of love. But the person we are so angry at for being unloving...they're buying into a system that portrays love as conditional and self-beneficial. We will never defeat the system by being apart of it.
I thought about ending the post here. The final two paragraphs of the original post were a confession. I discussed a situation that had landed me in a place where I did not want to show love or grace to the person who hurt me. I did not want to be the bigger person. I was struggling with notions of justice and punishment---of what they deserved. I actually felt pretty vengeful. The final lines of that post were:
Even though I feel this way, love is still (and always will be) a choice.
I choose to love this person. I choose to show compassion and to try to understand their perspective. I choose to love them even when I don't feel like it. I still believe that everyone deserves to be loved and I guess it's time to practice what I preach. It's time to love even when it hurts to do so. It's time.
At the time, this was just ambition. It did not line up with my actual feelings. I believed (and still believe) to my core that love IS a choice. I chose to act loving towards that person, to fight the bitter feelings of resentment, and...I eventually won the battle. I never really had the opportunity to reconcile fully with the person and it took me awhile to forgive them, but I have forgiven them. I defeated the feelings of hate and thoughts of retaliation.
The idea that we can't control how we feel is only half true. I couldn't make the anger disappear overnight, but I could choose what I did with those thoughts and how I acted on them and our actions and principles eventually become our thoughts---that is the only method of building character that I know of. I am so happy to have come out on the other side of this battle in victory. The alternative (buying into an evil system) would have only led to bitterness. I learned how to love an enemy (how to turn feelings of hate into feelings of love). It took a long time, but I've never felt more strongly that we are capable of loving the unlovable then I do now.