Ever heard the saying, “You have an enemy and it’s not your spouse”?
If you have, then you know that you could replace the word ‘spouse’ with ‘child’, ‘mother-in-law’, ‘boss’ or any other person you’re in a relationship with.
Yes. The enemy it’s referring to is the devil. Don’t stop reading if you don’t believe in a literal devil. It’s not essential for the purposes of this post.
My point is, anytime we’re in conflict with someone we’re also in a close relationship with, it can be tempting to cast them as ‘the enemy’.
As rational adults, we know that even when they’re acting controlling or demanding, the people in our lives are actually not monsters. Sometimes, though, it really feels like they are.
Believe me, I understand.
Does that sound too harsh? Probably.
There are no rosy filters here, though. You know I’ll never water down my life to make it look glossier than it is, right?
As far as I can tell, most everyone spent their holidays doing normal Christmas things.
So did I. Mine just happened to be topped off with a huge dollop of relational struggle.
So, welcome back.
I say that not because you were away, but because I was. Relational struggle always takes me ‘away’.
Away from joy. Away from motivation. Away from the place where ideas, organisation and the ability to give of myself lives.
Thankfully, I’m back after an all out war.
WAR IS A STRONG WORD
This is not a finger-pointing, bash-fest. I’m not going to go into details or sell anyone down the river.
Whenever I struggle in a significant relationship, though, it feels like war. Not necessarily war with the person I’m in conflict with, even.
It feels like war with the pain of being treated badly. War with my own fleshly desire to retaliate in kind.
It definitely brings up feelings of warring with all the old lies that say, “Colleen, you’re just not worthy of care”.
And, I didn’t know it, but I’m at war with my old understanding of how this world works.
I grew up believing the saying: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” I also believed that discomfort was deadly.
Don’t ask me how I got that one. Anything other than happiness, pleasant behaviour, and complete agreement between the people I love has always meant danger.
Like panic, run-for-your-life, hair-on-fire, danger.
So, imagine my turmoil when relationship rough waters come up. My internal ‘fix it’ and ‘make it happy’ mechanisms roar to life and the war begins.
Make them stop!
Someone’s behaving with enmity towards me? Find a way to make them stop.
Stop hurting me.
Stop judging me.
Stop treating me like an enemy.
And that’s where things spiral downhill because none of the tools I have in my toolkit for stopping someone from treating me like an enemy actually work.
My tools are to defend, to attack back or, at very least, hide from them. In my most panicky places, I feel like reasoning with them and explaining to them; talking them out of treating me the way that they are.
All my efforts, more often than not, make things much worse.
This is where my relational lightbulb went on.
LOVE YOUR ENEMY
Mid-relationship struggle, I was praying – pleading with God, really – saying that I knew the person I was in conflict with was not my enemy, but that they were treating me like their enemy.
And then I heard it.
“If they’re behaving like your enemy, maybe you should treat them like one.”
(No booming God voice from heaven. Just a tiny whisper in my head.)
But, instead of sending me into a fit of retaliation-in-kind, I asked a question.
“How am I supposed to treat an enemy?”
I’d spent this whole relational struggle feeling bad because they were acting badly. I was feeling unloveable because they weren’t loving me, but not doing anything because my tactics to get them to love me were clearly wrong.
I was tolerating them while waiting out their poor behaviour.
Love your enemy. That’s what the Bible says.
It doesn’t say, “Use all the tactics you can think of to get them to love you“. Nor does it say, “Bite your tongue, tolerate poor treatment, and feel bad until they decide to be nice.”
That line of thinking is all about me.
only God’s love is omnipresent
What would it look like if, instead of trying to be responsible for ensuring love flowed my way, I let God take care of me and simply did what He would have me do?
Ideally, we should be standing firm in the love of God, and pouring it out on those around us, enemies included, right?
Sometimes, loving on people means firmly and gently calling them out when they’re dropping the ball.
I had been tolerating the treatment I was getting. Loving would have meant a mix of calling out, being kind, and standing firm in the knowledge that I am loved by God.
There are lots of instructions about love in the Bible. I’m no theological scholar, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in there that says we get to dictate how – or if – others treat us with love.
What if we love God and trust Him to love us, instead of trying to ensure it by our own power?
Wouldn’t that leave us standing firm enough to love our enemies, including loved ones who are just acting with enmity?
Sure, in theory, standing firm in God’s love should make it possible for us to really want to love our enemies. But we don’t live in theory, do we? 😉
While reading around the blogosphere in preparation for writing this post, I came across Dena Johnson’s article for Crosswalk.com, if you’re looking for more reading on loving your enemies. She’s got it down. It’s not about us. It’s about God.