We had a lot of responses from last week’s question about how to deal with a difficult person with love, honor and respect, especially when you don’t trust them. So this week’s blog is a follow up to that question with some practical suggestions on how to implement loving one’s enemy or doing good for someone whom you do not like.
Let me begin with a story. Once upon a time there was a thoughtful and generous woman who spontaneously would bring her mother-in-law special treats from the grocery store. If tomatoes were on sale, she’d buy a few extra. If there was a coupon for a certain product she knew she liked, she’d cut it out and buy it for her. Over time however, this generous and thoughtful woman began to notice that her mother-in-law rarely reciprocated. As she paid attention to the lack of mutuality in their relationship, she started to keep score. Soon she felt resentful and bitter and decided that doing these nice things for her mother-in-law was a waste of time. She complained to her husband and to others. She eventually confronted her mother-in-law but nothing was changing,. . . or was it?
We’ve been looking this month – both in my blog and my December newsletter about practicing presence. Today my advent reading said this. “What is most present to me is what has a hold on my becoming.” In the above story, what was this woman becoming? She was once a thoughtful and generous person but by being most present to her mother-in-laws ingratitude and indifference she was becoming a different person, stingy, bitter and resentful. The mother-in-law wasn’t changing but the woman certainly was.
I believe that when we’re not careful or mindful, negative and destructive people can influence us to become just like they are. That is why it is essential that we practice the opposite virtue when we are caught in our own emotional quicksand from difficult people. Doing good toward our enemy may not make a difference to them, but it will greatly help us.
Here are some practical ways we can do good and yet not expect mutuality, fairness, gratitude, or anything else back. We can pray for the person – not just about the person but for their good. We can pray that God will bless him or her, that he will help him or her, that he will show his love. We can also pray that God will bring them to their senses, help him see his sinfulness and repent (this would be for his good).
We can also do tangible things to help them where appropriate. Joseph helped his brothers get food during a famine but he did not offer them a relationship with him because he didn't trust them (see Genesis for the story). Doing good to our enemy doesn't mean that we give our fellowship (which isn't possible when there is an abusive or destructive person who refuses to acknowledge their actions or repent).
We can offer transportation if needed, we can bring a meal over, we can offer to help clean their home, or do other chores that they are unable to do for themselves. We can send them a birthday card or other word of encouragement. We can send them money, pay a specific bill, visit them in the hospital or nursing home, take our children to see them even if our relationship is tense (as long as the children are safe).
Obviously these suggestions need to be tempered with wisdom depending upon the specific situation and may also need specific time limits and boundaries so that you are not overwhelmed beyond your own ability to handle it in a godly way. As I mention in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, when you enter into a toxic environment, take precautions and go in prepared. Ask people to pray for you, imagine different situations that may come up so you can practice how you want to respond if provoked and don’t do it for a longer time period than you can do it graciously. And if you are not able to do it yet, don’t despair. Just pray and ask God for wisdom to what he would have you do, if anything right now.
God says that he gives sunshine and rain to the righteous and unrighteous alike. Who God is doesn’t depend on how we treat him. Jesus didn’t allow other people’s insults, ingratitude, unbelief,sin, or foolishness to turn him into someone else. His focus was on God, not on the people and because he was most present to God, that was what continued to shape his becoming. In the same way, let us be more present to God, even in the midst of difficult and destructive people that we may fix our eyes on him and that in the process, become more and more like him.