How I learned to Bless My Enemy

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The pain, the memories walloped me with fear and anger when someone brought up X. “Make friends,” they said. I was startled by the sudden pain, how terrible memories flashed back, after all these years. 
No I can’t. I CAN’T.
Ugly words repeated in my thoughts and repeated again in my thoughts and then again. I rehearsed what I would say if we met. What good would it do to say them? Back when X and I interacted I took refuge in making nice, shying away from speaking my truth because all that anger couldn’t be right. Making nice, playing it classy, that too, was a way to fight back. 
It was the best I could do, though I have wondered if “what I would say,” if telling X how they hurt me, is part of how we reconcile. I wonder if I did wrong by them, by not spelling out how very hurtful they were being, right then, right there. At the very end I communicated through a lawyer because words between us would do too much damage.
Even now, what I would say to this person would be so ugly, and after so many years, and so many miles, what’s the point? Would those words be more about revenge than about reconciliation and forgiveness? Some pain, some broken relationships might not be healed this side of Kingdom come. I fear that might be true with X. Though if they came to me with a clue as to how they hurt me, all this pain would roll away. But I can’t demand that. I do believe this relationship will be healed, here or maybe there, but the reconciliation will come. God will know how to help us make peace. 
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Have you ever wondered what it will be like to be cleaned up? To have those broken, bitter places healed like rain calling forth wildflowers in a desert? (Next week I’ll tell you how this happened with a relationship that was just as broken.) 
When the psalmist says we will dine in the presence of our enemies, I no longer think this means we get to gloat at the feast while our enemy looks on, hungry. No, I think we will be seated next to the people we hated at the Great Party. They will be a presence sitting right there, next to us. I am not certain God will throw any one away. I know Jesus talked about outer darkness, but He also said He came not to condemn the world but to save it. There is mystery here that I can’t solve with anything more than trust.
If everyone will join us at the great feast, we’d jolly well better work on forgiving them here and now. Besides the Lord’s prayer makes our forgiveness conditional on how we forgive others (forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.) But what if our pain is so deep, our words so ugly, how do we make a way for forgiveness? How do we ease the pain?  
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This was such a terrible time, the hurt so awful, I dreamed about demons, waking up, my feet burning. The next morning I walked our Rottweiller by the train tracks between our subdivision and Green Giant in Belvidere. I sometimes let Cane dog off leash. Those trains would sneak up, silently. I’d call him back to me, a grace neither one of us was crushed. Somehow down those tracks I stumbled onto the idea that I could, that I should, bless my enemy. I don’t know how I thought of it, but it was a grace and a gift that I did.
God sometimes turns horrible relationships around for good.  X lead me to this practice of blessing my enemy. It is something I’ve used when those obsessive, I-should-have-said thoughts rise, and I know I can’t say them. It can be hard, repetitive work, especially if the hurt and the obsessive thoughts rise again and again. But those thoughts can be a cue to bless, God bless them. You can turn the hurt around and send it back into the air for good. This practice saved my marriage and my sanity.

Here’s what I wrote to describe that process. I sent it off to This I Believe, hoping they would air it on their broadcast but they never did, though it is still on their site:

God bless my enemy. Bless her. God.

For whatever reason she is someone I can’t confront. I can’t talk to her about what’s troubling us. Often she’s nothing more than a wet hen pecking at me incessantly—you aren’t worthy, you don’t belong here, you’re not good enough. The wounds are subtle, but I bleed.

I know my enemy because she sits like a cockleburr on my soul, the prickers so sharp it does no good to talk it out, the pain only nestles, making itself comfortable and me obsessing: I could have said…I should have replied… But anything I might say to defend myself would be met by an accusation I cannot answer. My brain rides a spin that skips, the music played over and over. I bore my friends. They withdraw.

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I do not want to be married to my enemy because of the hate, but I am harnessed to her as surely as two Clydesdales are bound by heavy leather straps, tugs, and the load they are pulling. Besides, just because she hates me, and sometimes it’s just that, her hatred, it doesn’t mean I have to hate him back.

There is wisdom behind Jesus’ commands to love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. It’s a wisdom that reflects the saying that when we hate others it’s because we are uneasy with ourselves. But sometimes it’s easier to hate someone out there, who has done us wrong, than our own souls, who did someone else wrong. How can I pray such a thing when I hate her? I hate the woman. There I said it.

God bless her.

I hate her.

God bless her.

I swear it’s like shoving my shoulder against a Clydesdale that will not move, her quarter ton hoof resting on my foot. Bless. Her. My enemy. I lean into the horse. Punch her flank. The mare turns her head, looks at me with kinder eyes than her hoof, leans into me. Bless the nag. God. Get her off my foot.

God what am I saying? I can’t tell you what to do. I can only trust your Spirit’s stepping between us, with a language more like groans and I think about my dog as he stretches out of sleep to waking, with low throated greetings like nickers from a horse.

God does something, or the prayer’s own power, or the goodness being traded for evil, but some magic of goodness happens. He feeds her, my enemy, pouring oats into her manger. She steps forward. I pant as the blood shoots into my foot. The pain eases.

I have seen this blessing work a slow miracle in the most intractable of relationships, where I had no hope we’d ever speak again, but there we were, talking and listening with compassion. So this is one thing I believe and practice. I bless her, my enemy. And in blessing her I bless myself.

This last piece was first published on This I believe.

Nadia Bolz Weber also talks about this unhitching from people who have hurt us in Forgive Assholes. Her language is earthy but her words are grace filled. 

How have you found your way to forgiveness? What are your practices? 

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6 Comments

  • //There is mystery here that I can’t solve with anything more than trust…// yah mum!
    Paying attention to what has been set bf me: didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, can’t control it! I can’t, he can, (I guess when he wants to!) I think I’ll let him! I sill don’t trust. That’s part of the mystery I guess. I’m learning to think of myself as a guest at my own party. As such I am concerned that I have as good a time as anyone invited. Looking at the beautiful world the Lord created I guess he had pleasure in the beautiful. swy he created it!?

    • katiewilda says:

      Charles, you offer some wisdom here–thinking of yourself as a guest at your own party is a good insight. I am just now learning this–that I am part of the Lord’s beloved creation and need to tend myself just like I would anyone else. So lovely–I guess he had pleasure in the beautiful since he created it. Thank you for stopping by.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    This is a gut-wrenching post, dear Katie, and I greatly appreciate your transparency. I’m convinced that the only way we can be helped and also help others is by encouraging transparency. Granted, we can “cast pearls before swine” so to speak, and we must be careful, but your faithful blog readers will appreciate this post. Jesus says this in Luke 17:3-4: ““If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” I think when many pastors tell us to forgive carte-blanche any offense and any offender, they forget Jesus’ own words: We forgive *if* someone repents (even up to many, many times–unlimited times, as this verse implies). Does God automatically forgive us (yes, in the eternal sense if we’re Christians, but we are still to confess each sin after we commit it so the Lord forgives and restores our fellowship with Him). Jesus said on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and yet only one thief would enter paradise with Him. I’m no theologian, but I believe here Jesus had an attitude of forgiveness. He knew not all those in His hearing would enter heaven, because they would reject Him throughout their lives, but He didn’t hold their horrific sins against them in bitterness, even as they crucified Him. We are not to be bitter towards our enemies. I think what you are doing is right . . . you are praying for God to bless your enemy. You are not lashing out vindictively. You are not doing harm to this person. But for you two to be reconciled, this person must confess the sin committed against you and repent. You cannot actually forgive the sin the person doesn’t confess. We’re must not and are commanded not to allow a root of bitterness to grow. So keep asking God to change the heart of this person and to bless him/her. Only God can change a heart. I have been terribly wounded recently by the unjust accusation of someone I love, who has also slandered me to many, many people. First I did attempt reconciliation in a number of ways, but she refused to speak to me. There was nothing more that I could do, but to be sure that I had not sinned against her, pray for her, ask God to change her heart, and I also continued to reach out to her by sending cards on special occasions, as I always did in the past. She has never permitted me to speak to her to air this grief and her complete misinterpretation of something I said, or confront her about her slander. But because I didn’t retaliate and tried to reach out in love, there has been a slight breakthrough, when we were forced (by circumstances) to see each other. It’s a very small breakthrough, but it’s something. How can I forgive the offense she refuses to own? But I can consider her needy, in need of redemption and her own healing, and I can pray and not retaliate, and refuse to let bitterness over this, with God’s help, ruin my own soul. I think you are on the completely right track, and I’m praying God frees you from this weighty burden. I realize my thoughts are spilling here a bit randomly, so I pray that this makes sense.

    all my love,
    Lynn

    • katiewilda says:

      I have forgotten that saying of Jesus too. If they repent, we forgive…Though I think we can forgive, unhook from them even if they don’t repent. What you say about Jesus forgiving the people who killed him is wise. He didn’t die angry and bitter at the injustice. It’s interesting the faith of the thief on the cross who believed Jesus was the Son of God and asked to be remembered. I am amazed at God’s forgiveness of human’s doing the very worse thing. There is deep mercy for all of us there.

      My heart goes out to you as far as your friend accusing and slandering you unjustly. That is so very painful. I’m sorry she won’t let you two talk it through..Those small breakthroughs can be such a relief. Will pray for your reconciliation with your friend.

      Thank you so much for sharing so transparently.

  • There’s a Clydesdale’s hind end staring me in the face right now, and she’s been there a while. This piece was very timely, because there’s no solution and nothing I can do. She has cut me out of her life. So, speaking is impossible. Neither can I write to apologize yet again. Instead, I’m going to bless her, as you suggest. Since I no longer interact with her, I will bless her in my thoughts and in my spoken words. I will refer to her positively and with grace. I will focus on her excellent qualities, rather than the . . .other things. I will trust that my prayers and my kind words will transform my own heart and hers, by the grace of God, and that one day we will be reconciled. I will stop hashing over the years of warring words. I will let go of this and entrust it into God’s hands. Thank you for sharing your journey, Katie. It’s a great motivation to move forward.

    • katiewilda says:

      Oh Melinda, you’re very welcome. I am so glad that this post is speaking to you.This blessing a person is powerful stuff, but it is also patient work and can be over many years. This blessing gives God and goodness space to work. I am sorry that your friend has cut you out of her life. That is very painful. And I do believe the Lord will bring about that reconciliation one day. Thank you so much for being my friend.

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