O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I never really used to get what the big deal was about praying for enemies. I’m not the sort of person who has many enemies. I’m friendly, I get along with people, and I’m good at mediating. I’m also kind of a people-pleaser. Even the big, Hitler-level “enemies” I feel more pity for than enmity. This is a strength in some circumstances, but it’s also a weakness—the fact that I’m infrequently riled or angry means that I’m often passive when I should be active, a bystander when I should be an advocate.
Well, a few weeks ago, I got mad. Really, really angry. There was a religious symposium held at my university, sponsored by a bunch of conservative Christian groups on campus, and I attended one of the plenary sessions (“The problem of the Christian treatment of homosexuality”) with a handful of fellow Episcopalians to support a friend of ours who was acting as a respondent.
All things considered, the session went pretty smoothly—no one was attacked, verbally or otherwise; our friend appeared calm, collected, and smart (though he began by assuring us all, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia”), and if even one person in the audience was encouraged, given some hope, it was more than worth it.
Sitting there in my seat, though, listening to almost an hour of tired, offensive, fallacious anti-LGBT arguments, I felt a bit queasy, and then I got mad. Slippery slope arguments? Jokes about women marrying horses? Thinly veiled Freudianism? I watched a brother and sister in Christ speak out of earnest beliefs and I wanted nothing more than to stride down to the front of the room and shake them until they made sense. I didn’t—I stayed in my seat making disapproving noises and actually shaking (that might have also had something to do with the six cups of coffee I had that morning, but still).
I surprised myself—I don’t usually have such strong emotional reactions at public events. I came away from the event with a lot of realizations—that I love being an Episcopalian, that I’m surrounded by a pretty amazing and caring community of Episcopally-minded people here in Hoosier-land, that Freud still gets used by some people outside of literary studies.
I also learned that I, too, have my goodly human store of hostility and enmity. I, too, have enemies to pray for. Enemies for whom it really is tempting for me to pray not, “Bless and guide them wherever they may be,” but “Would you please knock some sense into them already?!”
This was a timely pre-Lenten realization, and I’ve been trying to use this season of self-examination and penitence to make a conscious effort of praying for my enemies, expecting—needing—more change in me than in them.
Do you pray for your enemies? Why or why not? If so, how has the experience changed you?