It felt a little like being punched in your stomach and getting the wind knocked out of you.
I had glanced over and had seen someone I knew from a former time in my life. There was that moment of recognition. I started to smile a hello. But the other person turned away.
Like they didn’t even know me.
Only both of us knew that they did know me.
I’d like to say this doesn’t hurt. But it does. I was never best friends with this person, but we had been friends at one time. And then there were choices followed by insidious lies. And somehow we came out on the other side as The Enemy, with never an opportunity to even defend ourselves.
And, yes, it still hurts.
Why do I share this here? It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. It’s not the stuff we like to talk about.
But it is real life.
I can’t imagine that some of you haven’t had similar experiences at one time or another. As much as we would wish it, life is not wrapped up neatly into a little box tied with a beautiful bow. Happy endings are for another world. True forgiveness is a rare treasure and second chances don’t come around often.
It is what it is.
These kinds of moments always make me think of one of my very favorite verses–
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)
What does this mean exactly? I am not going to give the deep theological meaning. I am going to give the very practical, applicable meaning in my life at the moment that the above encounter took place.
It means that I very purposely walked up to the other person, ignoring the pain, the fear of rejection, and the awkwardness, and said a friendly hello. It means I asked them about things in their life, trying to be genuinely gracious and kind as I did so.
I didn’t do this out of spite or manipulation. It wasn’t to say I’m better than anyone else. In fact, I didn’t want to do it at all. At all. So why did I do this?
I did it out of pure obedience. I did it because of this verse.
As believers, we are required to love our enemies. To bless those who curse us. To pray for those who persecute us. To do good to those who hate us. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27)
Many are the times I have failed in doing this. It is so much easier to just walk away, adding more bricks to the wall already between me and someone else. But this one time, I think I did what would have pleased my Savior.
When I do take that tentative step of obedience, I can walk away knowing that I have done everything I can do to be at peace with that person who doesn’t like me, which brings that wonderful peace between me and my God. And I can honestly say it also helps to change how I feel about the other person. I’m not sure how or why, but it removes some of the bitterness that may be building in my heart, replacing it with grace and love towards the one who has hurt me. As this defies human logic, I have concluded that this must be God working in the obedient heart.
Oh, how I wish I could be so obedient all the time but, alas, I fail so often. There are few things more painful emotionally than rejection or broken, messy relationships, and working our way through them in a way that honors God is so difficult. But when we can make the choice to love our enemies, we grow in our faith and in our capacity to love. It is not a void decision that makes no difference, but instead fills us with love and peace and the knowledge that God is enough. Sure, one conversation doesn’t make that big of a difference, but it is sure a step in the right direction.
I have no idea what you are dealing with today. I don’t know if it’s a relationship within your family or perhaps your spouse’s family that is causing you great pain. Maybe it’s friends (or people you thought were your friends) at work or school or church. Whoever it is, do what’s right before God and “kill them with kindness.” As true soldiers of Christ, let’s commit to showing His love and grace, no matter what the response is from the one who is causing us pain. And in responding in such a surprising way we will not only grow stronger in our own faith but we will shine brightly and offer a choice of hope and love for the hurting, bitter world around us. We will show that Christ does make a difference in the life dedicated to living for Him.