A Practical Guide to Loving Your Enemies

man praying with love for the worldAngry eyes stare at me as the woman yanks a shopping cart from my hands. “I got it first,” she says and storms away. I want to shout. Instead, I breathe.

As a biblical therapist who helps others address life’s challenges through scriptural insights, I’ve learned that my ability to deal with moments like these depends on compassion and love. I can love hurtful people by remembering to take a few deep breaths. It seems simple. Right? I take a minute to inhale, filling my belly with air; then I exhale every bit of it. This washes away the adrenaline that spikes my emotions, which have been heightened by frustrated people snatching shopping carts. I take a few slow, easy breaths until peace replaces my anger.  

LISTEN: Loving Your Neighbor When It’s Hard

I’d like to say this practice has always come easily, but I’ve had moments of struggle and burnout, times when bitter, demanding people activate my desire to hide or throw something. These impulses fade when I listen to the still, small voice of the Lord. Here are a few of the ways God helps me to love my enemies.

When I treat others like I want to be treated, I feel better.

My friend Mandy calls me after I’ve spent a long day listening to and assisting broken people. I expect her to know that my listening ear is clogged. Instead, she blathers on until I want to yell, “Stop!” Instead, I implement the “Golden Rule” from Galatians 5:14. Loving Mandy like I want to be loved means listening. She needs to unload the irritations of her day. I’m not more important than her. Once she finishes venting, Mandy listens to my frustrations … sometimes. The times she forgets to listen to me, I inhale and remember what the Bible says in Isaiah 65:24. I exhale and tell myself that while I’m still speaking, God hears. Then, after our call ends, I share my day with the Lord.

Setting boundaries helps me to love myself and love others.

When I sense the clog in my listening ear is causing my compassion to falter, I take advantage of my days off of work by turning off the ringer on my phone, or I text Mandy to let her know I need to call her another day. Matthew 5:37 tells us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. I have to tell people “no” sometimes. I can’t do everything for every person and expect to remain healthy and act considerately. When I can’t give my friend the support she needs, I treat both of us kindly by saying, “no.” Admittedly, it’s difficult to say.  When Mandy texts me with, “Are you busy?” My new answer is, “Why do you ask?” When she says she needs to talk, and I need to set a boundary, I reply, “I can’t help you right now, Mandy, but I’ll call you when I’m able to give you my full attention.” 

RELATED: How Do We Best Love Our Neighbor?

When I share kindness, it is mirrored in those difficult to love.

When it comes to loving my enemies, I try to use the “Mirror Principle.” I employ this technique with my colleague, Jerry, whose bitterness and negativity overwhelm most people. I prevent his unpleasantness from triggering my frustration by extending to him a joyful expression, or giving Jerry a positive mirror. Admittedly, at times I have to begin with a painted-on smile, but it soon becomes genuine when I respond with kindness. Jerry doesn’t mirror me immediately, but his edges soften as we talk. As he spends more time with me, I become a mirror that helps him to reflect compassion.

Sometimes loving means prayerfully waiting.

Finally, Romans 12:20 says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” I can’t imagine God sending burning embers from the sky today; burning coals of conviction, maybe. My son Marty and I have had recent disagreements that have increased the distance between us. Now, no matter what form of communication I try, he will not accept my apology. I do the best thing I know to do: surrender him to the Lord and pray for him, feeding him from afar.  

Reacting in a loving manner toward hurtful antagonists won’t miraculously change them into kind souls. Yet, when I take a breath, the Lord calms my roiling emotions enough that I can treat broken people like I want to be treated. When I mirror kindness, sometimes I can soften their sharp edges. Even if I can’t, if they continue to bully, berate, and judge me, I still feed them, give them water, and appreciate them. If I don’t win them over, if burning coals are not heaped on their foreheads or conviction doesn’t pierce their hearts, I feel better for maintaining love and compassion. More than that — the one who matters, my Lord and Savior smiles, and I hope he waits to tell me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”