Day 4: I will try to love my "enemies"
September 13, 2023 - Marisa Guerin, PhD
As she did her best to be a kind and patient person, Thérèse had to navigate real people in the real world. Some were people she loved very much, and others were people she didn’t like at all. Thérèse realized that she attached the label “enemy” to those who pushed her buttons and aroused feelings of threat, revulsion, fear, or distress. She saw that, in a certain way, it was her emotional reaction that “invented” her enemy; she was unthinkingly sorting the world into friends and foes.
Bringing her personal preferences and feelings of animosity to reflective prayer, Thérèse managed to see things from a different perspective She was able to act with compassion for others instead of being a victim of her feelings of animosity. Thérèse saw how often difficult people were ill, damaged, wounded, or in pain. Without excusing or condoning their behavior, she could empathize with their suffering; she recognized that she might do no better if she were in their shoes.
Thérèse’s example shows us that we can see others, even opponents, with the eyes of God. Allowing God’s love to move through us, we hope for the grace to suspend our judgmental thoughts and to see the humanity at the core of each person. This includes people we may consider to be “enemies.”
It is true that sometimes others represent threat or danger, and in such cases, we must set protective boundaries. Nonviolent love is not the same as nonaction and it certainly is not a recommendation for accepting or permitting abuse. We learn a powerful lesson by observing the ways that Thérèse honored both external and internal boundaries. Externally, she practiced defusing or disengaging from conflict; internally, she registered and honored her emotional limits in order to maintain a compassionate stance.
Like Jesus, Thérèse didn’t accept a threatening situation without some reflection on what her options might be. She advised others, “We should never allow kindness to degenerate into weakness.” She did her best to change the things she could change; when that wasn’t possible, she related as she believed God would want, with patience and kindness.
In our polarized society, we often rush headlong into making others our “enemies” – people in many ways like us, but with views or behaviors that we may deeply disagree with. We can love these “enemies” by refusing to mock them, to express contempt, or to use words that cut or belittle them. We love them when we try to hear what they are saying, and why they are saying it, and what aspect of what they say might be right. As citizens, we can vote and lobby for our own positions, and society often acts to constrain those who are out to do harm, but we don’t have to hold hate in our hearts.
Like each Thérèse Challenge, this is an inside job -- patiently cultivating an attitude of respect and compassion for those we experience as “enemies.”