Christians are commanded to love their enemies, but how do we actually do that?
There is nothing that marks the Christian life more than love — love of God, love of neighbor. Christians are not simply called to love those we find easy to love; we are also called to love our enemies.
Enemies show up in our lives in different ways. They may be people who actively undermine or persecute us, but often they’re just people with whom we disagree or dislike — a narcissistic neighbor, an intrusive in-law, a political leader with opposing views, any number of people on social media.
It’s easy to love people we like and difficult to love people we don’t like. When we dislike someone, we prefer to stay away from them and to even see them fail, or at the very least not be rewarded for what we believe is bad behavior.
But a Christian doesn’t have a choice. If we wish to live our faith authentically we must find a way to love those we don’t much like. How do we do that? We can begin with something fundamental…
Remember what love really is …
Love has been defined in different ways over the millennia, and there are different kinds of love, but one definition that reflects the Christian meaning of love comes from St. Thomas Aquinas:Love is willing the good of the other.
Love is not primarily about feeling good feelings or enjoying someone’s company. Real love is wanting what is best for the other person. We can love people we don’t like because we can will their good, no matter how else we feel about them. When we want and seek what’s best for them, we are loving them as we love ourselves, and as God loves each of us.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Give something of yourself
Word on Fire’s Dr. Tom Neal has written about how the Second Vatican Council, based on the theology of Karol Wojtyła (St. John Paul II), built on Thomas Aquinas’ definition of love by linking “the willing of another’s good” to another gift that should accompany this willing — the gift of self.
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (Gaudium et Spes #24)
Willing the good of another is not just to wish them well in our heads but to also be willing to give something of ourselves to them. That may be an act of kindness or patience, or practical assistance, but perhaps most importantly, it is prayer.
Pray for those you don’t like
Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Whether they come in the form of family members annoying us on a given day, or strangers we believe are endangering the world in some way — we can pray for them.
Pray for those you don’t like in your daily prayers, at Sunday Mass, on your rosary. When you encounter these people in your daily life, ask God to bless them. This can be hard to do, but as you make this practice a habit, it gets easier. And what may happen is that eventually this prayer will soften your heart towards those who you find so hard to like.
Loving people we don’t like is about choosing to will their good. In this, we become a more authentic witness of God’s love.