It’s the New Years and I feel like I should be writing thankful glimpses back at the past year or hopeful goals and plans for the upcoming year. Honestly, right now I’m struggling with the never-ending monster of depression that still hasn’t got the memo that I am completely over it and have moved on. It continues to linger and pop up right when I don’t need it. So, I am not ready to write about endings and beginnings. Maybe later.
Instead I’m going to tell you about this memory that popped up out of nowhere today. I suddenly remembered when I was in high school in Bethel, Alaska, at Bethel Regional High School. I was nominally a part of the band, (I didn’t actually play in the band, but I accompanied their various ensembles and solo pieces on the piano). Some of the ensembles I was accompanying had managed to qualify for the state-level band competition and so a group of us had flown to Anchorage to take part in the competition. We were staying at a hotel where the room doors opened onto an outside walkway. For some reason we had our room door open, and for some reason I had left my wallet on a table close to the door. Yes. My wallet got stolen. Normally for my teen self that wouldn’t have been too big a deal since I rarely had any money, but this time I actually had several hundred dollars with me. Part of our trip included a visit to the mall in the big city and I had been planning on buying some much needed new clothing. Major devastation, guilt, anger etc… I remembered this occasion and then realized, Oh, I haven’t prayed for that thief in a long time…
You see, on another occasion, several years later, when I was 20, I had a similar thing happen and it changed my perspective greatly on people and crime and how to think when bad things happen. I had been out by myself on some back roads in San Bernadino in Chile. I had gone out running and had my discman with me. Suddenly a scrawny teen pulled up next to me on his bike, pulled out a gun, pointed it at me and gestured for me to give him my discman. I was in shock and didn’t know what else to do except hand it to him. He road off and I ran home, completely shaken. As the shock wore off, I started to get angry, I wanted revenge. And suddenly, God downloaded to me what the best revenge I could get was…he told me very clearly, Pray for him. Pray for this teen. And it all clicked.
There is a bible verse, Ephesians 6:12 which says,
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
My enemy was not this kid, my enemy was the devil. If I wanted to get revenge against my true enemy, what better way than to pray that this kid be saved, that his ownership transfer from the devil to God. What better way to get revenge than to take something that the devil meant as a curse for me and instead turn it into a blessing? What if, one day, I got to heaven and this kid walked up to me and said, you know, part of why I’m here is because you prayed for me? I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than that. And so I started praying for him. It’s been 20 years since the incident, and I still occasionally remember him and send off some more prayers. As other incidents happened, I realized I could take the same approach and so I added more people to this prayer list. I remembered the theft from high school and added that unknown person. There are the two guys that attempted to mug my husband when we first moved into this neighborhood. The unknown persons that broke into our shed and stole my husbands’ tools…
Here’s the thought process. What if any time the devil tries to “curse” me I instead turn it into a concentrated prayer and intercession for the person who was used to harm me? Jesus said to pray for your enemies. Who are our enemies? Well, nowadays that term is kind of ambiguous. People who have hurt us? Communists? People of a different religion? Terrorists? How about, when we watch the news and we feel ourselves emotionally reacting to some criminal we just learned about? We feel intense anger towards that person…Maybe that person just made it onto your enemy list. Those are the people that Jesus is telling you to pray for. Because, remember, these people who are trapped in sin and do horrible things, they are lost, captives to death and sin. They can’t free themselves of these sin natures, only Jesus can. And so we pray for them, pray that they would, like us, be set free, pledge their allegiance to a different master, experience that amazing grace that we walk in every day. They are our enemies, but Jesus wants them to be our brothers.
I will be honest. I don’t think I have any “real” enemies. I haven’t been subject to persecution; no one has killed one of my family members; I don’t walk around in fear of attack. I hope and pray that I will never be in those situations, knowing full well that for millions of people that is their reality. But perhaps I can cultivate the habit of praying for those who make me angry, who harm me in smaller ways, who go completely against my moral code. And perhaps if that habit is so well-ingrained in me, it will be easier if I do ever face worse circumstances, great heartbreak inflicted by another human being. Perhaps it will be easier to remember that my true enemy is the devil, and I’ll be able to be obedient to Jesus’ calling: Pray for your Enemies.