Growing up in the Midwest, I would remember hearing at church the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies.” While it sounded great, I never really thought too deeply about it. I didn’t have any enemies, and I really didn’t know of anyone else who did either. Just where were all these enemies Jesus talked about?
In hindsight, I can see it was youthful naivete because as I look back, my world at the time was very complex. It was the 1960’s in Detroit. My older sister joined civil rights marches and race riots were a thing. Our family went to a naturally racially integrated church, which I thought was normal. I was just unaware. And now, many years later, many things have changed, including the times in which we live and my zip code.
For more than 30 years now I have lived in a conflict zone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Up until 10 years ago, I was familiar with only the Israeli side. Then through a series of amazing events, I began to hear the stories and pains of the Palestinian side. I learned and asked many questions. I’m here to tell you there is indeed actually such a thing as a stupid question, and I’ve asked a few in my learning curve, which I am still on.
My work takes me to both sides of the conflict, looking for ways to meet enemies, bless and love them, and connect enemies.
Early in this journey, I noticed that a number of my Israeli friends were extremely uncomfortable with my growing connection to Palestinians. They asked questions like: “Don’t you know the history?” and “We’ve tried to work with these people, but they are impossible.” On many occasions, I didn’t know how to respond to these questions and comments. I was frustrated, became very tired, and shed more than a few tears. All I knew was that part of my destiny was wrapped up in this mess and I couldn’t shake it.
I prayed and waited, and prayed some more. Suddenly, an amazing question popped into my mind. It was this: “What’s your plan to love your enemy?” Boom. It began to gel in my mind and then my heart. I realized I had been asking the wrong questions. Wrong questions can force us to take sides. Wrong questions can demonize and polarize.
I began to ask this question in the middle of contentious conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I found it helped people lower the level of their voices, to listen, and to think. Sometimes I would ask the question more than once, with an emphasis on the word “your.” A number of people, including spiritual leaders, would quietly answer: “I don’t have a plan.” That’s when I offer to pray with them right then and there that God would give them His plan for them. Everyone agreed and we prayed.
A couple of years later, I was speaking in the States to what was possibly the nicest group of people ever. They live far away from my conflict, on every level. They looked at me and said: “We don’t have any enemies.” It took me back to my childhood. I began to think about a broader definition of the word enemy. Suddenly, I realized that enemies are simply people we are afraid of. That widened the playing field. I asked them: “Who are you afraid of?”
The room went silent.
They slowly began to nod as they silently identified people, they were afraid of in their idyllic country surroundings with beautiful red barns and peaceful grazing cows. Essentially, we could say that people we withhold love from are a type of enemy.
I challenged them to begin praying for their newly identified enemies, to ask God to stretch their hearts to make them big enough to make room for them.
There’s a saying that we can pick our friends, but you can’t pick our relatives. Let’s go one step further — we also can’t pick our enemies.
It has become clear to me that we truly need enemies. Having enemies is part of God’s plan to make us like Jesus. Just as God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son.
We have so many plans in our lives. Plans to lose weight, save money, education, and the list goes on. But do we have a plan to love our enemies? Just as God had a plan for Jesus to love us, who were enemies of the cross, He has a plan for us to love our enemies. I believe He’s just waiting for us to ask the question.
What’s your plan to love your enemies?
Meg Corvus has lived in Israel with her family for most of the past 26 years. She is a firm believer in God, and His plans and purposes for all the peoples of the Middle East. Her desire to ‘hear’ the heart of the sons of Abraham has taken her to very diverse, interesting and sometimes amusing places.