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Privately, forgiveness is often something with which I struggle, and I’ve noticed others struggling with it, too.  Most of us have little trouble letting go of the small things, but some things… well, some things just seem unforgivable.  These tend to be the things with long-term– even lifelong– consequences, and the natural tendency is to loathe those responsible.   Those people are the enemy, after all.  They must be.  They did this terrible thing, whatever this terrible thing is.

Now… I am not trying to convert anyone.  But I grew up in the Mennonite tradition, and forgiveness is a huge theme in Christianity.  I am sure many remember the shooting at the Amish school a few years ago, immediately after which the Amish community made an unprecedented televised statement to offer forgiveness for the perpetrator and compassion for his family.  I cried not just for the tragedy itself, but also from the amazing example of forgiveness being offered for the rest of us.  I wondered how many of us could do the same thing in that position.  I almost certainly could not.

“Love your neighbor” is an easier order to fill, depending on who you have for neighbors.  If your neighbors happen to also be enemies, then I suppose it gets a little trickier.

First, it might help to define “enemy”.  The most common definitions imply hostility, but other definitions suggest damage without any such hostility.  The enemy can be a deranged gunman, or a liberal/conservative, or a pro-life/choice advocate, or… anyone with whom we have conflicts and disagreements.  It might even just be the neighbor who planted shrubs you hate.  Either way, “love” is the prescribed antidote.  But, how to muster love for obviously horrid people, like the individual who abused me when I was a child, and set into motion a whole series of ugly things which still negatively impact me decades later?  It’s a tall order.  And, there are not a lot of great examples of that kind of forgiveness.

In fact, if you peruse the internet and television programs, there’s an awful lot of hate and contempt out there, for all sorts of things– much smaller infractions than those I am struggling to simply forgive. nevermind love.

In Christianity, we are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love our enemies too.  Maybe that is part of the issue.  Maybe we are all loving our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves, but some of us actually hate ourselves, so that self-loathing is expressed through the way some of us treat others.  Or, maybe being civil is just too much to ask from some.  Maybe it is simply the path of least resistance.

C. S. Lewis said, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”  I would add that this also applies to enemies, and that if, in the end you still do not love them, at least there’s no harm done– unless, of course, they try to stab you in mid-hug because they still hate you for that thing you did way back when….  And then we’re right back where we started.  Is the risk worth it, to bring an end to the status quo?

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