It’s called our birdbrain: That little part of our brain that triggers a “fight or flee” reaction when something- physical or emotional- threatens to hurt us.
The core of our biological response, when we sense danger coming at us, is to put up our dukes and fight like Rocky, or turn yellow and run for cover.
Nowhere, in my natural makeup, is there a desire to forgive or to be nice to someone that has hurt me. Maybe yours, but not mine. Watch a little kid get hurt and what do they instinctively do? Run crying to Mommy or swing back. You punch me and you’d better start running or be far enough away to dodge my instincts.
I want to be kind, gentle, and loving like Jesus, except for that one ridiculous request He makes: He tells me to love my enemies and bless those who curse me. As my son, Isaac says, “Grace is a horrible policy.”
It is not in my natural make-up to do either of those things. It is not my first response to be forgiving to those who hurt me. Most of the time I want to give them a taste of their own medicine. I’m Irish enough that I’d rather fight than flee.
Harsh experiences teach me things about myself. And it teaches me things about Jesus that I’d just as soon not have to learn. Like blessing those who curse me. Praying for those who despise me. Loving my enemies. I just don’t want to do those things.
It is quite like Jesus to assign impossible tasks that can only be accomplished through faith and the power of His spirit. Yet, there are promises assigned to those impossibilities that make the effort richly rewarding.
For example, Peter was Irish. Or at least he acted Irish. A feisty red-headed fisherman ready to whack off an ear or two, he was always looking to rumble. Age mellowed him considerably and by the time he wrote his letters (known as 1st and 2nd Peter), he gave examples in 1st Peter 2 & 3 about how we should react when someone does something bad to us.
He uses Jesus as an example and says, “Okay, when they were bad to him, He knew His Father was watching and was the final judge of who was right and who was wrong, and so he didn’t retaliate.”
Peter also went on to utter such absurdities as, “Don’t strike back when someone treats you unfairly.” If he would have left it at that, then we could endure bad things done to us with a sort of martyrdom complex.
But Peter goes on and says, “In fact, if you have been doing good things and someone treats you badly for it, don’t just not retaliate, instead return every bad thing said against you with a good thing said about them.”
You have got to be kidding.
I’ve read those chapters a zillion times, but as I was reading it the other day, something new popped out. Peter said that if you learn to return good for the evil, then God has a special blessing in store for you. He doesn’t say what that blessing is; just says there is one.
It’s like this: I’m on one side of a river and, on the other side, is a big pot o’ gold waiting for me but the only way I can get there is to lay some stepping stones across. Each time I bless those who hurt me, I lay another stepping-stone.
Un-flippin-believable. Impossible. Unnatural.
But I know my God well enough to know His secret blessings are delicious for the spirit and something I desire greatly.
So I spend a lot of time asking Him to help me do what He asks of me because I don’t really want to and, frankly, can’t unless His Spirit gives me the grace to do something so unnatural. I don’t beat myself up when I can’t. I don’t feel guilty when I’d rather punch someone than say something nice.
I just ask Him for strength to do what I can’t do by myself. Which is why I pray. I used to pray for God to change my circumstances. But I spend more time lately praying that God will change me.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not some saint that walks around full of love for my enemies and always has good things to say about those who wound me. But it is my goal.
It’s a goal I can only reach if He gives me the inner strength.
If you’ve learned a few tricks along the way to help you, would you share them with me? I really could use some more help!