Eight months ago I made a commitment to pray every day for peace. And I’ve technically upheld that commitment. Though I have included unspoken modifiers in that prayer.
God, please bring peace and reconciliation (just don’t bring it here.)
I talk about pacifism a lot. I firmly believe it’s the most consistent way of living out Christ’s example.
But, I’m a really crappy pacifist.
I don’t go around punching people. But, so what? How many Christians go around punching people? That’s not a pacifist thing. That’s just a decent human being thing.
Jesus didn’t say, “Y’all are cool just so long as you don’t actually smack anyone.”
Jesus didn’t even stop at turning the other cheek. Jesus told us to go the second mile. Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies. That’s Christian pacifism. And that’s exactly what I resist.
Because I know what happens when you start praying for someone. Prayer humanizes. It strips away all the caked on layers of stage make-up and suddenly you’re staring at a person who isn’t much different than you. That’s when empathy kicks in. And empathy is a real bitch. Because empathy doesn’t let you stew in self-righteous anger.
I thought being angry gave me strength. But, I didn’t Hulk out on evil and injustice. I mostly just stood still because anger is paralyzing.
But, I was afraid to give that up. I fooled myself into believe anger was a shield instead of a cage. Because, really, at the root of it all wasn’t anger. It was fear.
And hadn’t that been the problem to start with?
That’s what I remember most from that time. We were all so very afraid.
I’m not just talking about the few months I was getting death threats. Fear was there from the very beginning. The church was impregnated with fear.
The world is becoming more and more secularized.
If this person isn’t healed by our prayers, does that mean we don’t have enough faith?
The evolutionists are influencing our children.
Our children might not stay pure.
What if I lose some of my political pull in this church?
What if these are the end times?
If she wears that skirt, it might cause a boy to stumble.
What if they all find out what I really do when I’m not sitting in a pew?
Is there anything in the gospel message that could possibly justify fear? Because I sure haven’t come across anything like that.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:18-21
The only antidote for fear is love. That’s why we’re supposed to love and pray for our enemies.
Does doing that somehow take away the possibility that we’ll be hurt? Of course not. Look at all the martyred apostles.
But, if we want even the slimmest chance that reconciliation might be possible we have to be willing to put down the shield, step out of the cage and speak the truth.
My truth is that I don’t hate any of them. I never stopped caring for them and that’s why it hurt so much. I thought being angry could somehow inoculate me against that pain. It worked more like an addictive drug—it was never enough and I’d wind up with awful rebound heartaches if I didn’t keep taking it. But, I was afraid to let it go because I was even more afraid of the sorrow it covered.
So, instead of grieving I got angry. And then I got bitter. And cynical. And spiteful.
I didn’t want to pray for those people. Praying for them felt like saying what they did was OK. Like approval. Besides, part of me wanted them to feel just as much pain as I’ve felt.
Eventually, I just tried not to think about any of them at all. I gave them up. I gave the church up. I gave Christianity up because I couldn’t be involved with it without resurfacing those old hurts.
A couple of years ago, I started taking some tentative steps back into religion. A little while after that I had to stop working and move back across the country with no idea what I was going to do for myself. The life path I’d worked so hard on had been a dead end. Just like when I was 18.
That combination brought all those old memories back full force. (It’s not like I sit around 24/7 playing mental reels of these events.) A lot of anger and resentment came bubbling up at that time. That’s when I started writing about some of it on the blog. And I wasn’t exactly charitable about it.
A couple of months ago, I was bitching about how hard it was for me to rebuild my life and how it was all their fault that I hadn’t graduated college when I should have with the degree I was supposed to get among all the friends I should be seeing all the time in the church I was supposed to be a part of. I wished they could understand how difficult it’d been for me. How much they’d permanently damaged me. But, they’re all just down there living their lives and probably never gave me a second thought after I left. And their lives are probably just perfect.
It struck me how ridiculous that was.
Because I know that all of our decisions have consequences. We can’t escape that. It occurred to me that—consciously or not—they’ve suffered as well. I didn’t escape that situation without suffering some spiritual blows and I can’t imagine the same isn’t true for all of them.
That thought stopped my tirade. I don’t really want any of them to suffer and suffering spiritually is the worst kind of suffering I can imagine.
Being the impulsive person that I am, I said a prayer for them before I could talk myself out of it. It wasn’t long. Just a sentence asking God to bring healing to all of us. What that healing looks like is up to God I suppose. I don’t think I’m unbiased enough to ask for anything specific there.
I’ve prayed for all of us every night for the past two months.
The more I pray, the more that old anger is replaced with empathy. Now, I’m not saying I don’t still feel hurt over the whole thing. That hasn’t changed one bit. Praying doesn’t rewrite history to take away the pain of what happened. If anything, setting down this anger makes me even more vulnerable. There’s no barrier between me and them now. Between me and what happened.
Still, praying seems to have given me some perspective that I lacked before. I can see that most of them believed they were doing the right thing. I can see that a lot of what happened was fear-based. And, oh can I ever understand fear.
Who knows. I’ve changed a lot in the past 15+ years. It’s possible some of them have too. Maybe some of them feel bad about how it all ended up. Maybe that doesn’t even matter.
Maybe we can find some kind of peace anyway.