Loving our neighbors is hard, and loving our enemies is very difficult — and at times, almost impossible, too. In Tom Hank‘s rendition of Mr. (Fred) Rogers, the movie began with him saying:
“I’d like for you to meet a new friend of mine, his name is Lloyd Vogel. Someone has hurt my friend, Lloyd… and not just on his face. He’s having a hard time forgiving the person who hurts him. Do you know what that means? To forgive? It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feeling of anger we have at them. It’s strange, but sometimes, it’s the hardest of all to forgive someone we love.”
In other places, the actual Mr. Roger said:
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle’. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” This is hard, because to choose to love, just as to forgive, is a very personal, heartfelt, and intimate act to embrace the person who is in our lives, in front of us, or who have wronged us.”
I think we talk much about love in the modern world, but we really lack love in our own everyday life. We have seen more people — perhaps even our very own selves being angry, frustrated, resentful, and blasting one another on social media, through gossip, or in personal conversation. It looks like we have cheapened love and use it as a propaganda word but we have not done enough to make compassion and mercy a reality.
I believe outrage has become our go-to national activity and pastime, for politicians as well as everyday people on social media. We have become like little children throwing tantrum, saying “No!” to each other or picking on the wrongdoings of the other side, but no one is willing to budge, listen, care, or love. Personally speaking, never have I been more embarrassed seeing how politicians, leaders, and everyday people are becoming more childish, self-centered, and unprofessional in only caring about what they have to say. Unfortunately, all that we do as a leading first-world nation is being broadcasted around the world to see! I know we can do and be better than this if we are humble, considerate, and caring for just a little bit.
I learned from my own spiritual director and taken his teaching to heart: “To revenge is human, but to forgive is divine.” Truly, it is so easy to avenge and seek retributive justice — an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth — when someone has done us wrong. Without offering this hurt to God and learn to personally forgive this or that person, resentment, anger, and hatred will eat us alive. And to be honest, I have felt this personally, too! When anger and its temptations of hatred get the best of us, we end up pushing people away (including innocent people, and at times, caring people who love us, too).
Anger consumes us and destroys us deep from within. It makes us irritable, doubting others, and at times paranoid with other people’s intentions and actions. Therefore, to be merciful and loving is to realize that we also need it! Mercy does not just affect others, it also affects us. To be merciful and forgiving is a personal, intimate, and willing choice to reflect the divine life and love in our very ordinary life choices and actions. Mercy helps us transcend the actions done in order to consider the person in all of his or her blessings and brokenness, as one who is also in need of forgiveness and divine grace just like us.
When someone had hurt me in the past, I had to learn to pray for the person, myself, and the relationship that hurt me. I had to learn that God is still working in the person as well as in me! Hence, I had to choose to forgive and love the person by lifting them up in front of the Almighty in prayer. It was not easy and I had to will it every time!
My spiritual director at the time told me that everyone does things — for better or worst — with good intentions. However, the Devil often comes in to manipulate and use the person’s weaknesses against one another and against love. Therefore, he told me that we need to learn to love and forgive each and every person beyond his or her apparent brokenness, limitations, and failures. I do not know about you, but that is hard! I had to choose to let go, to pray, to forgive, and to love the person in each and every prayer — a little bit more each day. It was hard in the beginning; I was tense and did not want to do it! Yet, at the insistence of my spiritual director, I had to choose to stick with it. Slowly, it became a little bit easier and more natural each time. Day in and day out, it became a part of what is still important and integral for my spiritual life.
Even today, that relationship never really got mended. I have not talked to the person in the past for years, but I no longer hold on to resentment and anger. God freed me from my own hell! He taught me through that particular relationship — as with others, too — how to love and forgive by choosing and willing to do it with His grace. Truly, to forgive is divine because we cannot do it without Him. Simply put, to forgive and practice mercy is to willingly accept the possibility that the relationship will not be the same and what we have chosen to do might not be accepted lovingly. Nonetheless, this is what we have discerned and chosen in the purity of heart and clarity of conscience with the grace of God.
Who are you and I choose to love and forgive today? Who is the person or people that you and I need to let go, pray for, and to choose to forgive and love? Are we doing it by ourselves or have we invited God into this relationship and its hurts, pains, sufferings, limitations, and brokenness? Where is God in the midst of all this? We can only forgive when we understand how much it costs the Almighty to love, forgive, and redeem us. It might seems easy at first, but it the exact answer is one that none of us is worthy to receive, because it was with the life of His only-begotten Son! He loves us not because we are worthy and perfect. It has always been His loving grace that makes us perfect in response to the love first given to us.
People are not toys and objects. They are not disposable and easily thrown away, to be manipulated, or to simply be used for our benefits or calculations, no matter how imperfect they might be! Everyone is worthy of love, worthy to be saved and redeemed, forgiven and cared for no matter what. You and I are here today because of His grace. We are here because He has loved us first. We are able to love because He taught us how to love as we are able — not just with our own efforts but with His grace that empowers us. Love becomes a divine reflection when we choose to imitate and radiate His love. Without this reality, we really have nothing to give! It is impossible to truly love our neighbors, loved ones, the people who are around us, those who are different than us, and especially our enemies without Him. Think about it… If everything is our way and perfect to our likings, we would never need God and turn to Him in prayer and seek what is more than us, our wanting, benefits, expectations, demands, or desires.
We are the most pitiful people if we only care and worry only about ourselves! Life becomes boring and dull when it is only filled with people who are like us and only exist to say “YES” according to what we want to hear. A narcissistic, self-centered, or controlling life is the most lonely, isolated, and hellish life there is to live. Life is only worth living with the people that are in it — no matter how imperfect it is. Why? Because there is grace there! There is God there! There are opportunities for prayers, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
To be Christlike is to walk the path that radiates the true, personal, intimate, extraordinary, and infectious joy that is not dictated by self-centered human standards, expectations, or demands. Hence, to be merciful and forgiving is a choice, a willingness to choose the standards of Christ than our own worldly or personal standards so that we can truly be grounded in Him and to live our true faith, even in bitter times. To love, forgive, and be merciful help us to recognize that we are human with a heart that understands pains and hurts, but also able to choose to lovingly forgive when we have been wronged.
There is no perfect solution or answer to the imperfections of life. All these creative tensions remind and help us to be in touch with the depths of our soul so we can be moved to see others around us who are still struggling with their brokenness, just as we are with ours. We are called to rise above what hurts us to see other people as they are, worth redeeming and saved by the Blood of the Savior. So, I will leave you with an invitation… Never ever let anything or anyone stop you and I from praying and to use all things to turn to the One who can teach us how to love, forgive, heal, and embrace the imperfections of life. He is there… and He is only a prayer away!
May the love of God be with you.