But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you.
Immaculee Ilibagiza is a woman who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She, along with seven other women, hid in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s home. For 91 days, they sat in silence. Rather than allowing anger and resentment to destroy her and her faith, Immaculee turned to prayer. In that cramped room, she prayed upon her awakening in the morning and until she slept at night. It was through prayer that she received peace and the ability to survive her situation. It was through prayer that she understood the imperative Jesus gave to love her enemies and pray for those who persecuted her; for that’s what she did, she prayed for her tormentors and for those who murdered her family. So powerful was this practice and so profound the grace that God poured upon her, she was actually able to sit across from the man who murdered her mother and brother and say the words “I forgive you.”
Most of us will never need to deal with such horror. Each and every one of us, however, will deal with people who hurt us in some way. It does not matter the degree to which we are harmed, we are still commanded by Jesus to love and pray. The person who cuts us off at the freeway, the coworker who spreads false gossip that leads to our reprimand, the church leader that oppresses us because of their own fears, the person that steals our innocence through abuse…. all these people we are instructed to love. This is not an easy task – that’s where prayer comes in to play.
It is through prayer, that we will be given the grace to forgive and love. When we carry anger and resentment instead of love, we become weighed down. We become so burdened that we are unable to move forward on our spiritual journey. These burdens begin to affect all of our relationships and even our physical selves. God wants us to be free from these burdens. Through communion with God, we will discover the way to let go and love. It may come as an epiphany, it may come through another person, but we will always receive the power to forgive. It may not come quickly, it may take weeks, but if we are persistent in our prayer, we will receive the grace needed. William Young in his book The Shack states it this way: “You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness.”
Perhaps today, we can turn to God in prayer and seek the courage and grace needed to let the resentments go and forgive those who have hurt us. Then, let’s move forward unburdened and open to even more grace and love!