Valentine’s Day comes next Sunday, just in time to think about the people we love and let them know what they mean to us.
That’s not so hard, is it? To reach out to those we love — who love us back — and just let them know how happy that connection makes us. It’s warm and fuzzy and cheery, right?
Well, try this one on. Since 2020 already stretched us beyond our natural abilities and taught us how to do hard things, how about we give a try at loving someone who doesn’t love us back? Put that ancient concept of “loving our enemies” to the test.
Why? Well, as the song says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love ... not just for some, but for everyone.” “Everyone” would include not just those who love us, but also those who don’t. Or maybe we should give it a try because we need to know if we have that kind of strength in ourselves. Or maybe because we need that kind of change in our lives.
The thing is, loving an enemy may or may not benefit him or her, but it certainly will benefit us. A wise counselor once pointed out that the animosity I was hauling around against someone who wronged me was breaking me while my “enemy” had discarded his load years ago and was enjoying an unburdened life. I carried the entire pile of anger and unforgiveness alone because of a backward belief that my pain was punishing him. How could I be more wrong?
So I worked through the process to cast off that heavy backpack, straightened my shoulders and walked on. I can’t say I love that person now, but I am at peace with him, and that is enough. What’s more important is I love myself for having done that.
But what about enemies who don’t seem to want reconciliation, who want to fight on, who look for ways to hurt, who might be the last person on earth you’d want to forgive? How do you love someone you’d rather hurt back? Abraham Lincoln once observed, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” There’s something very satisfying about the idea of destroying an enemy with love.
I was once destroyed that way. Years ago, from the first moment I met a new colleague, we clashed. Working together seemed impossible. If one of us brought up an idea, the other studied it for flaws. We argued often and battled bitterly. This ongoing enmity was toxic to us, and to those around us. Then one day, he walked out onto that thin crust of distrust and offered an olive branch. I can still remember where we were standing when he turned to me and simply asked, “Is it always going to be like this between you and me?” Instead of going into the meeting we were waiting to join, we walked into a nearby room, sat down and cleared the air. From that time forward, our aggression turned to agreement, our resentment to respect. The strengths we had pitted against each other became a mutual force we powerfully utilized to forward our work. This “enemy” became a strong ally — a true and honest friend. So much that a few years later when cancer began to fatally invade his brain, before he lost the ability to communicate, he asked if I would speak at his funeral. I said I would, and I did.
I hate to think of what he and I would have missed had we remained enemies. My friend taught me how to destroy an enemy in a most splendid way.
Our world could sure use less hate and more love right now. Sending a harmless little Valentine greeting might just begin the rewarding destruction of an enemy.