The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to walk the balancing act of this strange tightrope: to recognize evil motives in a person, while at the same time having empathy for them. There’s at the same time, the pull back to separate one’s self from what can harm, while inching forward carefully to love and empathize in a way that isn’t harmful.
We see this in all kinds of situations in the many different roles we each play. Outside of Christianity it is taught that we are to ditch unpleasant people; but we have an opposite teaching: to love our enemies and to be kind to them. How can we do this except through the power of the Holy Spirit in us?
I walk this balance as a pastor’s wife, an employee and co-worker, a friend, a family member, among my other roles. You do too. Maybe as you’re reading or listening to this, there are people coming to mind. I’m thinking of a few people too. Not that I think badly of them – just that I’m aware that I do have to walk this tightrope and maintain this balance with them. It isn’t easy to do, but either alternative: to blindly let someone walk all over us, or to focus only on their evil motives, would be to walk in disobedience to the clear teachings of Jesus. So, we have to try.
This balance is demonstrated, I believe, in Jesus’ teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)
That sounds pretty straightforward, right? As followers of Jesus, we are to love the ones we usually deem as unlovable. He wants us, as children of our Father in heaven, to love our enemies, to pray for those who mean us harm, and to befriend people from outside our circle. I think that if we are able to do that, we would truly be extraordinary human beings. This is a huge goal.
But Jesus also tells a parable that seems to suggest that not only should we love others, but that we should also be ‘shrewd’ in our dealings with people. It is the story of the Shrewd Manager, and I have to tell you that this parable has puzzled me for many years; but now I think I get it, at least, some of it. The story is found in Luke 16: 1-9. Basically it is about a manager who is about to lose his job for wastefulness. Before the word gets out that he is in trouble with his employer, he sneakily lowers the debts of some of the employer’s big debtors, (something that was in his power to do), thereby putting himself in a place of favor with those debtors. When his employer finds out what the manager had done, he kept him on because of his shrewdness in dealing with his pending loss of employment. Jesus commends the manager, saying, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” (Luke 16: 8).
What I believe this is saying is that as Christians, the people of the light, we too should have self-preservation in our sights. The same person who said, “Love your enemies”, also commended a manager for being shrewd. This is the balancing act I’m speaking of. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean allowing someone with bad intentions towards us to have their way in our lives. If we are wise, we can have self-preservation as a driving force, even as we are asking the Holy Spirit how to love that person in the ways we should.
Tightrope acts are pleasant to only a few. For the rest of us, it is a balancing act that we would prefer to avoid; but life isn’t like that. Life presents us with ongoing opportunities to love others we’d prefer not to, and to empathize with them, even while we keep the necessary distance to protect ourselves.
I hope this is freeing for you. That as you think of the people in your life who have you walking this particular tightrope, that you would feel how pleased the Lord is that you’re even trying. Recognizing the command to love your enemies and trying to walk in that, while at the same time putting up boundaries and looking out for your own heart and peace of mind, is all very much in line with what Jesus taught. Just stay close to the Holy Spirit as you work this through and make decisions on what to do, think, say, or pray. One of His jobs with us is to lead us into truth; believe that that is what He will do for you as you work to be a good steward of yourself.
It is a balancing act, but in His strength and power and love, you’ve got this. All praise and glory to the Father who tells us what to do and then walks us through doing it, whatever ‘it’ may be. Amen.
© Debbie Mendoza March 2019
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