“The best way to defeat my enemy is to make him my friend.”

Abraham Lincoln said that, and it’s become relevant in my life in a subtle but powerful way. Not that I have any enemies that I’m aware of. But there are people with whom I’ve had arguments, disagreements, and differences of opinion that occasionally got – or threatened to get – rather heated. Not to the point of violence, but to the point of anger, hurt feelings, grudges, or even the end of a friendship.

What brought this to mind is a conversation I had last month before a meeting of a women’s group I belong to at my church. The meeting took place the evening before Ash Wednesday, so some of us were talking about the Lenten sacrifices and prayer practices we adopt during Lent.

One of the women said she had decided to pray for one specific person during each day of Lent, and was curious as to whether she’d notice anything different about this person after Lent was over. She didn’t go into detail about who it was or why she chose this person, but the rest of us at the table started talking about how we might choose a person to pray for if we decided to do the same thing.

What came to mind at this point were the Bible’s instructions to pray for our enemies. It’s easy to pray for our family and friends, but praying for those who’ve hurt or humiliated us – well, that’s a different story. So that’s what I decided to do. But, unlike my friend, I decided to focus my prayers and attention on a different person each day.

It was a bit disconcerting to realize there have been a lot of people in my life who qualified for the list. Some for misunderstandings or subtle insults, and some by whom I felt cheated or taken advantage of. There were people I considered judgmental or unkind, and some who have behaved badly to my kids, or to other special people in my life.

What I found particularly eye-opening was how my prayers changed as time went by. My earliest ones were along the order of, “Please help him/her to become a better person,” or, “Please help them see what they are doing to others.” But then I realized how judgmental I was being. My prayers then started shifting to, “Please forgive me for my part in the conflict.” Or, “…for holding on to the hurt that came with it.” I found myself feeling much more kindly toward whoever it was I was praying for. I don’t know whether it will change their lives, but it’s certainly changing mine.

Another saying has come to mind because of this practice: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free, and realizing the prisoner was you.”

I guess that’s what I’ve been doing, although it wasn’t my original purpose or intention. And I realize that I’ve been following Lincoln’s advice as well, discovering along the way that the enemy I most needed to turn into a friend was myself.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on March 12, 2015.
©Betty Liedtke, 2015

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