Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prayer for My Damn Enemies?

One of the most difficult obstacles to peace is learning how to deal with difficult people, also known as enemies. This is especially true when they are family members. Someone recently asked me for advice about how to deal with family members who are abusive and inconsiderate. I am able to share only what I have experienced in this arena. I never claim to have solutions for anyone but myself. If they help another, I am glad.

I once spent years telling horror stories about my members of my family, and I actually believed them all; I had facts to prove my accounts were true. I had the evidence. However, as my personal pain and misery escalated, I eventually learned through various teachers and hard lessons to release the anger, sadness and justified resentments toward these people. This was not easy, until carrying them around year after year became more difficult than letting them go. These incidents, when held in mind, will destory our bodies and souls.


My suggestion, which will initially sound ludicrous, is to pray for them. Even typing it looks like such a religious platitude that I want to erase the suggestion and find a more profound response. But returning to my personal agonizing experience, this has been the key solution. When Jesus, and Ghandi were assailed by enemies, they prayed. We are familiar with Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute or abuse us; and we recall his words from the cross to those who were executing him, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."

Ghandi said:

"I had attended the Christian service in South Africa, but it had failed to grip me. I could not join them in prayer. They supplicated God, but I could not do so, I failed egregiously. I started with disbelief in God and prayer, and, until at a late stage in life, I did not feel anything like a void in life. But at that stage I felt that, as food was indispensable for the body, so was prayer indispensable for the soul. In fact, food for the body is not so necessary as prayer for the soul. For starvation is often necessary in order to keep the body in health, but there is no such thing as prayer-starvation.... "

"In spite of despair staring me in the face on the political horizon, I have never lost my peace. In fact, I have found people who envy my peace. That peace, I tell you, comes from prayer; I am not a man of learning, but I humbly claim to be a man of prayer. I am indifferent as to the form. Every one is a law unto himself in that respect. But there are some well-marked roads, and it is safe to walk along the beaten tracks, trod by the ancient teachers."

"Prayer has been the saving of my life. Without it I should have been a lunatic long ago. My autobiography will tell you that I have had my fair share of the bitterest public and private experiences. They threw me into temporary despair, but if I was able to get rid of it, it was because of prayer."

"Now I may tell you that prayer has not been part of my life in the sense that truth has been. It came out of sheer necessity, as I found myself in a plight when I could not possibly be happy without it. And the more my faith in God increased, the more irresistible became the yearning for prayer. Life seemed to be dull and vacant without it."


There is much more to dealing with abusers, but praying for them is a good beginning. That does not mean excusing them or pretending they did not hurt us or do wrong. It does mean that we begin to see how sick, miserable and terribly wounded they are, and we begin to express compassion for them in their chaotic and miserable lives. They may seem happy at times, but they are soul-sick and on the verge of despair. We pray for their recovery, for their eventual happiness, for their peace of mind, for their addictions, for their wounded childhoods and dysfunctional adulthoods, for their antisocial behaviors, etc.


The irony is that if we consistently pray like this, three things will happen: First, what we request for them, we gradually begin to experience for ourselves. Second, we may actually see changes in their lives, suddenly or over the years. Thirdly, if we faithfully do these prayers every day, after a month or so the resentments melt away and peace reigns. This is the power and necessity of the kind of prayer that Ghandi learned through trial and error.

Lastly, keep seeking. This essay is not a band aid or quick fix. Soul-making requires time, many failures, openness, willingness to try new approaches and humility. Ghandi and Jesus both loved and served people who treated them like crap - however, they didn't keep a list of the sins and failures, and they were able to love them as they were. In other words, they held no resentments for being taken advantage of. Most of us are not there yet. In my opinion, it is best to avoid such abusive people and simply pray for them. As our hearts soften and bodies heal, then we may expand to be of more service to those who are ungrateful and very seriously ill.

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