Compassion for an enemy?


This last lesson is the hardest.

I’m not sure I even need it.

Until a message pops up on my phone. My friend tells me she’s having a tough day, feeling excluded from family. I hear the pain in her words. The family believes this personal boycott is what the Bible tells them to do. It makes me terribly sad.

And angry. Maybe I do need this twelfth step of compassion:
Love Your Enemies.

Because despite my first thought (“I have no capital E Enemies!”), I wonder if I have small e enemies.

  • People who get on my nerves
  • People who cause pain to those I love
  • People I judge the harshest

Are they my enemies?

And what about the systems underneath them? Are they enemies? Even the religious ones? Maybe especially the religious ones? They can make me the angriest.

  • Religions that invert God’s good news into bad news
  • Religions that assume they’re always right
  • Religions that undervalue the grace of Jesus

The part of me that fails to love even them is the ugliest part of me. 

I text back to my friend. I sympathize with her. I say I’m sure the family does care about you; they just don’t know how to handle the differences, how to love despite them, through them.

But I don’t know how to either. How does one properly love their enemies? I still struggle with wanting to want to.

And I’d still rather not classify them as enemies. Is that okay? I’m uncomfortable with the word. And the concept. It’s too strong.

So I fall back on grace (again) for myself. I worship the One who is ever compassionate on me. Who loves me perfectly despite myself. Who is teaching me to love others, despite their faults, through him.

Love all others, he says. No matter what I call them.
Love those who disagree with me, who repulse me, who don’t love me back. Maybe especially those.

After twelve months of intentional focus this year on how to be compassionate, this I know: I remain a beginner.

I’m still in Compassion 101.

But I promise I’ll keep on learning as long as God will keep on teaching. Compassion is my lifelong lesson.

* * *

I saw someone wearing this shirt yesterday in church. It’s going on my Christmas list.


Who do you want to love more? Did you have “one word” for 2014? Picked out one for 2015 yet? Please share in the comments.


See all Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life here, from Karen Armstrong’s book


30 thoughts on “Compassion for an enemy?

  1. Linda@Creekside

    Mmm … enemies with a little e. Yes, I confess. We’re in good company. Convicted, forgiven, redeemed.

    Thank you, kind friend. I hope that your Thanksgiving and first Sunday of advent were joys …


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Forgiven. Redeemed. Yes and always, I will be grateful for that! Thanks, Linda. I am expectant and satisfied with the coming of Advent. Blessings back to you as well.

  2. Kristina

    Wow! You are so so right! I always think the same thing, I don’t have Enemies! Man. I sure do have enemies though, although I am also uncomfortable with that word when it is more like people who annoy me or whatever. I guess in Gods eyes it is the same thing.
    You have really made me think! I think this might be on my mind for a while now.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, the word “enemy” seems a bit much to me too. Could I really have enemies? But I do need to consider how to love those that might potentially fit in that category, even though I’m uncomfortable labeling them that.

  3. Jean Wise

    Yes yes so difficult to really put this into practice with those who drive us crazy. I grit my teeth and say thank you with a forced smile all the while knowing deep down I am not loving them as I should. guess I need more of the holy spirit in some relationships.

    Interesting you mentioned your word of the year and thinking of next years. I do need to spend some time with this topic as I find it a good practice. Thanks for starting me to be open to this again before the new year starts.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I definitely need more awareness of and cooperation with the Holy Spirit in my relationships too, Jean. I’m trying to learn how to deal with some of the intangibles as well–there isn’t always a face attached to the systems that come against us as enemies so it’s harder to figure out how to love above the anger….

      Sometimes the Word picks me early in the fall; other times right before the new year. God actually gave me my 2015 word early this year. 🙂 Although last year, I thought I had the word and God changed it the last week of December–I’m so thankful that he did! He’s taken me through a staggering amount of new experiences with Compassion.

  4. TC Avey

    Powerful post- you hit me with the little e!
    Yes, there are those I struggle to love as Christ loves me. I don’t think of them as my “enemy” but they get under my skin and make it hard for me to show the love of Christ.
    I am most definitely in the Compassion class 101 with you…actually I probably need to take an intermediate class to even get into the 101 class.

    I’ve been working on learning to REJOICE this year. So much to be thankful for, but so many things that distract me from abiding in the Joy of my Salvation.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Learning to rejoice—I know it’s not as easy to do as we might think at first glance. It’s such a choice, a specific way of seeing. But I know you do that, TC, and I’m inspired by how you choose to move forward facing the culture instead of burying your head in the sand.

  5. Amber @ Beautiful Rubbish

    I feel you on the discomfort with calling people enemies, even though I clearly have a hard time loving certain “kinds” of people. The little e versus big E speaks loud and clear. What I love here is not only your honesty, but your humility, in recognizing places in you that still struggle hard to love and your desire to keep growing in compassion. I have a long ways to go, too, Lisa. Thankful so many of us can walk this broken road home together.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m very thankful for others like you along this journey too, Amber. Your company is welcome. I find great comfort in fellow travelers who also are stumbling along the back roads to chase Jesus in the unexpected places.

  6. Natalie

    I sighed while reading. Always a sign that the wheels in my head are turning and tugging at my heart. Small e enemies. Yes. I’ll have to think about who I want to love more. I do know that there are many that I need to love better, as in, love doesn’t give up. That’s one of my great temptations. Perhaps my great temptation. Thanks for your words here.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Isn’t is ironic that those we need to love more are often those we don’t want to love more? I am tempted to give up trying too quickly too, Natalie. May the Lord give us both perseverance to push through the stubborn spots.

  7. Sharon

    Yes, I do have enemies with a “little e.” I’m not proud of that, but it is the truth. Sometimes I think those people are harder to love in some ways, because often they’re the ones that we rub up against on a more frequent basis, you know??

    May I take a moment and tell you something that really blessed me? I went to a professional hockey game with my oldest son the other night. And on our way to the stadium, he stopped to give some money and have a conversation with a homeless guy that he has befriended. I stood so proud of my boy, engaging this poor dear man as the crowd passed us by. I knew that somehow my son had learned the lesson of what grace and love is really about.

    Might I follow his example, and the example of the One who loved everyone. Jesus always stopped, He saw the marginalized, the needy, the lost. He saw no distinctions – all were neighbors. Let us love as He would.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You are right to be proud of your son. That’s awesome not only that he gave money, but that he has befriended the homeless man. While we all do need money, we also need respect and dignity that comes with friendship, and that’s something that money can’t buy.

      Love your line that all are neighbors. Yes. Thanks, Sharon!

  8. bluecottonmemory

    Quite a few years ago, a 7th grader pulled a knife on my son and announced he was going to stab him in the back and kill him next week with it. I wanted to get mad, get out-raged – until I realized this boy was crying out for someone to make him go to school, make him toe the line, help put him back together everyday when he fell a part. I started praying for him.
    I’ve told my boys that the urge to punch someone is always a call to prayer. God might want you to actually punch someone, but pray for that person – really, really pray for them first.

    I so agree with what you say, “Love those who disagree with me, who repulse me, who don’t love me back. Maybe especially those.” I’ve found that when I start praying for them, God shows me how to love them – in a way that is at peace with them not loving me back or disagree with me.
    You gave us some wise words, Lisa – so glad you did. I always need reminders to be vigilant over this!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ooh, that example has to be the hardest of all—someone directly threatening our kids is definitely what I’d consider an enemy. But to encourage your boys to channel that urge to punch into a call to pray is wisdom personified. Thanks for sharing this story, Maryleigh. It’s a powerful one!

  9. Beverley

    I think i have frien-a-mies – friends that do or say something that gets to me for a time, but i am no good at staying angry or upset with anyone for long.

    As for religion i accept that others sometimes believe differently to be and that is okay as long as they accept that i may not see things exactly as they do, but God was never bad and never can be and if someone is doing sometime ‘bad’ then it is not of God.

    I do think i am my own worse ‘e’ sometimes and i need to learn to love myself more, even the broken bits, which are the hardest.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “frien-a-mies” – now that’s a term that’s a little more comfortable for me. 🙂 And yes, we often are our own worst “e” to ourselves. May grace abound in us even for ourselves.

      I’m sure we do believe differently on a few things (everyone does), but I couldn’t agree with you more here:
      “God was never bad and never can be and if someone is doing sometime ‘bad’ then it is not of God.” Thanks, Beverley.

  10. Loren Pinilis

    Politics and morality seem to be two issues where people have a lot of “little e” enemies. But your point about people that get on our nerves was dead on for me. I may not see myself as really opposed to them, but I’m certainly not quick to give them compassion. Great thoughts, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your words remind me of James 1:19 – “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” If we could all be quick to give compassion, what a sweeter place this world would be. Thanks, Loren. Good food for thought.

  11. floyd

    If compassion 101 were an interstate, I’d still be stuck on the onramp… I’ve tried the majority of my life to avoid enemies, but I can say with sincerity that I have serious enemies. My world of business runs me into crooks and thieves and liars. But God “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” What they’re trying to steal and rob they can’t, not unless my Father causes or allows it.

    This one hit close to home for me… I might have to try to come up with a word to ponder over the course of a year.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You make me smile, Floyd. 🙂 I’m often searching the back roads for the interstate signs myself. I love your attitude though: in the very presence of your enemies, God shows out for you.

      If you come up with a word for the year, do let me know. It’s always quite a ride for me! God has a way of using it in unexpected ways….

  12. Rick Dawson

    I think Floyd and I might be sitting at the back of the class some days, a copy of Compassion 101 sitting dog-eared and spindled on the desk between us with more than a few notes in the margin. Excellent post, and you know I’m a sucker for 12 Steps to anything 🙂

    Oh – and I also want that shirt!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Maybe you, me, and Floyd can copy off each other’s papers. ha. And I’m a sucker for anything 12 steps too. It organizes life so neatly, even if artificially. 🙂

  13. Dolly@Soulstops

    Definitely a hard one….and I’m with you..I’m a beginner but we all need to start somewhere, yes? And I figure if I know I need help then I can ask God…it makes me humbly dependent on God’s grace.

    Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving,

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