“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 … 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 5:43-48)
By the age of eleven, and flanked by a couple of loyal companions, she was a force to be reckoned with. And if her stare didn’t send you in the other direction, then her insults most certainly would. As a newcomer to the school, I expected much of this and still I wondered just what I had done to incur such special attention. Indeed, it seemed as if I was her sole mission, and one afternoon I was.
Finding me relatively alone on the playground, she and her cohorts spied my backpack and started going through it. “Hey, that’s mine! You can’t do that!” I shouted.
“Watch me!” she quipped.
Jumping off the swings and seizing my bag, I began to walk away, only to hear their footsteps behind me. As I turned, there she was, ready to reassert her authority, pushing me swiftly to the ground.
Somewhere amidst the punches thrown and hair pulled, I no longer was afraid. The principal arrived just in time to see me stand on my feet and her friends run off. Of course, both our parents were both called but only mine came that day. Well aware of the history of problems that this girl had been involved in, my mom was told that I was not in trouble and he was sorry to not have arrived sooner.
At first, I felt a sense of victory, no less a modern-day David and Goliath story. And then, over the ensuing weeks and months, when she was no longer bothering me, I was given a different perspective. I started noticing that for parent days, science fairs, and music performances, she was alone. Even her recess was spent trying to secure a spot atop the monkey bars for herself and perhaps a friend. From this vantage point she didn’t have to worry about fitting in. And from here, she intentionally threw herself off — breaking her arm in a desperate cry for attention.
This was not a first for her, but it was a first for me to empathize and even pray for the one who I felt had persecuted me. With a reversal of fortune and a helping of grace, I saw not her persona but her as a person: a girl who, much like me, was created and loved by God but who had never had anyone express her value adequately. And as a defense, there were walls that seemed almost impenetrable.
Rather than confront or abut these walls, I instead prayed for her. Teachers I noticed tried to help whenever possible. Until a year later, when she was suddenly absent. Over the years, I have wondered where she had gone and just who she would become. I hoped that she and her family had made a home. Moreover, I prayed that the fresh start would allow her the freedom to shed the tough image she had portrayed for so long. Today, I am ever so grateful for this life-altering perspective that has allowed me to not be so quick to judge what my eyes first perceive.
Is there someone who needs my forgiveness and prayers that I might instead be withholding? What might I see if I walked alongside my “enemy”?
Copyright 2019 Elizabeth Reardon