I was driving home from church with a friend last week when I confessed to her that there was a particular individual in my life that really frustrated me, testing my patience and revealing to me my lack of love. I further confessed that I often struggle with harboring bitterness and resentment toward those I should love. After a few moments, my friend cut me off.
“You should pray for them,” she said simply. “When you’re feeling bitter or resentful and find it hard to love someone, just pray for that person. Not for the situation as a whole, but for that particular individual and the hardships they might be facing. It takes your eyes off yourself and forces you to focus on the needs of others.”
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I knew she was right. The more I considered her words, the more I realized how wise they truly were.
In moments when anger, bitterness, frustration, resentment or contempt choke us and we struggle to love others as Christ has loved us, the best thing we can do is pray—not for ourselves or the situation at hand, but for the particular person who is testing our patience. In doing so, we make a conscious decision not to wallow in our bitterness and self-pity, but instead to acknowledge the needs and struggles of others.
When we pray in this way, the walls of disunity are broken down and we are able to identify with others, acknowledging that we are all broken, sinful people in need of grace. We no longer look at situations in a spirit of self-righteousness but instead are able to humbly recognize our own sin and brokenness. By crying out to God on behalf of those who hurt us or frustrate us or even persecute us, we identify with our Savior who loved us and laid his life down for us while we were still sinners. May we learn to love like that.
“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 sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
-Matthew 5: 43-48