Is it actually practical to respond to unkindness with love? Read on to see an example of how a consecration to Christian discipleship has borne practical fruit.
Sometimes Christ Jesus’ commands to his followers would seem to defy the human logic of self-preservation. “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat” (Matthew 6:25). “Lend, hoping for nothing again” (Luke 6:35). “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44). But, as countless Christians have discovered over the centuries, following these commands is not only necessary to our salvation, but also meets our practical needs. Through the lens of Christian Science, of which I am a student, I have seen that the reason these commands are practical is because they shift thought away from self and re-center it on God and His all-goodness.
Recently, I’ve been giving more and deeper attention to what Christian Scientists sometimes refer to as “daily duties.” Certainly there’s no one definitive list, but to those of us who approach it that way, the list generally includes Jesus’ command to take up the cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23); by-laws from our Church Manual that refer to daily requirements for thought and activity; and other guidance from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy that relates to daily Christian discipleship. So many of these passages relate to brotherly kindness, being charitable and forgiving. And as I’ve taken them in the context of Jesus’ call to “bless them that curse [us],” I’ve noticed a gentle but profound shift in the way I’m able to handle unpleasant interpersonal situations when they arise.
What I’ve found is that where before I would replay an unpleasant situation over and over in my mind as I thought about how to address it, now I don’t. Instead, I find I’m able to set aside the situation — that is, I’m able to set aside thoughts about who did what wrong, and just how wrong it was. To my sense, that’s the human way of dealing with things: when you want to know how to respond to a situation, you first assess how in the right or wrong you or the other party were. Then you personally decide what to do about it. But now I’m responding in a more God-directed way. I'm starting by fast-forwarding, so to speak, to the next step. I already know that my one and only option, as a Christian, is to respond with blessing. To respond with love. This means that the exact nature of the wrong really isn't of much practical importance; it's my response that matters. So I'm able to skip the first (often indefinite, if I'm being honest!) step of ruminating over the situation, and immediately start by asking, "How can I respond with love?” And for me, the logical and natural place to turn for an answer is God, divine Love itself. (See 1 John 4:16.)
So here’s a quick little breakdown of that difference:
Unpleasant interaction -> Replay incident in my mind assessing the exact nature of the injustice — who is at fault and to what degree -> Mull over different ways to respond -> Respond with a certain amount of trepidation that this way may not really improve the situation -> Occasionally replay the incident in my mind for at least a couple more days
Unpleasant interaction -> Remember I must respond with love -> Turn to God in prayer to know how to do that -> Respond lovingly with perfect confidence that this way will move things forward -> Trust that I'll be able to respond well should the situation require any more attention, but not worry about whether or not it will
This has just been working for me for all kinds of things recently! Here’s an example. Returning to my vehicle after an errand, I was jotting something down using the notes app on my phone. Before I tucked the phone away to drive home, I checked my email and found a rather grumpy response from someone I’d emailed a few hours earlier. I felt led to respond to the email right away. The thought occurred to me, “Okay, I know I need to be loving. How do I do that here?” I listened in prayer, and right away ideas began to flow. I was immediately able to start drafting a response that addressed the sender’s legitimate concerns brought out in the email and corrected a point on which she was mistaken, all the while mentally and in my heart I was forgiving her for the unfounded criticism also present in the email. This was the full scope of what it meant to love here. In a short time, I had a clear and beautifully succinct response drafted, checked over, and sent, and I continued on my way home.
And rather than the drive home being a time to rehearse someone’s unpleasant behavior — which it likely would have been in times past — it became a time to be grateful to God for the loving response He'd enabled me to write, thanking Him for the ease with which I received those ideas, and for the gracious email that resulted. This had put me so perfectly in accord with Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Through God's grace, I had been able to “forgive [my] debtors” (Matthew 6:12). I’d been able to “agree with [my] adversary quickly” (Matthew 5:25). I recognized that this was a natural outgrowth of my daily attention to the by-law from the Church Manual called “God’s requirement,” which certainly encompasses these principles from the Sermon on the Mount. It says, “God requires wisdom, economy, and brotherly love to characterize all the proceedings of the members of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist" (p. 77).
I continue to be grateful for this experience, for the way it is becoming a foundation for me to demonstrate the Golden Rule more consistently, and for the evidence it presents to me that as we are faithful over a few things, we are made ruler over many — as we strive to faithfully perform the small tasks we know we’re called to do each day, we demonstrate more of our God-given dominion over all the earth.
"My prayer, some daily good to do
To Thine, for Thee;
An offering pure of Love, whereto
God leadeth me."
— Mary Baker Eddy