Thursday, January 21, 2021


I listened to a podcast today about praying for our enemies.  There was a good deal of Screwtape-similar material about focusing on praying for what they might need, as you would for yourself, not what changes you would like God to make in them. Yet what caught my ear was that the original questioner had seemed to talk about "enemies" as a group, and relating it to current national anger. I wondered how much the language difference influences our thinking, and our praying. Not to get to heavily into set theory and symbolic logic, but "enemies" plural as a set might mean only "the people in my head I consider enemies," who are not in any other sets together. Yet the plural might also be interpreted as "communists," or "Nazis," or "Muslim terrorists," or "Republican establishment."  More subtly, we may have many groups that we do treat as enemies and default to thinking of them as enemies but don't notice it because we have a few exceptions. We certainly see a lot of it in the news "I don't hate all Elbonians, it's just that as a culture they fail to realise..."  Yeah, they're your enemies, and Jesus's directions to you were not to go out and change them but to pray for them.

The podcasters nicely moved the discussion to praying for our enemies in the very individual sense of those who have hurt us, or hurt those we care about. Only at the end did they swing back around and expand it to those who we see as political enemies, and by that time they had laid down enough principles that it was straightforward to note that our response should be the same.

Because it is the same. We can get worked up at the injustice they have wrought in both instances, but we tend to approach them differently. Both can provoke both righteous and self-righteous anger, but these tend to express differently. 

I think I can risk telling a story closer to home, as it would be unlikely for it to get back to people who would feel insulted. The original father of one of my adopted sons was infuriating me over a decade ago, telling us how to parent and gumming up the works in a few ways.  I mentioned this to a young friend at work, a kind young woman who comes out of a 12-step mentality and believes...well, everything, including contradictory things.  She is an observant Catholic who goes to sweat lodge ceremonies and participates in tree-worship, loves the Dalai Lama and a dozen New-Agey prophets. I had often felt more than a little frustrated, and a little superior to this.  But she absolutely leveled me, sweetly: "You should contract for fourteen days to pray for him what you would want for yourself." Well, that would be the love and admiration of my children, pretty much the one thing I didn't want for him.

BUt that's pretty much what praying for your enemies is, because anyone you have a conflict with is your enemy in  that narrow way and in that moment even if it the person you love most in the world. (Related to my post of about a year ago You Cannot Forgive Your Parents, because you have to take them one at a time.)


Donna B. said...

Tangents and digressions:

I am considering giving my oldest grandchild a copy of Screwtape for her 14th birthday. Is she too young? Also note that she's not been brought up in a church-going family, though she has an uncle who is a priest. Both her parents (her other grandparents and I too, I suppose) are nominally Catholic. One of my concerns is that she and her younger sister are not receiving a full education because they will not likely understand historical/religious references. I didn't enroll my children in Catholic schools for the religious education, but because the process of enrolling them in public schools in Dallas in the 80s intimidated me. To call me an introverted wimp would not be inaccurate.

In retrospect, I think my children got a better, more rounded education because of the years they attended parochial schools. At the very least, they know what the Seven Deadly Sins are and understand historical references to a few saints.

There's a certain sort of person who likes to have the last word by saying "I will pray for you". I'm not talking about the ones who say that sincerely, such as in offering condolences, prayers for health, relief of other suffering, or as an expression that they desire good things to come my way. The ones I'm talking about specifically mean they are praying that I will change to their way of thinking, but they think it's hopeless and I'm not worth their time in actually trying to convince me. It's meant as an insult and that is amplified by body language and tone of voice. I recognize this partly because I recognize that I have tendencies to such meanness myself. There are two people in particular at this moment that I'd like to say either "Bless your heart" or "I'm praying for you". I think "Bless your heart" is the better choice because of the ambiguity, but I'm really hoping I have the strength to keep my mouth firmly shut.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Screwtape is often given for Confirmation, but I think it is too young. I think a certain amount of experience with life, watching people make excuses for things and introspecting one's own excuses to have the letters ring true. Part of that is simply quantity of experience, but I also find that developmentally that abstract thought is still new to that age group. They can follow when someone walks them through it, but can only produce imperfect versions on their own. Here is one of my earliest posts on the matter: . Another anecdote, I was diagramming basketball plays for the junior high team I was helping with. I quickly observed that my son, who went on to win the math award for 10th grade, and his best friend Doug, who went on to become a software engineer, could not quite follow what I was diagramming - not until they had walked through it. I thought "If Ben and Doug aren't getting this, no one else is getting it."

Stick with Narnia. Remind her that the adult secret is that it is an adult book disguised as a children's book, and there are things throughout that children miss. Let her absorb the lessons indirectly. If she does not like fantasy literature, I am not sure what else might serve. I will think, and perhaps other readers will have ideas.

I don't think I've directly encountered that "I'll pray for you," but I can just hear it and I want to smack 'em. It is similar to what I wrote about signing off "Peace." In the podcast they made reference to praypreaching - "Oh Lord, teach them to see the error of their ways, let them come around to my POV." Great new word.

Sam L. said...

I've never had to forgive my parents; they've never done me a bad thing. Or maybe, if they did, I've forgotten it.

Texan99 said...

When I pray for my enemies, I mean the people toward whom I am strongly tempted to nurse a grudge. The idea is to quit wishing bad things would happen to them, to let go of resentment and imagine them as people I'd really like to see in Paradise, all these quarrels behind us.