I stole a rare moment of solitude after settling my boys to sleep. I watched the sky darken and sobbed into the blanket I had wrapped myself up in; my heart ached as I had an honest conversation with myself. The truth is there is not one person on this earth that truly understands me, who has seen my whole story unfold. Not one person on this planet really knows me completely and the depth of how I feel.
But before you get your violins out, this is not a cry for pity. In my moments of sorrow there is One who has walked around in my skin; One who has worn my shoes; One who has suffered unimaginably to know me better than I know myself, and he lives and breathes inside my heart.
During my years of teaching English in a high school, I had a recurring dream. I couldn’t see the end of the classroom as there was an endless sea of children sat at their desks that I couldn’t reach. This dream reflected the struggle I had to help every individual. I didn’t like having to control a room of students using an authoritarian approach, I battled with having to condemn their ‘bad’ behaviour.
I will never forget one young lady who drove me to distraction, she had the power in her fragile little body to dominate the entire class. She was unbearably misbehaved, she respected no authority and would laugh in your face if you tried to lord it over her. The more wound up and angry you got the funnier she found the whole situation. She was infuriating, but I will never forget the day she made me so cross and I blew my top, for a split second she looked like a frightened little lamb.
I went home that day in a flood of tears because I felt like a failure. I knew that this little girl in her 14 years of life had suffered unimaginable abuse. This young girl had experienced anger her entire life. This delicate girl had never known love. It was heart breaking. I knew this because Jesus opened my eyes to see her pain.
I wanted to talk to her, hold her, tell her she was beautiful. She was good at Art and during my English lesson I wanted to say to her, ” I know you don’t want to do this, so why don’t you sit where you like and paint me a picture, paint me a story.” I wanted to say, “you don’t have to follow the rules”and ” It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the grades.” But of course I would lose my job if I did that.
The heart-rending fact is we live in a society where so many hurting children are misunderstood. When I meet foster carers and adoptive parents, I’m amazed by what they do. It is truly beautiful. To take on a little child, with all their brokenness and behavioural difficulties and pour unrequited love into them, is just truly inspiring. This is true love. This is sacrifice.
Thankfully my son is from a stable home, he’s loved and cared for, he hasn’t been subject to neglect or abuse, so no great harm is done when he gets a telling off at school. Some of our traditional ways of doing things are valuable, correction is crucial but sadly in this day and age one blanket way does not fit all. Sadly we have no idea half the time of the complexities of each individual in the room.
We are here on this earth to love the unlovely. That is the paramount reason for being. Loving the child that has a major meltdown and screams in your face, “I hate you.” Loving the adult who takes from you and gives nothing in return. Loving the parent that abused you, the neighbour who judges you or the boss who rules with iron- the one you can never please no matter how hard you work.
Can you love them? Can we do this? Can we love our enemies? Yes we can, through the blood of Jesus we can. Through supernatural forgiveness we can. Because when we sink low to our knees and ask God to show us through his eyes the love he feels for that person, it will make your heart explode. He can show you their journey, their story, their pain and suddenly this giant before you is no longer a monster but a delicate child that through their own suffering is doing what they only know how. As Jesus cried out on the cross, Forgive them father, for they know not what they do, and so it is with our enemies.
We were born to relate. To have compassion on the suffering, to reach out to the dying, to discern why they do the things they do and love them anyway. We were born to love the unlovely and God didn’t leave us alone to work it out in the dark. No, he sent his son as the greatest example, to die for the most despicable people on earth. Not only to set them free and give them a chance to change but even if they choose not to, he gives us the power to love them anyway.
There is nothing more moving than watching radical love take place. Gary Ridgway was guilty of killing 48 women, making him the biggest serial killer in US history and as he stood on trial the family members got up and told him of their heart ache and how much they hated him and wished him dead. Ridgway’s expression remained cold and unrepentant. However, one gentleman got up and said,
“there are people here that hate you, but I’m not one of them. You have made it difficult to live up to what I believe, and that is what God says to do and that’s to forgive, you are forgiven sir.”
At that moment Gary Ridgway broke down into tears for the very first time. How was this man able to show mercy to such an evil man? This kind of forgiveness can only be done by the supernatural power of God. The gentleman that nervously stated, “You are forgiven sir,” I’m sure did the hardest thing he had ever had to do, but doing so released him into a peace and a freedom that nothing on earth can give. He saw this murderer through the eyes of God, through the blood of Jesus. This gentleman would have seen that the criminal before him would not have committed such horrific crimes if it wasn’t for the unspeakable torture that he had suffered in his own life.
Jesus opens the eyes of our hearts to see. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put so well, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” When we turn to God on bended knee and ask to see through his eyes and to walk around in his skin, we suddenly find ourselves wearing their shoes and we no longer feel the hatred that was building up inside us. Instead we are flawed with an overwhelming love for the one who needs their saviour, a saviour who longs to wear their shoes and walk around in their skin, who knocks on the door of their heart saying, “let me in.”