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You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Bit I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children 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 own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48)

I never knew why, but from the time “Vicky” came to my school in Junior High, she made me her target. Maybe it was because she was very athletic and I was a 90 lb. weakling, but she began routinely grabbing my wrist and twisting my arm up behind my back until it hurt. I tried to give her as few opportunities as possible, but she still managed to catch me fairly often at recess and noon hour.

I decided that I needed to get stronger. At home, I began to do pushups and other exercises every day. Gradually I built up some arm muscle. One day, after avoiding Vicky for some time, she did her usual grab and attempted to twist, but I was able to pull away from her. “Boy,” she said, almost in admiration, “You’ve got a lot stronger!” She left me alone after that.

Many months later, there was a sudden torrential rain in the morning before school. Vicky, a bus student, got caught in it and was drenched. Her hair hung in wet strings and dried not looking much better. She was mortified.

For those of you who are not a certain age, I should explain that in those days, hair was usually short or medium length, and never straight. Girls and women put their hair up in rollers —  every night if necessary — to get the required pouf. Flat hair was nowhere.

I empathized with Vicky, who was almost in tears in the girls’ washroom at recess. So when I walked home at noon, I ate my lunch quickly and gathered up some rollers. When my mother found out who they were for, she wondered aloud why I would be taking them for the girl who had bullied me. I couldn’t explain it; it was just something I wanted to do.

When I got back and found Vicky, she was so grateful. She dampened her hair, set it and waited in the washroom. But the time our 90 – minute lunch break was over, she looked and felt much better.

Often as I’ve read Jesus’ words about loving your enemies, I’ve recalled this incident and realized that what I did on that day was the best exercise of all: making a friend out of an enemy. On that day, our whole relationship changed. But even if it hadn’t, I was stronger in a way that wasn’t about muscles.

I wish I could say that I’ve always responded to ‘enemies” that way. I wish I had met every bad hair day with a godly response. Far too often, the bad hair has been mine, as I’ve allowed myself to get frazzled, flattened, and bent out of shape by real or perceived offences. My love muscles have often been pretty flabby. These verses remind me that I need to be intentional about exercising these muscles daily until I get strong enough not to get twisted around until it hurts. Avoidance isn’t nearly enough to address the problem.

Paul summed up the situation in Romans 12:20-21 when he quoted this proverb:

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I gave Vicky much more than rollers that day; I heaped burning coals on her head. They burned through her previous outlook and allowed fellowship to burst into flame. God rewarded me with a friend and removed an enemy. Love did what hate could never accomplish.

Lord, may we always choose to burn with love, and not with hate. Love is the fuel of life in Christ; hate leaves only ashes.

Next: Be Perfect?