A man did dirt to my family many years ago. Until then he was an amiable neighbor to us. He owned a taxi, and we hired his services whenever we needed a car to go somewhere. Then one day, my mother had an acute heart problem and needed to be taken to the hospital immediately. We called him as usual. But it was an odd hour of the day, and he refused. Somehow, we managed with difficulty to find another car.
Since then, the very sight of him was an abomination to me. If I passed him by, I deliberately ignored him. Over the past one and a half decades, whenever I thought of him, I also thought of how he responded to us that day.
Now, I certainly knew about Christ’s teaching on forgiveness and about praying for those who have wronged us. I agreed with Christ in principle and strove not to hate him. But my natural man continued to abhor him without abatement.
Yesterday, as I write this, another neighbor mentioned to me about this abominable man’s son. Now his children know nothing about this incident and have not partaken of their father’s dirt. Nevertheless, I wanted to have nothing to do with his children either. When the father didn’t drive anymore, one of his sons took over, and once, without knowing who his dad was, I hired the son’s services. Later, when I came to know it was the dirtman’s offspring, I wished I hadn’t taken that car. And since then, there were several occasions that when I needed a car someone would propose the offensive vehicle, and I would immediately decline it with an imperceptible snort.
This morning, I realized my dislike of him and his family cannot continue if I am to grow in the stature of Christ. You just cannot remain in a static state of not loving anyone. As a wise minister once preached to me, you either keep growing in love, or you keep growing colder. In other words, it is not enough not to hate someone. If we do not keep growing in our love for someone, we will eventually grow to hate him.
So I knew it was not only not enough to stop disliking the dirtman, and all his descendants as well, but now I have to deliberately demonstrate my love for him. My natural man couldn’t take it – no way. But by now I know how to handle my natural man. I know, thanks initially to secular sychologist William James, that I cannot control my feelings, but I certainly can control what I think, say, and do. So I went on my knees to God and prayed thus:
‘Lord, you know there is no way I can come to like that man naturally. I suppose I can keep myself from hating him with a deadly hatred, but there’s no way I want to have anything to do with him. I certainly don’t want to see him struck with a bolt of lightning, or see his family suffer a tragedy, but I, that is, my natural man, would certainly enjoy seeing him in a situation where he is having a heart problem and his children are struggling to find a car to take him to the hospital. Now that’s what I feel naturally, Lord, and there’s nothing I can do directly to confront those feelings. But you have shown me what I can do: Ignoring my natural man and his feelings, my spiritual man can pray for him and his family. And I am doing that now. Lord, bless that man and his family. Prosper them…’
After praying for him, my natural feelings remained stubbornly the same toward the man. No, I couldn’t say, ‘Hey presto! I prayed for my enemy, and behold, now my love for him is brimful and overflowing in my heart.’ But I could certainly say that from that time I had a clear conscience before God. I knew I was on my way eventually to loving him with my feelings as much as with my will. God would grant that change in me in his own time. In the meantime, every time thoughts of the dirt he did to us frothed up in my mind, my spiritual man was directed by my will – against my natural feelings – to immediately ask God to bless him.
Today, many years later, I can say that my natural feelings of dislike for that man has totally evaporated. As Christ grows in me, so does his mercy and love in me toward those who do me dirt.
When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive. Alan Paton, author of Cry, The Beloved Country