We have all seen the movie. The “good” guys, let’s say a man and a woman, working for two different government agencies, enter a room simultaneously. Their field training kicks in, and two guns are drawn, each person looking down the barrel of their “adversary.” But they’re not adversaries. In fact, they’re on the same team, but badges have yet to be displayed, because both have been undercover. One finally confesses, “I’m C.I.A.” The other, “F.B.I.” The problem is that both are hesitant: “What if they are lying?” they think to themselves. “Lower your weapon.” “No. You lower your weapon.” How is trust going to be established when two people have their guns drawn on each other? “Trust no one”, they were always taught. Each one is asking the same question in their mind: “Can I trust this person?” There’s only one thing that can happen in a standoff like this: Somebody has to lower their weapon first. This requires an act of vulnerability, of defenselessness, that most people are not ready for. But somebody’s got to go first, or we’re going to have two dead people lying on the floor when Homicide shows up.
In every relationship there will at some point be pain. Sometimes it will be a little, and sometimes more than you think you can bear. We have our own set of standard responses to pain in general. Our chief goal is normally to not experience any kind of pain, but to feel safe without even the threat of it. But when we get wounded we try to protect our heart. Our heart is the thing that got hurt, so we want to make that pain stop, not let it get any worse, and try to never let anything like that ever happen again. There are several ways we try to shield ourselves from further pain, but those mentioned below are some of the most common.
Withholding forgiveness is one of the ways we attempt to protect our heart. When we do this we actually embrace the pain and the memory of it as a reminder to never let this happen again. We become seeped in it. This causes us to close off this area of our hearts, locking the door, and throwing away the key. We don’t realize that when we do this we are shutting down a part of who we are. This means we are not a whole person. This goes on to affect other areas of our life that needed that part of our heart and mind to operate fully engaged. This can affect relationships with children, spouses, siblings, parents, friends, and co-workers. The longer we withhold forgiveness, the sooner it turns into a root of bitterness. This is when it gets worked deeply into us. It is here that we are in true danger. Driving people into this state of bitterness is one of the chief tactics of the devil. When bitterness has taken root, the devil has a foothold that he can use to tear apart our hearts and other relationships.
Lying to Ourselves
We may also attempt to protect our hearts by convincing ourselves that a wrong was not done to us. People in various abusive relationships do this because they have been so wounded by their significant other that they do not want to face them and deal with it. We think that if there was no offense, then we don’t need to make any decisions to forgive or not forgive. But here we still close off part of our heart to shield it from future issues. We then try to go above and beyond in seeking to make the other person happy so that they don’t lash out and hurt us again. If we have been hurt, we need to allow ourselves to admit it, and then seek real help in extreme cases.
Many times we try to protect our heart through revenge. It is natural to desire justice when an injustice has taken place. Something wrong has happened, and we feel it needs to be righted. But revenge is yet another trap that the devil tries to push us into. He wants us to seek our own justice by taking matters into our own hands. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. If we try to make it ours, we are stepping into God’s role. When we take revenge we remove from the equation what God wants to do in it, and we make ourselves guilty of evil actions. God will not defend you if you defend yourself. We have to decide if we want it handled our way, or if we are going to trust God enough to handle it His way in His time. God is the only One who can handle these situations without it corrupting Him. God does not always deal with things right away. Some people seem to get away with the injustice for months, years, or a lifetime in extreme cases. Often, God will use an injustice in our lives to build His character and love into us. Even Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered. If He is the Master, and we are the student, we should expect nothing less. God works all things together for our good because we love Him and are called according to his purpose. God knows what He is doing in our lives. We must stick to our role.
Jesus has shown us what our response should look like when we are persecuted, used, and even controlled by others. While hanging on the cross, having been beaten and mocked and unjustly sentenced to a murder’s death, He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” He also tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:43-44). Jesus is showing us here the chief way to protect our hearts when afflicted by someone. We must decide ahead of time that we are going to love our enemies. Anyone can love their friends easily enough, but loving your enemy requires that you receive God’s love for them. We do not possess love that we did not receive. Our love is natural. It is based on someone returning love back to us. Instead, we must receive the love of God. This kind of love is not based on reciprocity. It’s so powerful that if we stay in God’s love, we can keep loving even if they never love us back or treat us kindly. Our relationships will begin to break down at the point where we begin loving out of our strength instead of God’s.
We receive and practice this love two ways:
First, when we pray for them, God will fill our hearts with His love. When this happens we no longer have the same fear of getting hurt because our love for them is supernatural. It is based on God’s love for us, and for them. God’s love is the only kind of love that helps to protect our hearts. It exists without requiring anything in return, and it never fails. It’s that powerful.
Second, we practice this love by showing them kindness. Kindness is love in action. Loving someone is not just a matter of not reacting, but being proactive in your response. If we are cursed, we bless. If we are hurt, we forgive. If false rumors about us are spread, we speak only that which is good about them. This demonstrates that we are living from another place called Heaven. I am not talking about killing people with kindness. That is a human phrase that comes out of human thinking and woundedness. While the Bible refers to kindness that heaps burning coals on the offender’s head, this has to do with God’s judgment against the offense being stored up over the offender’s life.
Our job is to pray that their eyes and hearts would be opened. This gives them an opportunity to repent and turn to the Lord so that their sins can be forgiven, and their judgments erased. This may seem unfair, but Christ died for you while you were a sinner. He wants to extend the same love and mercy to others. It is especially important for us to show this mercy, because extending it to others is how we sow it. Later we will need mercy, too. If we will sow in mercy now, we will also reap it when we need it.
If we will love, bless, pray for, and forgive each other we will do well. These things will enable us to protect our hearts, and speed up our maturity as sons and daughters of God who are not moved by the offenses of man. God’s love is powerful, and if we will embrace it, we can experience what His power is really all about. Loving Him back, and loving others . . . wholeheartedly.