My next-door neighbor stood on our porch. He was angry and accusing.
While he'd been away, we had unknowingly put up a playset on his property. He was sure we had put it there on purpose. With a curt ultimatum, he stormed off, giving me no opportunity to explain the error.
I held my temper for those few minutes. But that self-control wasn't enough to neutralize the rush of indignation that I felt, or to erase the frustration over our having made such a senseless mistake.
Clearly the playset needed to be moved. But I knew only a change in thinking would resolve the ill will that the situation had created.
Feeling the need to get some perspective on the whole episode, I prayed. I sought to know how to reclaim the neighborly feelings of kindness, generosity, and goodwill.
Jesus' words "Love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44) came to thought. His counsel continues, "Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
How did Jesus expect people to act on these teachings? Reading further, I found his final statement: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (5:48).
Perfect. Was Jesus really demanding that we be "entirely without fault or defect"? It seemed impossible - and way too late! The mistake had been made, the angry words spoken.
In a conundrum like this, I've found that prayer that includes spiritual reasoning can really help. Mine went something like this:
"God is unchanging, omnipotent, good. He is infinite Mind, the origin of all wisdom and intelligence. He is also the divine Principle, the governing power of every detail of His creation. And He is boundless Love, the ever-present source of gentleness and affection between His sons and daughters."
Each of us, made in God's image, receives goodness, wisdom, integrity, and care, direct from Him. These spiritual qualities, and so many others, are perpetual, never ebbing or interrupted. So each of us - I, my neighbor, everyone - must already be flawless, complete, pure in God's sight. In this view there was no need to attain perfection. We already embodied it, and always had.
Solid reasoning. But completely at odds with the circumstances at hand. I had a compelling choice: accept the appearances - two humans at loggerheads - or accept our spiritual perfection as God's children. In the words of Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, " 'Love one another' (I John, iii. 23), is the most simple and profound counsel of the inspired writer. In Science we are children of God; but whatever is of material sense, or mortal, belongs not to His children, for materiality is the inverted image of spirituality" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 572).
Praying some more, I found I could easily refuse to act on ideas that would only bring more inharmony. Pondering how God had made me to be perfect made it natural to reject anything less. Good qualities filled my thoughts, to the exclusion of unworthy ones.
And I was immediately rewarded: all the animosity I was feeling went away. In that moment, no enemy remained. In fact, I was able to forgive not only my neighbor but also myself.
There was a postscript to this. As our family went about relocating the playset, we had to move large quantities of sand. It was a slow process. And before we could finish, there was a knock at our front door.
It was our neighbor. He was obviously unhappy with our progress. And I felt a momentary flash of anger. Firmly, though, I refused the old reactions a place in my thoughts and went to meet him with my hand outstretched. As I spoke to him in friendship, all residual hostility faded from his face. We talked amicably for a few minutes and parted, laying the entire situation to rest. I've thought often of how prayer softened and sweetened things that day on my porch.
When we turn in prayer to divine Love, God quietly and surely dispels intransigence, self-righteousness, coldness - every enemy to the generosity of spirit with which He endows us. In a heart filled with love, not a single hard feeling can remain.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society