One morning I had the flu and was feeling miserable, so I stayed home from work. I’ve always found it helpful to start my day with prayer, so that’s what I did. Then I opened the Bible at random. That’s when my eyes fell on a command to pray for our enemies.
There was only one person I considered an enemy. That was a man who had attacked my sister, my very best friend, and I definitely didn’t want to pray for him. He was convicted of being a serial rapist and is now serving a 120-year prison sentence, and I had been in the courtroom during the trial when woman after woman testified against him.
So here I was years later, with my Bible open to a passage commanding me to pray for my enemies. I knew it held a message for me about this experience. But I felt I just couldn’t pray for him. The same thing happened the next day, too – I opened to a passage instructing us to pray for our enemies, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.
The third day – still feeling sick – I again prayed, opened my Bible, and my eyes fell on yet another verse commanding us to pray for our enemies.
I closed my Bible, but this time with a slightly more humble heart. I was tired of feeling sick, and I had a hunch that this message was going to continue coming my way until I learned whatever I needed to learn from it.
So I gave this idea of praying for my enemy some thought. I had no idea how to even begin to pray honestly for this individual. Then I remembered a phrase by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: “Desire is prayer” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 1). I asked myself what I honestly desired for this man and realized I truly wanted him to find reformation of character, and knew that was possible even while serving a prison term. So I wholeheartedly prayed that he experience progress in his life. My prayers acknowledged that this is possible for everyone.
This may seem naive or even far-fetched when someone has committed atrocious crimes. But through studying and practicing Christian Science I’d increasingly come to understand that everyone’s true identity is spiritual, therefore good and loving, the very reflection of God, or divine Love. That’s not to say that our every thought or act is consistent with this spiritual reality. Clearly this man’s hadn’t been. But we all have the innate ability to understand and live in line with our true nature, to let God’s redeeming love lead us out of darkness into more upright thoughts and actions. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean excusing or tolerating wrongdoing, but rather opens the door for spiritual growth and reformation, which benefits all whose lives we touch, as well as ourselves. In this experience I felt reformed as I learned to pray for someone who I considered to be an enemy, even before I finally felt forgiveness for him.
Do I have more to learn about forgiveness? Oh yes! But I trust that my prayer blessed this man in some small way as it certainly blessed me. I was immediately healed of the flu.