Loving the ‘unlovable’
Following Jesus’ instruction to love and pray for even those who may have wronged us can sometimes seem like a daunting task. But as a man experienced after a family member’s hurtful remarks weighed on him so heavily that he became ill, recognizing that all of God’s children are created to express love lights the way to healing, reformation, and reconciliation.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus tells his listeners: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).
It definitely seems easier to pray for those we love, those who are close to us, and those who ask for our prayers. When our feelings have been hurt or we are upset with someone, it is tempting to turn away. Yet Jesus urged us to embrace those who have been unkind or unjust to us.
My mother used to say that it is easy to love the lovable, but that the true test of prayer is in unselfed love – loving and seeing others as God loves and sees us all. Thinking this through, I suspect Jesus’ teaching has to do with the fact that only the loving, prayerful, spiritual identification of those around us can reveal that we are all children of God. Mary Baker Eddy begins the chapter “Prayer” in the Christian Science textbook with this statement: “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, – a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 1).
Recently I was challenged to live this teaching when a family member was behaving in a way that I perceived as offensive and hurtful. I was so hurt by this individual’s remarks that I began experiencing severe stomach pain, to the point of being barely able to eat.
This continued for several days, and I was becoming quite frustrated by the situation. I knew it was right to see my family member as a brother in Christ, as someone who is – like me, you, and everyone – inseparable from his Maker, divine Love. But it was difficult to see beyond the human sense of right and wrong, of victims and villains.
I realized I needed to start with my own thinking, and I called a Christian Science practitioner for Christian Science treatment. Through prayer, it became clear to me that the physical pain would continue as long as I continued to be resentful and hurt. I had a strong incentive to correct my thought and bring it into line with Jesus’ admonition!
It was getting more difficult to do normal activities and to keep food down. I knew that the Christlike thought turns humbly to God in prayer, says, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42), and then listens consistently for Love’s voice, the leading of our Father-Mother God. So, for a couple of days, I struggled to put aside my own will and listen to divine Love.
When I was able to listen quietly, a breakthrough came in the form of these words: “You know that you know!” I realized that I really did know that unselfed love was the only way to bring about a change in my thinking about this person and to see them as a child of God. I recognized the spiritual fact that I was capable only of being loving, and that they too could only love – that this was our true nature and the way to reformation for both of us.
The stomach pain ceased completely, and I was able to eat normally and return to my usual activities. My family member also had a change of heart, becoming more loving and showing greater compassion. But most important was the great lesson I learned about prayer as a reflection of the all-gracious love of God. In fact, the term “reflection” has come to mean to me really knowing that I cannot express anything less than love.
No one is ever unloved, unloving, or unlovable as the spiritual expression of divine Love itself. Each of us is created by Love, God, and therefore never separate from Love.
Adapted from an article published in the Oct. 25, 2021, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.