I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. [Luke 6 (35-36 (MSG)]
“There is nothing personal going on here,” were the words that helped author Jane Smiley get through her divorce. In a guest column in Prevention magazine written several years ago, she wrote that remembering this phrase helped her to better understand and deal with her ex-husband’s awful behavior and hurtful actions. She has continued to use that phrase as a way to deal with other difficult people and situations in her life. Smiley, a well-known fiction author, creates each character in her novels, invents the baggage they’re carrying, and understands the reasons for their behavior. As their creator, she knows their past history, motives, fears and issues. In real life, however, people have their own private history, their own passions and fears, their own insecurities, prejudices, and motivations that control them in ways that even they may not understand. We don’t know their private history nor do they know ours. Realizing this makes it easier to step back and not take their hurtful actions so personally.
I’d been praying about someone and wracking my brain, wondering what I could have done to deserve such wounding behavior when God presented me with Jane Smiley’s words in that magazine article. While our problems are never an excuse for thoughtless words or bad conduct, realizing that someone else’s hurtful actions usually are more the result of their problems and less the result of our own behavior, frees us from our pain and makes forgiveness much easier. More often than not, we’ve done nothing to deserve whatever nastiness has been dished out to us. Bearing in mind that everyone has a back story and their own unique collection of fears, pain, and anguish, we can say, “There is nothing personal going on here,” and get on with our lives.
Remembering that it is hurting people who hurt people and that it’s not personal has served me well since first reading Smiley’s column years ago. That person who hurt me and for whom I was praying? Because I didn’t take it personally, there was no retaliation on my part. I let God and time do their work and our relationship has healed and flourished. Understanding that I rarely have any idea what motivates other people’s actions, I will continue to pray for and love those who distress, offend, disappoint or hurt me. I’ll pray that God will guide them through their difficulties, whatever they may be, and that better days will come. Moreover, I will continue to ask God to open their hearts to both His and my love.
Until the day that you become perfect, don’t expect others to be. [From “Hugs – Daily Inspirations for Grandmas” published by Howard Books]
What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. [C.S. Lewis]