There is a Puritan saying, “The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay.” God’s love has this effect on people. Similarly, when we love those who have hurt us, this love can lower defenses, soften hearts, and remove shackles. It can also produce anger, bitterness, and cynicism in the people we love.
How do we continue to love those whose anger is fueled against us when we reach out to them or show them kindness? I want to spend some time on this subject, maybe in a series of blogs. For this first blog, I want to focus on prayer.
We often think of prayer as the last resort. When we cannot do anything, we pray. But praying is powerful.
Praying for someone is an act of love. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.
Through prayer, God gives wisdom and direction to us in our circumstances. Often, we simply do not know how to love others in conflict. We can feel confused and powerless. We can succumb to apathy. But through prayer, God gives direction about how to love, even if that direction is to simply wait.
Praying open doors and changes hearts! I have seen prayer move the hearts of others in incredible ways! But perhaps more often, prayer changes us. Sometimes, it is hard to sincerely love those who hurt us deeply. But I have experienced firsthand what it is like to not feel love toward a person, to ask God to put love in my heart for that person, and to experience God producing love in my heart for that person.
Through prayer, God opens our eyes to our own sin and the ways we may have acted or seen things in a wrong way. This gives us an opportunity to repent and grow.
Even when a conflict is not a direct result of our own wrongdoing, through prayer we process and learn from a conflict and grow in character. All of our circumstances are opportunities to learn and grow. We all need more wisdom and growth.
Prayer may be the only tangible way of loving a person when we are unable to be in relationship with them—either because they do not want to interact with us or acknowledge the situation, or because being vulnerable with them in any way would simply be unsafe and unwise and we simply need to experience God’s healing before we can engage with them again.
Pouring our hearts out to God brings healing. It releases our angst and moves us toward wholeness. As we heal, we are better equipped to love those around us. Through prayer, we experience God’s love for us. As we are filled with His love, His love can pour out of us to others.
Prayer is an acknowledgment of our need. We need God. God meets our need.
Prayer is a healthy alternative to the unhealthy exercise of stewing on the ways that others abandon, betray, malign, mistreat, and believe the worst about us. Through prayer, we are able to meditate on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” and whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. One deadens our souls and the other nourishes them-- creating a place for love to grow.
I have a wise faithful friend to whom I frequently go for advice. Without fail, the first words out of her mouth have to do with prayer. How I long for more maturity in this—that more and more my first thought too would be to pray!
Do you have thoughts about prayer as an act of love in difficult and strained relationships? I would love to hear them!