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The Best Way to Love Your Enemies

My wife and I don’t watch a ton of reality TV.

But there are a few we catch each time around:

I find myself drawn in as personalities take shape, and characters are revealed. Within the first few weeks of a season, I’ve got “my” contestant. The one I want to see win it all.

I can usually nail who will win it, who will lose it, who the network’s keeping around for ratings, and who has no chops to hang with the big dogs.

I also find myself instantly being frustrated by certain people.

“Why could she say that?”

“Why would he treat ____ that way?”

“How could she be so callous with _____?”

In just a few weeks of watching a show, I can develop intense emotional responses to negative contestants. Not in a sinful way, but in a very real way. I know that being in an intensely stressful environment with other contestants in a competition brings out the worst in people, but goodness me…these guys can get downright nasty. And I can jump on the “Down with ____ bandwagon” as quickly as the next guy.

Maybe this is to my shame.

But you can’t tell me you don’t have that guy or that girl you don’t like either. Come on. Don’t lie. You’re rooting against them, too.

The Change

When I hear a snippet of people’s stories, though, my “I don’t like that person” goes out the window.

There was a contestant on one of the cooking reality TV shows that I was watching who was a cut-throat villain. I’m not saying that to exaggerate…she really was. She was mean. Sly. Cutting. And she took no prisoners. She was the person that everybody loved to hate.

But then I found out she’s a single mom, and loves her daughter like crazy. Much of what she does is to provide a living for her daughter. She broke down when she was telling her story about raising her daughter by herself.

And part of me broke with her. I understand a small slice of single parenthood because, living in a military town, I get to walk that road with families regularly. It’s tough. Tougher than one parent should ever have to shoulder alone. And it breaks the toughest of parents.

In watching this person’s story unfold before my eyes, I shifted from seeing her as the villain to seeing her as a fighter, battling for her family. Grinding it out so her daughter would understand hard work, success, making an impact on our culture. Stepping on toes so her daughter could stand on her shoulders.

Beyond TV

When you hear someone’s story, it humanizes them. Instead of just being the person who insulted you, their cutting words become a cry for help.

Instead of being your enemy, a person becomes a chance for you to extend love in a new way.

Instead of being a villain, your enemy presents a new opportunity to serve.

Instead of being a homeless man on the side of the road, they become a dad who’s been beaten up by life.

Instead of being a cut-throat business man, they become a man who’s never understood real love.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

When you react defensively, you ruin a chance for redemption. You spoil an opportunity to extend grace. You heap shame and condemnation and anger on someone who needs none of that.

Next time someone says something hateful, humanize them. Get to know their story. Understand their pain. Put yourself in their shoes.

I’m not saying that you should justify sinful behavior.

I am saying that it’s time to build relationships.

Let’s get to know people.

Especially your enemies. (Matthew 5:44)


Have you ever been shocked to be broken by someone else’s story?

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Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.