Walk a Mile

Mike talks about the role that empathy plays in the process of loving our enemies.
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Intro/Review Questions

  1. What is God's strategy in overcoming the evil in other people?
    1. Aggressive good
  2. Why does it work?
    1. More powerful than evil
    2. Feels better
  3. What is the Scripture that this strategy is based on?
    1. Romans 12:21, "Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"
  4. What is the first step in overcoming evil with good?
    1. Bless instead of curse enemies
  5. What Scripture is this based on?
    1. Romans 12:14, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not."
  6. How are some of the ways you can bless those you hate?
    1. Pray for them
    2. Say good things about them
    3. Say good things to them

We need to realize that it is easier and more comfortable to keep our dislike. For example, I tried to think of good things to say to God about my person and could only think of two things.

In this session we move on to the next step in learning to love (the whole point), not just tolerate the ones we hate.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

I love to teach others in the congregation how to do devotionals, write articles or prepare and preach a sermon. I like it because it helps them grow spiritually, it blesses the church and it provides more workers for the kingdom. But I have to admit that I also enjoy seeing people come to the realization that what I do is not easy. The usual joke about pulpit preachers is that they only work Wednesdays and Sundays, and I have actually had people ask me what it is that I do the rest of the week. When brethren try to prepare a 10 minute devotional lesson (2-3 pages) or a 300 word essay for the bulletin or struggle for weeks to write a 30 minute sermon, they begin to understand how difficult it might be for the preacher to write 50-60 pages of new material every week in addition to other things that need to be taken care of as a minister. In other words, for a little while, they get to walk a mile in my shoes and in doing so they are able to experience a bit of what it is like to do my job. Hopefully the net result will be that they will understand and appreciate what I do and perhaps be less critical in the future.

This, in essence, is what Paul says in Romans 12:15-16 as the second step in learning to love the one you hate: walk a mile in their shoes.

15Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
- Romans 12:15-16

In these two verses Paul gives four commands and all of these are in connection with the people we do not like:

Rejoice with those who rejoice

Easy to do when it is people we love, but difficult when it's people we cannot stand. Their joy usually makes us angry and jealous (e.g. the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15).

Mourn with those who mourn

Again, it is easier with those we love. We usually rejoice when things go badly for those we hate (actually pleased and feel they deserve it).

Live in harmony with one another

We don't want to care about the people we hate because their presence or memory creates bad feelings and awkward moments. Paul says we should live in harmony (not just get along) but be of a similar mind. Understand what they think, where they are coming from, why they do what they do. Understanding their behavior does not justify it, but it does help you see the reasons for it and may create some sympathy or empathy. This leads to the willingness and emotional ability to forgive.

Do not be holier than thou

Ever notice that in every situation where you dislike someone it is usually you that is right, the victim or the innocent one, and the person you dislike who is guilty or unworthy? Much of the hurt is usually a result of the feeling that the other person is unworthy (by their words or actions) of our love, association, friendship, service, etc. Paul says that assuming the higher position will destroy any chance at reconciliation. We must get to the other person's position, whatever it is, if we are wanting to understand, relate and forgive. This requires giving up our assumed superiority.

So the first two steps in learning (what we are doing is learning how to do this) to love the people we cannot stand are these:

  1. Manage your mouth: bless, do not curse.
  2. Walk a mile in their shoes: try to understand their feelings, thoughts and position.

These two steps can be done without direct contact with the person you cannot stand. They must be done if you plan to have some kind of successful contact with this person.

Discussion Questions

  1. When something goes wrong in your life, do you seek first to understand or be understood? Where is your focus? Give an example. (Open discussion)
  2. Have you ever had an "opposite" emotion (i.e. the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son)? What caused it? (Open discussion)
  3. How can you better understand where someone is coming from? (Open discussion)
  4. Consider a person you cannot stand. What, in your opinion, are some of the emotions, thoughts and positions that may be causing their annoying or hurtful behavior? (Each discuss)