Note: This post was written by a friend and mentor, the Rev Dr Rob Voyle of the Clergy Leadership Institute.
Stick with Love if You Want Others to Change
“I have decided to stick with love because hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today the words of Dr. King echo in my heart, as I remember him and as I share in creating the future in which I would like to live.
From our political and religious landscape there is way too much to hate, that evokes anger, fear, frustration despair and hopelessness, and then there are the people who cause all that nonsense…
I am so fed up with idiots and am tired of saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do…”
Then this character I have decided to follow says: “love your enemies” and Dr. King says “stick with love.”
And the pragmatic, solution focused part of me, that wants all sorts of change, and especially other people to change acknowledges:
“I have never known anyone to change, at least in the direction I want, because I hated them.”
Or to put it in St. Paul’s way: “The anger of Rob does not work the righteousness of God.”
My program “Teaching Your Congregation to Forgive” is part of my response to the hate in our society. But the goal is not simply that we forgive. My greatest hope is that we learn to live in love with one another. That love will be our inspiration and motivation rather than fear and hate.
But telling people they need to love is not that helpful if we don’t teach them How to love.
So here are three things that I have found helpful in practically choosing to live in love rather than get stuck in hate.
1: Give Up Wanting
I think of all the things that I want to be different…
And I catch myself saying: “I will be happy when…”
This is a guaranteed way to stay miserable especially if the “when” is someone else changing. What we have done is put our happiness in the hands of someone who either doesn’t care or is a very slow learner.
The real question is: “how do we want to wait while the other person gets around to changing?”
I can live in love as I wait rather than wait in hate.
Or it is waiting with happiness while I work for those things that I want.
This is the twinkle in the eye of the great justice seekers. It is not denial of the injustice that abounds, but that they work with love and happiness in their hearts as they bring justice to the world.
Years ago, giving up wanting was a daily habit until it became an unconscious habit. I would find myself getting cranky while I was driving and being stopped by a red light. I would catch myself saying. “I will be happy when the light turns green, or I get where I am going.”
I intentionally transformed it by saying: “It is with happiness that I will wait for the light to turn green.” This may sound simple, but for me it was a highly effective spiritual discipline, that became a profound habit of happiness.
2: Transforming Demands into Preferences
Resentment is not a natural consequence of what others do to us. Resentment is something we do in the present moment in the darkness of what others have done to us. The mechanism of resentment is simple: It is an angry rumination in the present moment in which we “demand” that somebody or something would have been different yesterday.
But demanding the past would have been different, regardless of the rights or wrongs of yesterday, doesn’t change yesterday it just makes us miserable today.
The solution is to change the demand into a preference. This keeps intact our values and radically reduces the level of resentment in the present moment. We can “prefer” rather than “demand” that others would have behaved differently.
Living from a place of preference rather than demand is also helpful when contemplating the future. Demanding that people will behave in certain ways in the future is incredibly arrogant and will keep you in a world of denial, because most people aren’t going to change to suit you.
Living in an attitude of preference keeps intact our values and is a gentler more realistic and loving way of living.
3: Wishing our Enemies Well (and not in the well)
I have no idea what would be good for me or good for anyone else. I have prayed with great fervor for jobs that I thought had my name written all over them only to be rejected and then to be offered a much better job a few weeks later.
So I have stopped praying for people and myself to receive specific things. Instead I surrender people into the goodness of God without ever defining what that good would be. I simply know that it will be good for them, good for me, and good for all of humanity.
I have also found that when we pray for our enemies it is rarely for their benefit, but is actually for our benefit. We want others to see the error of their ways so they will act differently so we can feel better.
And so I can wish my enemies well but I do not define what that well is. I sometimes imagine a great ocean of unconditional love, and surrender the person into that ocean while I also am safely in that ocean. Sometimes they need to be over the horizon, sometimes in the next bay or perhaps a few feet away. I know the ocean is not mine to give but I do know where I can be in that ocean when they are also in that ocean.
I find that these three things provide a foundation for beholding others in an attitude of love rather than an attitude of hate. This attitude of love can then inspire action in the world.
I wish you a very blessed Martin Luther King, Jr. day and the joy of sticking to love .
With Gratitude for Love and Dr. King
Director, Clergy Leadership Institute