"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Luke 6:27-28
Many, many moons ago, I used to be a delivery truck driver, working for a pharmaceutical company delivering to drug stores and pharmacies all over Southern California everything from narcotics to Preparation H. For the most part, I enjoyed the job. In fact, if it had paid more, I might still be doing it to this day. If nothing else, it gave me ample opportunity to eat sunflower seeds and listen to talk radio.
It did have its drawbacks, though, mostly due to the fact that I spent my entire day driving around in Southern California traffic. One particular incident from those days comes to mind when I read today's always challenging scripture.
It was late in the afternoon and I was closing in on my last few stops before heading home for the day. Traffic was getting heavy, as is normal later in the day, and I needed to turn left into the parking lot for the hospital pharmacy that was next on my route. I sat there waiting for an opportunity to turn, and finally took what was probably a bit of a tight squeeze, jetting across lanes and jolting up the driveway before making my way to the loading zone where I normally left my van while I made my delivery.
Once in place, I was organizing my paperwork and reaching for the bag of drugs I was dropping off, when I saw a small, hopped-up, bright red pickup truck barrel into the parking lot and screech to a halt right in front of my van, blocking half of the driveway. At first I figured the guy was going to the ER or something, but then he jumped out of his truck, slammed his door and stomped right over to the driver's window of my van. The guy's face was as red as his pickup, but it wasn't sunburn; the guy was livid with me. With me?? I had no idea what he was upset about, but he didn't hesitate to explain...in a voice they could probably hear two blocks away.
"You f___ing c___sucker!! You almost f___ing killed me!! My kid fell of his f___ing seat!! What the f___ did you think you were f___ing doing, you m_____ f___ing idiot??!!!"
Apparently I had cut him off with my speedy bat-turn, although I had no recollection whatsoever of having even seen his truck. And as a result, he had to slam on his brakes, causing his young son, who had been sitting in the front seat, to slide off and land on the floorboard, smacking his little tushie in the process. I could see the lad's forlorn face peering at me through the windshield of his truck.
The guy then reached through the window of my van, grabbed the clipboard I was holding and threw it to the ground with all his might, scattering my paperwork all over the parking lot. He was completely out of control and I actually thought he was going to hit me right then and there. I was unprepared to fight, never ever having faced that kind of blind fury focused at me before and never having actually fought anyone in my life at all (unless you count the time I met Walter Bates in the church parking lot after school when we were in the seventh grade, although that hardly counts since neither of us ever landed a punch - it was more of a reluctant wrestling match than a fight).
But I kept my cool, more or less, and also kept my mouth closed. I got out and started to pick up my papers while he stood there fuming, hoping (I think) that I would strike the first blow so he could finish me off. But I just tried to go on with my job, and mumbled a "sorry" to the guy before I started to head toward the entry door of the hospital. With a violent kick to the air in my direction, he finally turned and started back toward his truck.
That's when I made my mistake.
As he was heading away, I asked him, "Just how fast were you going, anyway?"
"The f___ing speed limit, you f___er!!"
"Ah, I think the speed limit is only 35 there. You had to have been going at least 50. Maybe you ought to be more careful when your son is in the car with you, and maybe he ought to be wearing a seat belt." (This was back in the days before kids had to be in car seats, but all cars did have safety belts at least.)
Before I knew it, he was back in my face, grabbing my clipboard again, hurling it into the nearby bushes. I really thought I was a goner this time, but I guess I had either made a little bit of sense to him or else he decided that I was just a wuss and wasn't going to actually fight him. He spun around, jumped back in his truck and gunned the engine before burning rubber all the way out of the parking lot.
I made my delivery, but I was shaking all over. When I got back into my van, I just sat there for a long time, trying to calm down. I was so angry at that guy that it was giving me a stomachache. I was so angry that I simply and thoroughly hated him. I hated him with everything that was in me. At that moment I was completely consumed by hate and anger. I had never felt that way before, and I had no idea how to handle it. But I think God was there that day, and he whispered this verse to my spirit:
"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
And so I did the only think I could think of: I prayed for the guy. I hated him with everything that was in me, but just ignored that and started praying for him instead, asking God to deal with him. I also asked God to deal with me and my anger and hatred, and you know, God gave me a vision of sorts. I pictured myself giving the guy a hug, believe it or not, and holding him as he began to let go of all his anger and hate. I realized that he must be simply filled with anger and I began to feel sorry for him and yes, to even love him, to begin to see him the way God saw him, and I prayed that God would heal him...and heal me in the process. And in that moment, I was able to forgive that angry, angry guy, and to genuinely begin to love him.
I never saw him again, of course, but I learned something that day. Love is the only way to confront hate. Forgiveness is the only way to deal with anger. And I'm not talking about dealing with that other guy's anger, I'm talking about dealing with my own anger and hate. If I find myself hating, I need to let God turn it into love. If I find myself angry, God can help me forgive.
It was a terrible, painful experience - not physically painful, but emotionally so - but I truly believe that God allowed it to happen, just so I could see what he's talking about when he tells me to love my enemies and to bless those who curse me.
I couldn't really understand it until someone actually hated me and cursed me!
Father, I still pray for that guy to this day...probably almost 30 years later, and hope that one way or another, he has come to know how much you love him. Wherever he is, I pray that you will help him let go of his anger, and to turn to you. Help him to bless those who curse him...or who cut him off in traffic. And help me to never forget the lesson you taught me that day. Hate and anger are real in this world, and I need to be prepared to face it when it rears its ugly head - to face it with love and forgiveness and blessings and never with more anger, never hate for hate. Thank you for that guy, Father. I love him. I love him because you love him. And that's good enough for me.
Oh, and bless that little boy, too. Bless his socks off!