Actually, love your enemies

The rigour of unity

July 5, 2024 | Feature | Volume 28 Issue 9
Alayna Smith |
Photo: Tobias Tullius/Unsplash

A couple of years ago my sister and I had hammock party at the park with our friends. The goal of a hammock party is to set up all your hammocks close enough together that you can still hear each other without yelling.


On this occasion my sister and I, or rather my sister, packed up our gear and supper and we biked to the park to meet friends. As we waited for others to arrive, we realized we didn’t have the straps required to hang the hammock. My sister had packed the hammock, so, naturally, I blamed her.


For the next several minutes I spewed words at her with the express intent of making her feel bad for failing to pack the straps.


While I could argue it was her fault, it could also be argued that since she did most of the packing and prep, I could have taken responsibility for making sure we had everything.


Whether or not my argument was right, the nature of my response to her was certainly wrong.


Luckily, our friends are generous and resourceful, and we were able to set up our hammocks and enjoy our meal suspended under the luscious green canopy.


My sister is my best friend. If I love anyone, it is her; yet when I am frustrated or angry, I rarely act in love toward her.

Alayna Smith. Supplied Photo

Jesus says . . .

Christianity is rooted in a tradition of love. Jesus says: “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). These are not empty words. These are the words of a man who ate with tax collectors and spoke to the woman at the well, who was “other.”


This is the God who slowly suffocated to death on a cross. To save us from our sins. To save the very people who nailed him to the cross. This is love.


God calls us to love our enemies. This love is possible because God loves us, and we are all sinners.

Loving our enemies is both simple and incredibly difficult. Our society has been splitting down the middle. We are tired and frustrated and fed-up. We have been acting out of fear and anger and hatred rather than love. If we are called to love each other, we have to actually love each other.


How do we work at this difficult task?


The work

Loving our enemies is not about who is right. The question is not irrelevant; when we are wrong, we can cause real damage. But in the context of practicing love of the enemy, the question of who is right needs to be set aside at least for a time.


The people who nailed Jesus to the cross were not right. They were wrong, and Jesus loved them anyway.


We lived through a pandemic that tore families and communities apart. Our responses to it and to each other also tore us apart. We have not healed from those wounds.


One group was seen as walking around with no regard for whether they were spewing a deadly virus into the air, while another group was seen as mandating that people have a foreign substance injected into their bodies so society could regain some semblance of a so-called normal life.


When we look at the climate crisis, some people want to implement measures that would slash jobs and raise the price of gas so much that meeting basic needs would be nearly impossible for those already struggling. Others relentlessly pump carbon into the atmosphere, wreaking havoc with the earthly systems that support life.


Fearfully and wonderfully

The temptation is to get defensive about whatever position you hold. Do not get defensive.


Remember, we are putting aside who is right for a moment. Instead, think about your enemies—the people you think are wrong.


How exactly you love these people will vary, but it means not assuming that you are superior and they are idiots. It means not shutting certain groups out of conversations or spaces. It means recognizing that issues are complex and other people are trying. It means accepting others first as fellow children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made by the same creator who made you.


I grew up hearing stories about radical acts of peace and love in spite of great hardship. The most memorable of these is the story of Dirk Willems, the 16th century Anabaptist who famously escaped prison, fled across a frozen body of water, then turned back to save his pursuer who had fallen through the ice. Because he turned back, Willems was recaptured and put to death.



It is easy to believe that when our moment comes, and we are faced with the cross or a frozen pond, we too could love our enemies. It’s a nice thought. I sure hope so, but these actions are insanely difficult, and we have to practice. We have to practice loving our siblings and our friends. We have to practice loving those of different faiths and those who vote for different people. We have to practice loving those whose views about life seem fundamentally opposed to our own.


These small actions strengthen our ability to love, so that when the big moments come, we will be ready.


That is not to say that loving our enemies or our neighbours is easy. I struggled to love my sister even when we disagreed on the most insignificant thing. If it was easy, we wouldn’t be failing at it so much. It is hard, but loving people matters.


If we believe we are called to love our enemies, we have to actually do it.


When I got home from the hammock party, I looked in my backpack and realized that a hard drive I had borrowed from school and was storing in an outer pocket of my backpack had come along to the park but had not come back. I searched for the missing hard drive, without success. I felt terrible about losing it.


Earlier in the evening, I had been frustrated with my sister’s carelessness when packing the hammock. It turns out I am human too.


When I told my teachers about the missing hard drive, they offered grace and love.


After the hammock party, and after coming back from the hard drive search, I found a note from my sister on my pillow. It was kind.


She didn’t harp on me for having yelled at her. I was shown love even though I was wrong.


We are called to go out and love our enemies. We are called to love in small moments, in the petty fights and daily annoyances. We are called to love in big ways when real lives are at stake. We are called to love when there is injustice. We are called to love when we are right, and they are wrong. We are called to love when we are wrong, and they are right. It is hard when it is small and it is hard when it is big, and it matters every time. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Go, and love your enemies.


Alayna Smith wrote this speech in 2022 while a student at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). The speech was an entry in the initial school-wide round of the bi-national C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest. It has been adapted slightly. Smith plans to return to CMU in fall.


Photo: Tobias Tullius/Unsplash

Alayna Smith, Supplied photo

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