Making enemies out of friends

I am not prone to thinking of others as my enemy. Oh, I do have enemies - but to me they are things like: substance use disorder, abuse and neglect, poverty and prejudice. All these things that, to my way of thinking, whittle away and endanger a world that welcomes the kingdom of God in its midst.

In order to find compassion, I believe my work in evaluating all my relationships is twofold: 1. Do not impose my interpretation (and expectations) of how the world SHOULD work on others and 2. Believe folks when they teach me how they believe the world should work. That way, I can make a wiser, more informed decision about how we relate to one another.

If I fail to embrace either of these two practices in all my relationships, I’m going to be danger of making several crucial relationship mistakes:

1. I am going to mistakenly believe that someone is a trusted friend in life when they are NOT.

2. I am going to limit my connections with others who might make awesome friends even though we are very different.

3. I’m going to bail on relationships that I could maintain with a bit more intentionality.

4. I’m going to hold on too long to a relationship that deserves a compassionate end.

Do any of these options feel like experiences you have had in your own relationships? I wonder if we each tend to have a pattern to our relationship problems?

To be continued...

We do not know enough to judge

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

The second principle that I’ve been mulling over is this: I am only responsible for living out my way of seeing. I have no right to judge yours, even if IN THEORY it seems like we should agree.

The person who demanded that I comply with his request or take on the status of “enemy” was a confusing relationship for me, because I was under the impression that we shared a set of core values. And, I believe that we did. But my mistake was thinking that we applied them in the same way too. And we did not.

Compassion to carry on a relationship or end it will be in short supply if we do not get a grip on how unclear we all are so much of the time about just about everything. No wonder we get confused when what we think are shared core values end up being expressed in such different ways. If we can see how we are all prone to walking around in a fog, then maybe we can find some compassion for one another as we continue to bump into things in the dark.

Disagreements and Deal-Breakers

Whether we are able to maintain a relationship or choose to let it go, there is a principle that applies to both situations all the time. We do not let the (feared, expected, dreaded, desired) outcome dictate the way we show up for the relationship.

As image bearers of God, we are called to show up for relationships with our truest, most loving selves. Our work is to have the courage to love others EVEN IF we do not get our way in the relationship.

There are limits. In cases of abuse, neglect, and years of evidence that someone is unable (or unwilling) to learn how to relate with some degree of reciprocity, these relationships may need to end.

But what has no limit is our capacity to do so with compassion, even love.

Once I was in a relationship tussle with someone over a disagreement related to how our organizations interfaced. When it became apparent that I was holding firm on my position he said, “I’m sorry to say this, but if you continue to take this position you are my enemy.”

I thought he was joking. He was not and proved it in the years that followed. But what I knew then has remained true for me - he was not my enemy. It is easy to confuse a disagreement as a deal breaker if we are more invested in outcomes than we are committed to living out of our core values and inspired way of seeing.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

Honorable image bearing

Honorable image bearers learn that failure is a thing, it happens all the time, it is inevitable, and it is never as big a deal as it feels at the time. When we don’t figure this out, we struggle in relationships as we compare and compete. People who can embrace failure as a norm have the energy to devote to cooperating and encouraging others.

I was in a public place with a television blaring. A commentator, speaking of President Bush during one of the services eulogizing him said, “President Bush was willing to risk failure in pursuit of a higher good.”

I thought to myself - you missed the mark buddy. He FAILED. President Bush failed over and over and over again. That is the point. It’s easy to talk about risking failure - it sounds noble and brave. But it is far more accurate to say that Bush failed spectacularly many times. It was a strength; he had the ability to move through it and keep going with his remarkable optimistic attitude intact. I wonder. Is that why he had so many unlikely friendships with folks that many would have thought were his enemies?

Why do we act so surprised, so defensive, so mad when we fail to get our way or have things go as expected? What if we were better at failing? Would it improve our relationships? Would it change the need to end some relationships?

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message

What might change if we radically adopted failure as an expectation? What if we saw it as a normal part of accepting life on life’s terms? What if failure didn’t feel so personal?

Ending relationships SHOULD be hard

One of the most poignant scenes during the various events eulogizing the life of George H. W. Bush, at least to me, was watching former Sen. Bob Dole rise from his wheelchair and salute the flag draped casket of President Bush. Once upon a time they were political rivals; Dole lost, Bush won the nomination for President. The fight for the nomination was bitter. After Bush became president and Dole was the Republican leader in the Senate, they worked together to accomplish their goals.

It would have been easy for these two fierce competitors to continue the rivalry after Bush was elected; they chose to do the hard thing and set aside the bitterness in favor of maintaining relationship. Perhaps in the beginning it was grudging, who knows? But on the day that Bob Dole said good-bye to the President, the nation watched transfixed as Dole paid tribute to his rival who became his friend. At 95 years of age, Bob Dole cannot stand without assistance. He could have stayed home and written a nice note of condolence to the family. Instead, he was driven to the Capital, loaded into his wheelchair and pushed into the room that held the casket of President Bush. His aide helped him to stand, and Dole raised his arm in salute. It was a tribute to not one, but two men who refused to choose rivalry over relationship.

It ought to be REALLY HARD to end a relationship because, if we are intent on bearing the image of God, we have worked so very very hard on loving others. In many ways, it needs to become almost automatic, this inclination to love well. It is certainly at the core of who we were all created to be - but this does not mean that we are particularly good at remembering that, does it? We should work so hard on loving, that loving is what we do. And if we must, absolutely must, end a relationship, it should feel unnatural and not our preference or an act of convenience.

Relationships morph constantly; few last a lifetime. We value them because the capacity to love others is the essence of humanity. When they end, we may come to acceptance and know that it is the best decision under the circumstances, but that does not make it easy.


12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message


What can we do that will help us become better lovers, compassionate leavers, and honorable image bearers?

God's image is compassion

People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!

~ James 3:7-10, CEB

These verses essentially teach us not to use our bodies (in this case the tongue/mouth) to tear down other people. Why? Because human beings are made in God’s likeness. This is both physical and spiritual.

On the one hand, we’re made in God’s likeness. So, to tear someone else down is to use God’s likeness to do something that is, let’s say, not great. We should be thoughtful, at the very least, about how we’re using the gift that is God’s likeness.

On the other hand, every human being reflect’s God’s likeness in some form or fashion. When we tear another person down, we’re tearing down God’s image. The only way we see God, physically, in this world is through other people. When we tear down God’s image, how is that different from tearing down God?

And so we return to compassion. We do not practice compassion because people are good. We don’t practice it because they are better than they appear to be. We do not practice it because other people deserve it. We practice it because we are made in God’s likeness, as are other people, and we’re doing our best to live up to that responsibility.

When we treat people with compassion, particularly those who do not deserve it, we may even be helping them recognize the ways in which they represent God’s likeness. Perhaps this is a moment of clarity, or spiritual awakening. Who can say? What we can say, is that all of us benefit from compassion.

Compassion, Dignity, and Respect

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

~ Luke 6:32-36, CEB

A few days ago, I wrote about the fact that compassion should challenge us. It isn’t supposed to be easy. That doesn’t mean, though, that we subject ourselves to a lifetime of abuse. It doesn’t mean we’re required to walk through life with no dignity or sense of self respect. It simply means why prioritize compassion beyond what is intuitive. The limits must be discerned with the help of a wise community.

If you know that you will have to be hospitalized due to mental of physical abuse during the holidays, then prioritize compassion to yourself and do not jeopardize your wellbeing simply because it’s customary to spend time with family during the holidays.

On the other hand, don’t use this as justification to get out of something that is merely uncomfortable. If you’re uncle has bad breath, stands too close, and tells too many “guy walked into a bar” jokes, you can probably tolerate that for the sake of your family. Uncles like that are probably lonely, and could use a little bit of the benefit of the doubt.

Do you see the difference between these two things? Compassion is not one-size-fits-all. It takes some work to find the appropriate path forward.

Compassion is a Competition

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

~ Luke 6:32-36, CEB

Compassion, true compassion, forces us to compete with ourselves. Why? Because true compassion does not feel natural or intuitive. It requires us to move beyond what feels good or right in order to live out of our certain way of seeing.

If I say, “Our culture has no compassion,” most people would likely nod and say, “Yes, I agree,” and perhaps even think of multiple examples of types of people who are not compassionate enough (or not compassionate at all). It takes spiritual discipline, though, to imagine the ways in which I (Scott) am not compassionate, to compete with myself.

If we wait to receive compassion before we’re willing to show it…why should we be commended? That’s easy.

Over the holiday season, think on compassion, but do so with discernment. Sometimes compassion means a gracious withdrawal. Sometimes it means avoiding a situation where compassion would not be possible if we showed up. Sometimes it means sucking up our pride for a few hours and being present in an uncomfortable situation.

I can’t say which situation is yours but, whichever it is, chase compassion.

Compassionate Endings

A few weeks ago, Scott did a message at NSC about compassionate endings in relationships. He started out by observing that as the year draws to a close we often begin to talk on and on about new beginnings but we aren’t too keen on talking about endings. True and compelling. Since that message I’ve been thinking about endings in general, and if compassion can accompany them - all the better. It’s given me a lot to think about.



Frankly, he gave us room to begin small. He talked about how easy it is end a relationship by burning bridges, maybe even blowing them up. He encouraged us by saying that if we could avoid doing that - maybe that is the best we can do. I’ve heard him speak similarly about forgiveness. Sometimes, according to Scott, we are forgiving “enough” if we can restrain ourselves and refuse to seek revenge, i.e., burn bridges.



So let me level with you and start where I ended up: it ought to be HARD to end a relationship. I mean REALLY, REALLY HARD. Why? Because relationships are the glue that holds the world together. (I know, you thought it was gravity.) Relationships are fueled by love. If there is any universal characteristic of God that we are all challenged to reflect - it’s love.





12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message