I’ve been in one fist fight in my life. It wasn’t much of a fight but it made an impression on me. It made me see some things I am capable of. It also made me see how much others delight in turmoil. The fight took place in 7th grade. Robbie Parker and I had some beef with each other though just what that entailed I don’t remember and I’m not sure either of us really knew at the time. But something happened and my friends began to egg me on. “You’ve got to fight him,” they told me. It all felt wrong but I went along with the temperament of the group. We went outside after school surrounded by 10-15 folks verbally prodding us along. “Get him”, I kept hearing. So I hit him, once, my fist landing at the corner of his mouth. I remember that the punch hurt my hand. I remember that the sound of his mouth sort of crunched. And I remember some blood. As he fell down, I could see the hurt and fear in his eyes. He had never been hit before. I had never hit anyone before. It was enough for both of us. The fight was over. But my stomach still turns a little as I remember the event.
I think I was more sickened by the reaction of the group than any pain I felt or induced. They were delighted. They were powerful. They made me do something I didn’t want to do. Or worse, they helped me see something I did want to do that I knew was wrong. I got caught up in the spirit of the crowd. I was a leader of that crowd most days but that day I was the follower of the crowd. They liked hating that day. I let them hate, drew on their hate, and fed their hate.
I’m not sure what a good definition of hatred is. Maybe it’s paying too much attention to the anger inside me. Maybe it’s what inevitably happens when I don’t process my anger in a healthy way. It is letting something rule me and control my behavior. It is becoming overly focused on something outside myself while not taking responsibility for the meanness in me. Hatred results in cruel deeds or words yet hatred brings with it the rationalization of my behavior. Someone else is to blame for what I have done. That seems to be key to hatred.
Are you living with hatred? Have some of your feelings, or words, or actions disturbed you lately? Has the hatred others are expressing led you to lose control of your own actions? Have you come to blame someone or something else for your own actions?
In the 8th chapter of John, Jesus deals with a crowd operating out of hatred. They bring to him a “woman caught in adultery” and they are furious. They want to stone her. It’s good to be outraged by sin, certainly, but the crowd has done the cruel work of singling out someone else. They’ve even forgotten to bring the man they caught with the woman. Their emotions have gotten the best of them.
Jesus does what is always helpful when there’s something complicated going on: he pauses. Rather than reacting to the foolishness of the crowd, Jesus bends down and writes in the sand. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”, he finally says. I wonder if maybe the man caught with her was there among the crowd. Then he pauses to write in the sand again. The crowd softens, lets go of their hatred, and disperses. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on, do not sin again.”
When we feel hatred, a good practice is to pause. Just waiting before acting or reacting is always good but especially so when we are furious. Taking time to write down what we are feeling is really helpful. Applying some Jesus wisdom is good: remembering that we are loved and so is everyone else; remembering to tend to the log in my own eye before I rant and rave about the speck in others’ eyes; remembering to treat others as we would like to be treated.
There’s a lot of hatred out there. There’s some in your heart too, if you’ll admit it. Confess that to God. Ask God to heal you and bring you God’s peace. Jesus came to this world to heal our hatred and division. That work is constant but the healing Jesus offers is more constant. When you give into hatred, you can stop. You don’t have to keep on with that behavior just because you’ve done it before. If someone is being hateful to you, pray for them and look for an opportunity. Find safety and protection but don’t write them off completely. Just as no one is all good, no one is all bad either. They might be on the verge of a big transformation.
Let the peace of Christ dwell in you richly. Let go of that which divides you from others.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.