When You Feel Like You Just Can't

January 18, 2016

I knew immediately that I shouldn’t have read it. The headline caught my eye, and a simple click had dragged me into a Pandora’s Box I wished I hadn’t opened.

The story was one I’ve unfortunately heard before: A child, abused at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him. In this case, a 5-year-old tortured for months by his mother and another adult in ways that make bile rise in my throat, even now. I have a vivid imagination, and it’s to my detriment sometimes.

I read the news story on my phone while standing in my kitchen, and as I exited the link with shaking hands, I looked around at the supreme normalcy of my life. A discarded rubber duck on my dining room floor. A crushed piece of rainbow cereal. My 9-month-old swaying to the music of the movie currently enthralling my 4-year-old, lying sprawled across the couch. Focusing on my children, on the everyday details surrounding me, I tried hard to replace the images my mind conjured.

Yet that night, lying in bed, I’m overcome once again. Crying silent tears, I pray for that little boy. That someone would come into his life and give him the love he deserves. That healing and restoration would be his to claim. That he would grow up healthy and whole. No one deserves to be treated in such a way, but especially not a child.

As my mind starts to tumble down rabbit trails, I think about how this child and this mother move forward in their lives. And then I pause, feeling inexplicably called to pray for the mom, too. I immediately cast the idea aside, but it returns. I’m reminded that Jesus said to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. I feel like this is unreasonable. Love your enemies? I don’t think I really have enemies, do I? I mean, that one girl who called me “Little Miss Perfect” in a snide tone in high school doesn’t really count. I pretty much avoid confrontation unless I can help it. “Enemies” seems like a foreign concept...until I consider the things that hurt me. The things that break my heart.

This child’s torture and abuse tops my list of heartbreakers, right up there with sex trafficking victims and those who experience domestic violence. Those who are tossed away like so much trash, their personhood violated in ways I can’t even begin to fathom. Those are the people whose stories eat me up the most and keep me up at night, and their enemies are my enemies.

I try to pray and -- I just can’t. I can’t. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even want to try. Jesus, it’s unreasonable to expect me to pray for this woman! She’s a monster. Evil. She doesn’t deserve to be called a mother. Leaving it at that, I fell asleep. 

But in the past few days, the idea that I need to pray for this woman keeps returning to me. I keep worrying it at, like a sore tooth. 

Then finally, today, I gave in:

Lord, I pray for this woman’s redemption. I pray that you would soften her heart, that she would understand the pain she has caused others and endeavor to do better, be better. May she turn her life around, and instead of inflicting pain, may she ease the pain of others. Give her hope, a future, a purpose. Show her that you love her, and in return, may she love others. May she regret the life she has lived, the pain she has caused, and may she learn how to extend the same grace and mercy that you have extended to her.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe that this woman is responsible for her actions and that justice should be served. But it shouldn’t be decided in the court of public opinion, and I shouldn’t write off the rest of her life because of what she’s done up until now. 

In the same way that forgiveness isn’t about the person who wronged you, but rather about yourself, loving your enemies is more about us than it is about them. Why? Because it’s harder to view someone as a monster when you are genuinely praying for them. It’s the same reason that I pray daily with my husband -- it’s hard to stay mad at him for imagined slights or small misunderstandings when I am wholeheartedly praying for him to be healthy, wise, a good husband and father, and a man after God's own heart. 

It’s easy to dehumanize people who commit evil acts, but praying for them can help us "rehumanize" them. 

Because if I truly believe in a God who extends grace to sinners, then I must believe that he extends grace to all. That no one is beyond redemption. And that he can -- and will -- make all things new. 

1 comment

  1. Good stuff here, Kristin. I think for me, I have to remember a very simple truth, "Hurting people hurt people." That woman didn't learn to abuse children by coming out of a loving family. She, too, has most likely been hurt by someone else. It doesn't excuse it but it does help us pray for her. I'm so glad God blessed you with such a tender, loving, forgiving heart. You are amazing!