Hate may be too strong a word. I can’t say that I truly hate anyone. However, I definitely have issues. The minute I heard the following exchange in the 1987 movie Barfly, a semi-autobiographical film about the life of street poet/writer Charles Bukowski, I thought “Yes! That’s it!”:
Wanda: I can’t stand people, I hate them.
Henry: Oh yeah?
Wanda: Do you hate them?
Henry: No, but I seem to feel better when they’re not around.
Let’s face it, I am not a people person. In our household, Mr. Kennedy is our appointed interface with the public for reasons you have no doubt grasped in our thirty-plus years of friendship. Naturally, when I thought about Lenten pratices, issues that fall under the heading of “interpersonal relationships” screamed out for improvement.
Let me also back up a little and explain that, while my spiritual life may seem to be taking on a negative cast this year, it is actually not the case. It’s really more like cleaning out spiritual and mental junk drawers. After all, my word for the year is “complain.” This was based on Pope Francis’s exhortation this Chistmastime to “complain to God” in prayer. The idea was that we should be so intimate with God that we turn to him all the time, offering him all of us, the good and the bad. The Pope said complaining to God is a form of prayer. Talk about a do-able goal. And, no one else really wants to hear it, am I right?
I took on a number of ambitious projects this Lent, but the one that is proving to be the most interesting is The Praying for People I Hate Project. Busted Halo even had an inspirational Daily Jolt on the topic. It was a sign. Prior to starting the project, I could think of only a handful of people with whom I have serious issues. This would be a snap, I thought pridefully. I can almost hear the Holy Spirit snickering.
Within the first week, I realized I had tapped into a richer vein than I ever thought possible. If I am honest with myself (wink), then there are a lot of people I find seriously annoying and I need to face this and deal with it. From the friend who constantly lobs back-handed insults at me to the neighbor who took me to task for disturbing her mulch, the list has grown exponentially. It’s taking on a life of its own and soon I will be doing intentional rosaries full of annoying people. It’s actually a little scary. I didn’t want to know I had all this inside.
When you truly commit to seeing the face of Jesus in people you dislike, you are forced to humanize and give a face to your problems. A famous quote from St. Paul said, “How can you love the God you cannot see if you don’t love the brother you can see? God is in every person, so as much as we love others, that’s how much we love him. Especially the ‘least of these.'” Often, the “least” is taken to mean the poor, but what if we took it a step further to realize that people who lash out at us may be suffering from their own mental or spiritual poverty? Hard to admit, but that is certainly the case with me.You must also accept that a lot of your negative feelings towards people are based on hurt and fear.We don’t want to be hurt by people and I know I am especially thin-skinned, literally and figuratively (bad genes).
Of course, there is a flip side we don’t like to think about. As Lent progresses, I am going to start including prayers for people I have offended or who dislike me. I may not even know who I have upset. I am pretty sure the woman I told to “get out of my stuff” as she pawed through my cart at Target should be on there, though. We can’t just go around sanctimoniously praying for those poor, mean souls over there. Every so often, we are the mean one. We need to own our mistakes in this regard because it is the only way we can come to true understanding of others. We are not as different from each other as we may hope.
I am not saying this will be easy. I sometimes like to think of myself in heaven one day, God willing, zipping around Paradise without a care. Then, I picture one of the people on My List there. Really, God? If I didn’t want to have this person over for a glass of wine at my earthly home, I sure as heck don’t want to see them turning up at my Mansion of Rest. Yet, that is what God requires. I guess I’d better start making my peace with everyone now if I really want to obtain heaven one day. Thankfully, we have a lot of wine.
Cheers to Lent,
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