My group of friends and I really didn’t like the way this one girl was acting. She was rude, and she put others down to make herself look good. She’d also singled me out for particularly bad treatment.
I’ll be honest: I spent a lot of time feeling appalled by her behavior and pretty self-righteous about my own. How could anyone act like that? I didn’t like it and I didn’t get it.
I think of Christ Jesus as my go-to expert on relationships.
I nurtured these feelings for a while—not actively, but they were always there in the back of my mind when I thought about this girl. Then we were assigned to work on a group project together and I knew I had to approach things differently.
Even though Christ Jesus lived two thousand years ago, I still think of him as my go-to expert on relationships. So in considering how I could think more constructively about this girl, maybe even learn to love her, I took a look at the New Testament in the Bible to see how Jesus treated people who weren’t behaving their best. What I noticed was that Jesus willingly spent time with these individuals whom the Bible calls “sinners.” He even had dinner with them!
Sometimes this made Jesus’ followers angry, because they didn’t get why a man as pure and holy as Jesus would want to surround himself with such lowlifes. But here’s the thing. While Jesus didn’t excuse bad behavior—in fact, he had no tolerance for it—he also didn’t see others as awful people. I love the way Mary Baker Eddy explains what Jesus was actually seeing. She writes: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 476–477).
It might seem like a big step to find just one good, Godlike thing in someone who’s treated you badly, so seeing “the perfect man” could sound impossible. But the same grace from God, the same Christly purity that gave Jesus such a clear vision of man, is a grace and ability God has given each of us to draw on, too. It’s the same kingdom of God that Jesus assured his followers is “within you” that’s within us (see Luke 17:21). And as we allow those God-given qualities of purity, love, and mercy to permeate our thoughts and redeem our view, we can also see God’s own likeness in others—because in reality, that’s all God created, so that’s all that is really there to see.
The same Christly purity that gave Jesus such a clear vision of man is a grace each of us can draw on, too.
In my prayers, I included this girl at my mental “table”—meaning, I sat down with my perception of her and opened my heart for God to redeem that view. I truly, genuinely, deeply yearned to be the kind of witness to her true character that I knew Christ Jesus would have been. And I “sat with her” until the limited, mortal (and ultimately untrue) view of her faded from my thought and I saw the good that had always been there, but which I’d never before bothered to perceive.
I felt love toward her after that—real love, like I’d feel for a friend. And though the group project wasn’t without its challenges, that new, spiritual view of her I’d gained through prayer sustained and buoyed me during the whole time we worked together. I also noticed a perceptible change in her—more grace where before there’d seemed to be only rough edges.
The bigger takeaway, though, was what I learned about the power of inviting those we consider to be “bad guys” to our mental “table.” Are we willing to sit down, really take the time, and be witnesses to the God-created, good, spiritual nature in those we feel we dislike, even despise? I’ve taken to inviting one person each day to dinner—metaphorically speaking—be it an authority figure I’m unhappy with, or someone I feel hasn’t treated me very nicely. Then, in that quiet place of prayer, I sit with my concept of them until it’s polished, transformed. That transformation may not always happen quickly. We may have to really work at it. But the end result, for our own peace of mind, and for our world, is worth it.