How I Lost My Nemesis

“…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44


I once attended church with a man who regularly joked about women, poor people, and those he felt were despised by God and hell-bent.  If I expressed my feelings about these slurs, he’d drag me into a long-winded argument that tried my patience. He loved to argue, even more if I responded to his bait. He labeled me as The Liberal, and said he felt sorry for my husband since I was such a Women’s Libber.


This taunting would have been bad enough in a secular context, but he spiritualized his prejudices, insisting the Bible endorsed his views.  Occasionally, I protested that the Jesus I knew was gentler than the one he championed. He would just laugh and roll his eyes.


I had many chances to encounter this man at church. He never missed a Sunday, a potluck or retreat. I tried to neutralize my reaction to his jive, and I almost succeeded.


Unfortunately, when he started teasing my kids, I was furious, not only with this man, but with God. Why weren’t my prayers to love everyone in my community working?  If I couldn’t love this man, couldn’t I at least feel neutral toward him?


I decided to do a Good Thing. My Nemesis had to follow a special diet for his heart condition.  He asked the church for prayers for sticking to it, as he loved rich desserts. The next potluck, I took pains to bake a cheesecake I knew was delicious but healthier. I made a little sign for the cheesecake, listing the ingredients declaring it as heart-healthy. He joked that probably tasted like cardboard and refused to try it. As I watched him shovel fatty desserts onto his plate, I made an inward decision to stop trying with this guy.


Months later, he had the heart attack the doctor warned might occur. His only hope was an experimental heart surgery only given to people near death. Immediately, the Light led me to pray for him. I prayed, first tentative and awkward, and later as fervent as if he were my best friend. The Light led me to stop several times in my very busy day to pray for this man’s heart. Without even wanting to, I began to care about him. While in prayer I visualized how precious he was to his family, who would be lost without him. It was as if my prayers for his heart were softening my own heart, which had begun to harden toward this man.


My compassion for him grew daily, prayer-by-prayer. In due time, he fully recovered from surgery, and soon was up to his old tricks. This didn’t seem to hinder my acceptance of him or my new affection. Prayer changed me, not my nemesis. Perhaps the reason Jesus asked us to pray for our enemies is so we would no longer be able to see them as enemies, but as God sees them: with love and compassion.

—Claire Nail