Children and teens are learning how to navigate the world around them. One of the most difficult areas of life for them to master is interpersonal relationships. In fact, most of us adults are still trying to be more loving and godly in our relationships with others, too. If your children are old enough to spend time with people their age, you have probably already seen them struggle with the conflicts that often occur in relationships.
Perhaps the most difficult of relationships for Christian young people to understand and live out in their lives is the idea of loving and praying for your enemies. We live in a world that increasingly encourages everyone to destroy not only enemies, but anyone who thinks differently from us on a wide range of topics. In a world that believes it is tolerant, your children will be exposed to people who counsel them to do things that are far from loving.
So what are some things you can do to raise children who are counter cultural and love their enemies as commanded by God? Here are some of our top tips on the subject.
- Teach your children God’s views on the topic and discuss it regularly. Your children will struggle to obey God and love their enemies if they don’t realize or remember that it is a command from God. I met a young man recently who had grown up in a war torn area of the world. Even though his father had been a soldier and watched as the enemy burned their family home to the ground, he regularly reminded his children that not only did he expect them to avoid saying anything negative about the enemy country and its people, but he also told them he would hold them accountable if he ever heard them doing so. Loving your enemy needs to be part of your family DNA as well as a command from God.
- Define enemy for them. An enemy is not someone who disagrees with them or holds an opinion that is different than theirs on a topic. Enemies are people who actively seek to do us harm. They need to learn that the word enemy is a very strong way of describing someone in a negative way and it should be used very rarely in describing another person.
- When they do believe they have an enemy, encourage them to pray for that person, but also make a point of your entire family praying for them as well. I believe God commands us to pray for our enemies because it is very difficult to simultaneously hate someone and pray for their benefit. Our brains don’t like contradictions, so praying for their enemies will make it more difficult for them to actively hate them. If your entire family prays for the enemy of one member, you also are reminding your children that your family is a team for God, not just individuals who happen to live together.
- Don’t forget to teach your children the rest of the command. Luke 6:27-28 also says to do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and to not just pray for, but also love your enemies. Discuss and find ways to do good to any enemies your family has. Discuss what it means to bless those who curse you. How can your family do that on a regular basis also? With so many good things your kids will be doing for their enemies, it will be difficult for hate to take root in their own hearts.
- Be empathetic about the pain your children’s enemies cause. I think Psalms shows us that it is natural to be hurt and even angry in the immediate aftermath of an enemy’s blows. Show empathy for that pain, but also put a time limit on it. Continuing to revisit the same grievance over and over is what can lead to sinning in one’s anger.
- An enemy may never become a friend, but encourage your children to try and thaw relations when possible. It can be extremely difficult to act kindly towards an enemy. Most children, teens – and even adults – either try to avoid the person or snap back with their own anger. In potentially dangerous situations, avoidance may indeed be wise, but for the average childhood enemy situation, encourage your child to see if they can improve the overall relationship even a bit. Frenemy wouldn’t be a term if it were impossible to at least broker a truce of sorts.
- Set a good example. If you are always criticizing your own enemies – or even worse – plotting revenge, you cannot expect your children to love their enemies. Setting a good example will make it easier for them to understand how loving your enemies is done.
It may never be easy for your children to love their enemies, but it is possible. They will need your help though in learning how to do it. Coaching them through the process will help them become who God created them to be.