03485_000_005Does it really work to pray for those who wrong you?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Our Church leaders today have often counseled us to do the same when we harbor ill feelings. While growing up, I used to think this was an old cliché used because no one could think up a better answer. There came a time in my life, though, when the only thing I could do was pray for those I so despised. I learned the wisdom in that counsel from an experience with prayer and forgiveness that changed my life.
It started when I entered the Young Women program in our small ward. I had always had fairly healthy self-esteem, mostly a result of accomplishing my goals. Involved in many activities, I always tried to do the best I could in each area. I was excited about being in Young Women, and I began trying to develop a relationship with the four girls I would be in constant association with. My excitement soon turned to bitterness as these four girls became one of the biggest trials in my life.
Being jealous of my accomplishments, they started doing anything they could to bring me down. At first it was just cutting remarks behind my back. Then they would band together and make fun of me in Sunday School. One day in Young Women class I sat next to one of the girls, and she stood up and moved across the room. Whenever I suggested an activity or was in charge, they failed to show up or carry through with their responsibilities.
I tried hard to uphold my standards, and was sometimes recognized for doing so. This did not improve my social standing with them. Everyone’s favorite section of the school newspaper was the song dedications. One week I was horrified to read that these girls had dedicated “Goody Two Shoes” to me. I felt this was an attempt to embarrass me in front of the whole school.
A person can endure this sort of treatment for a few months, or even a couple of years, but it went on for four years at an age when it is very important to feel a sense of belonging. I felt I was a failure because I had no friends. It was a terribly lonely time.
When I was 16, our family moved. I thought all my problems would be solved, but they were just beginning. In a new environment, I felt like a social worm. With little confidence left, I believed no one could ever like me. I hated the girls back in my hometown for making me feel this way. How could I “start over” with my past haunting me?
Feeling horribly alone, unloved, and bitter, I questioned what I should do. There was that old cliché, “Pray for your enemies.”
Pray for the girls who have destroyed my self-esteem, my social life, and hope? Be real, I thought.
But I felt the Spirit nudging me to pray.
I knew I had to forgive if I was ever going to progress and regain my confidence. I knelt and said my usual prayer. Then I stopped. I couldn’t pray for them. I just couldn’t. I stayed on my knees for about a half hour weeping. Praying for strength, I then said, “Dear Father, please bless Kathy, Ann, Sherri, and Julie.” That’s all I said. I didn’t feel any different, and it was the hardest prayer I had ever offered. The next night I said the same thing.
After a few months of praying every night for them, an amazing thing started to happen. The words came more easily, and I started feeling better about myself. Soon I prayed specific things for each girl: “Bless Ann to do well in her dance lessons. Bless Julie to get along with her parents. Bless Kathy to have the courage to stand up for the right, and bless Sherri with the strength to accomplish her goals.”
After an entire year of praying, the thing that I thought impossible happened. I loved them, and the bitterness and bad memories were erased. We have now become good friends.
It has been three years since that move and prayer, yet I still take time out in my prayers to remember them. The night I decided to pray and forgive them was probably the most important decision I ever made. You see, I could have spent my whole life being angry and hurt. In the end, I would have only destroyed myself.
Through those prayers I was able to improve my self-esteem. I learned faith, the power of prayer, and the truthfulness of the scriptures. I have been blessed with many friends who love me. I have not carried around a guilty, heavy conscience. It has become a habit for me to fall to my knees and pray for anyone who offends me. I have learned the sweetness of forgiveness.