Elizabeth Leon contemplates the reality that as long as we are on God's side, we will face opposition.
The word “enemy” appears hundreds of times in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of laments about one’s enemies and prayers for them to be confounded or destroyed. The New Testament brings Jesus’ radical approach to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Romans 12:20 suggests we should feed our enemies and give them something to drink.
But who is my enemy? It is easy to fall back on military jargon here and say we have no enemies, assuming very few of us will have to defend a violent attack. I strive to embody the virtues of patience and kindness and work hard to do the right thing. I never want to be anyone’s enemy.
The enemy still came.
Have any of you ever picked a word for the year? This has been a practice of mine for several years. Each December I pray about a word that represents how the Lord is inviting me to draw closer to His heart. Without fail, the word comes and then serves as the basis for my prayer that year. Words from recent years reflect the hard work of my intentional healing journey: beloved, transformation, restoration, redemption.
I was delighted when I felt convicted that my word for 2022 was rejoice. After several years of hard inner work and suffering, this was a celebration! Perhaps I was finally nearing the end of the shame and grief Jesus and I had been wading through.
Rejoice brought me hope that my spiritual journey in 2022 could be one of joy, peace, and rest. I was launching my book and my ministry. I was stepping out in faith in response to a God-given calling. I encouraged myself that I had been hard at work and a reprieve from suffering was well-deserved.
It wasn’t even the end of January before the left-hook came. Mid-March brought an uppercut to the chin. Month after month brought a new onslaught of trials that pushed me to my knees and broke my heart in suffering and confusion. What happened to rejoice???
Instead of celebrating, I was under attack. For much of spring and summer, I had an enemy actively engaged in undermining, sabotaging, accusing, and mocking me. And oh, it hurt. The onslaught was unfair, ruptured relationships, and put me on the defensive lamenting what I had done to deserve this.
The truth is our faith declares that in this world we will have trouble. The Psalms spell it out: when you follow the Lord, you will be opposed. There will be forces, either human or supernatural, who actively work against you. I felt the hits coming from multiple directions but all with the same goal of undermining my identity as God’s beloved daughter and discrediting the mission He had given me to share.
The Lord brought me understanding during Lent. Rejoice wasn’t an invitation to celebrate as much as it was a consolation. He spoke to me from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. (Matthew 5:11-12)
There it is: Rejoice. Not a call to revelry but a reminder that the Kingdom of God will always be opposed—and when we identify ourselves as sons and daughters of the King and step out in that identity, we will be opposed too. So, while I may be the target of someone’s slander, mockery, accusations, and criticism, they are really enemies of the Gospel. It may feel like this person is my enemy, and they may be acting that way, but my struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (cf. Ephesians 6:12)
God sees my heart. God knows my heart. He also knows the hearts of those who mock, accuse, and blame. I don’t need to justify, explain, and defend. Only the Lord gets to say who I am and judge my actions and intentions. My earthly enemies are a reminder of my heavenly call to rise above the troubles of this world and live in the freedom of my identity as God’s beloved—and to pray for the peace of Christ to control their hearts instead of their animosity towards me.
If I suffer hatred because I am trying to live for Christ and from His values and beliefs,
If I am criticized for my faith or my zeal to spread the Gospel, rejoice. rejoice.
If I am mocked for being too much or not enough, rejoice.
As the year draws to a close, I rejoice AND celebrate. Persecution has brought me to a new level of surrender. I need not fear the one who hurts my ego or my reputation for they cannot touch my soul. God is faithful and uses everything to lead me closer to His heart and the freedom that comes from letting Him be the only one to tell me who I am. For this, I truly rejoice.
Copyright 2022 Elizabeth Leon
About the Author
Elizabeth Leon is a Catholic writer and speaker from Ashburn, Virginia and the author of Let Yourself Be Loved: Big Lessons from a Little Life. She desires to inspire others to find freedom and healing through Christ. She and her husband are the parents of 10 children, 5 of hers, 4 of his, and their son, John Paul Raphael who died in 2018.