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My Greatest Lesson in Loving My Enemies

Rusty - November 17, 2005

Rebecca and Geoff’s posts reminded me of an experience I had with a bully in high school. Let’s call him Chris. Chris was one of the primary drug-dealers in my school. That means he had some big, scary friends (even though he was smaller than me).

When I was a sophomore I dated Hannah. Hannah was Chris’ ex-girlfriend. I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to date someone that had dated Chris. When he found out he started taunting me in the halls calling me names and acting like he was going to fight me (though in my class with him he never even looked at me). This fact was made worse when his drug-ingesting buddies got in on it as well.

After a month or so of this it all came to a head one afternoon when I arrived at my locker and spray-painted on the outside of it was his oft-said phrase “Rusty is a p***y”. At that point I knew something was going to happen. I walked the other way to go to class and he and his two biggest friends started following me. Half way to my destination he pushes me on the shoulder and says, “Hey Rusty, what’s up?” to which I responded, “nothing Chris. How are you doing?” Enough with the small-talk he said, “I hear you been talking s*** about me.” “no, I haven’t said a thing.” “Yeah, I hear you want to fight me.” “nah. I don’t fight Chris.” “Let’s go man, you throw the first punch.” “Chris, I didn’t say anything and I’m not going to fight you.” and I walked off. As I walked off he pushed my shoulder and just yelled “P***y!”

I went to my next class and didn’t hear a single thing said. Then I went over to my seminary building and talked with my seminary teacher for about a half-hour about the situation. As we discussed the situation we came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do would be to pray for him.

I knew that this was the right thing, it just felt right. So I began to pray. At first it was awkward and uncomfortable to pray for this person that harbored so many bad feelings for me (and I wasn’t a big fan of his either). But over time my heart was softened and they were sincere prayers on his behalf, that he would be protected, that whatever problems he was dealing with that they could be resolved. I prayed that those close to him would love him and that he could be comforted in his times of need.

Over the next couple weeks an amazing thing happened, I truly loved him. I cared for him. I was interested in how he was doing and wished him only good things. Any bad feelings I might have had for him had been erased and had been replaced with concern.

Shortly thereafter in my class with him he asked me for a pen. He acted as if nothing had happened between us (too bad I didn’t have a pen to give him). Then the next day he was gone. Gone for good.

I didn’t see him until a few years later when I was working at a restaurant the summer after my senior year and he was the dishwasher. At break one day we sat down and talked. He apologized for the way he treated me and said he was going through a really difficult time in his life then. His best friend had killed himself playing Russian Roullette and he was kicked out of school. So, you know, he was having a difficult time and partially took it out on me.

At that time I didn’t realize the impact of what he said, I just felt bad for him. It wasn’t until later that I remembered that at that time I was praying for him in his struggles and that he would be comforted. This realization had a profound impact on me. I would be extremely saddened if I had added to his sorrow and am grateful that through my prayers he might have been comforted.

“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matt 5:44)

I’m fortunate to have known the “rest of the story” and see why this teaching is so important. This is one of the greatest teachings Christ ever taught. Never have those words meant so much to me.


  1. Great story Rusty. Knowing the “rest of the story” really does help in the retelling, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Geoff J — November 17, 2005 @ 12:15 pm

  2. Rusty, I have mixed emotions reading about this event in your life. I feel bad that I didn’t know about it, and that you didn’t come to me, but glad that you talked with Brother Sims and he gave you the correct advice.

    If you would have come to me I am sure I would not have given you the right advice. It shows the HG knows best on how to inspire you. And I’m grateful for great mentors like Brother Sims.

    Comment by don — November 17, 2005 @ 1:14 pm

  3. Good one, Rusty. Thank you.

    I just finished reading Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk from conference on forgiveness, and then I read your post.

    Comment by Mark IV — November 17, 2005 @ 2:09 pm

  4. Having been a victim of bullying that escalated to violence, I’m not sure what my reaction is to this. I’m glad that this worked out for you. I should probably try loving my attacker. I don’t know if I am yet mature enough to do so. As for my kids, they’re all going to get karate lessons and they’ll have permission in advance to break a nose if the other person starts things. Or at least kick someone where it counts. Of course being able to defend yourself is a pretty solid way to assure that you won’t have to.

    Comment by a random John — November 17, 2005 @ 3:22 pm

  5. Rusty, wow. I am going to print this one.

    I do that as part of my AA and Al-Anon program, but I’ve never experienced it like you did. It has come, at times, that love, but never so fast.

    It’s really, really hard to remember to do when you’re mad at somebody.

    Comment by annegb — November 17, 2005 @ 3:36 pm

  6. Good story, Rusty; thanks for sharing. My parents and younger siblings always told me Brother Sims was a first-rate seminary teacher; I’ll have to add your experience to their testimonials. Wish I could have known him.

    Comment by Russell Arben Fox — November 17, 2005 @ 4:10 pm

  7. Thanks everyone for your feedback.

    Yes, knowing the rest of the story is what has lead this to be so faith-affirming for me. I’m not sure how I would have felt if I would never have had that discussion with him, I may have just thought, “well, praying for him helped me not get mad at him” and left it at that. We just never know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

    As I mentioned in my email to you, you actually played a big part in this in my spiritual foundation to have the courage/strength to pray for him and forgive him. Without it the words of Brother Sims would have rang hollow.

    I guess I didn’t really think of this as covering the doctrine of forgiveness as well, but you’re right. Thanks.

    You make an interesting point about self-defense, though I’m not so sure how I feel about it myself. And I’m not sure if I agree with your last sentence. It seems that in my (albeit anecdotal) experience those who train to fight/defend are the ones who resort to violence rather than find other avenues of resolution.

    Thanks, you’re very kind. You’re last sentence is so, so true.

    Yes, Brother Sims was/is amazing. I’ve kept somewhat in touch with him. He’s now writing manuals for the Church in SLC. One of the humblest people I’ve ever known.

    Comment by Rusty — November 17, 2005 @ 5:37 pm

  8. Great post Rusty. I think I’ll print it out along with Geoff’s and use them both in a FHE.

    Comment by Susan M — November 17, 2005 @ 5:59 pm

  9. Rusty,

    It might be that those that are interested in martial arts are interested in them in order to use them offensively. There are a lot of jerks out there. However, some who learn self-defense are not interested in getting into fights.

    When my younger brother was in 7th grade he was constantly picked on by a 9th grader. We asked if he wanted us to intervene. He said, “No, if it gets bad enough I’ll take care of it. If you guys step in things will just be worse for me.” My brother had been taking tae kwon do (sp?) classes for years. To make a long story short at some point after weeks of abuse my brother asked the kid if he wanted to have it out. The kid did and immediately charged my brother. He then got kicked hard in the balls three times in short succession without ever coming close to landing a blow. Nobody ever picked on my brother again and that is the only fight he was ever in.

    Honestly, after spending all of junior high and some of high school being constantly threatened and picked on I see no reason not to make sure that my kids have both the skills to defend themselves and cool headedness to not seek out a fight.

    Comment by a random John — November 17, 2005 @ 6:17 pm

  10. My true story is somewhat similar, though with a few key differences:

    My junior high bully was also a member of the Church. He was a year older and a foot taller than me. He harrassed me for weeks, egging me on to hit him. I asked my dad what to do. “If he lays a hand on you, punch him in the nose as hard as you can.” (Not quite “pray for him,” I realize.) The day after I got that advice, he confronted me in an empty hall and wouldn’t let me pass. When I tried to get around him, he shoved me. I took my shot and landed it squarely on target, resulting in his bloody nose. The was the last punch I ever landed in my life–he proceeded to beat the daylights out of me. After a while a teacher pulled him off of me.

    I was given a week in detention. He had a prior disciplinary record and was suspended for a week. The bullying stopped.

    I moved away to a different state. A couple of years after the incident, while in high school, I learned from my mom that the kid contracted some disease and died. So in the end I won, I guess.

    Comment by gst — November 17, 2005 @ 6:28 pm

  11. So the moral of the story is to not date other people’s ex-girlfriends, right?
    Seriously though, this reminds me of one of my more influential experiences in forgiveness on my mission that I believe I shared on here before. It’s an amazingly wonderful doctrine that seems so lost on the world.

    Comment by Bret — November 17, 2005 @ 11:00 pm

  12. gst,
    That is both horrible and hilarious.

    You may be right. But what I think is important here is that I feel like the Spirit guided me in this decision at this time and I/he was blessed for it. I have no doubt that others (possibly me included) might be led by the Spirit to physically defend themselves/myself and were/will be blessed for it at that time as well. I hope I didn’t communicate that this is the best route to take for everyone at all times. Just for me at that time.

    Comment by Rusty — November 18, 2005 @ 12:34 am

  13. Rusty,

    Reading my comments over I realize that I didn’t make it at all clear how impressed I am with how you handled the situation and with how it worked out. I certainly agree that praying about what course of action to take is the best advice.

    As for stories about your enemies dropping dead, when I worked at Scout Camp one of the other staff members stole my brand new mountain bike, crashed it, and then refused to pay to have it fixed, though he did admit what he had done. Given that the repairs cost more than I made all summer I was pretty annoyed to have to pay for this out of my own pocket after spending what seemed like a boatload of money on the bike. When I was on my mission my dad sent me the kid’s obiturary. He got hit by a car and died. By that time the bike had been stolen and my bike related anger was directed at the bike theif that made off with the bike rather than the one that simply wrecked it.

    Normally I wouldn’t name names, but I believe his name was Dale.

    Comment by a random John — November 18, 2005 @ 1:58 am

  14. Wo, Susan, you have given me a stroke of brilliance. I have been thinking what can we do about family home evening now that BG is out of the house. Not that we had it before, but this story would be a good start. My husband thinks I am a crazy woman. If I shared something like this, he might think I was doing something worthwhile here.

    ARJ and GST, this is what I’ve been saying.

    I have grandchildren for heaven’s sake, and if I had it to do over again, I would tell James to fight as hard as he could. I gave him all that other cheek stuff. Boy was I wrong.

    Not my other son, he is a maniac and I can’t explain him right now.

    Comment by annegb — November 18, 2005 @ 4:06 am

  15. What a wonderful warm, fuzzy post about the blessings that follow when you “follow the spirit.”

    How wonderful that you’re such a blessed man, Rusty.

    Comment by Jordan — November 18, 2005 @ 10:58 am

  16. lol! So snide sounding Jordan!

    Does your tone mean you would have preferred the vengeance version of the story where Rusty saw to it that Chris was prosecuted to the full extent of the law and was just coming up on parole now? Or am I just reading you wrong and making assumptions based on some of your comments at other threads? (Please forgive me if it is the latter.)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 18, 2005 @ 11:25 am

  17. Um, yeah, Jordan, I’m not getting your gist. And why are you putting “follow the spirit” in quotes?

    Or are you just a karate master and are offended at my words about self-defense?

    Comment by Rusty — November 18, 2005 @ 11:42 am

  18. Sorry to sound snide, but that is how I feel. Just sounds a little too good to be true. But it probably is true, I know.

    I just have trouble understanding why people think that “having a hard time” is an excuse for bully behavior. There should be no excuses. I don’t care if his mother had died playing russian roullette. He had no right to treat you that way and humiliate you in front of everyone.

    I put “follow the spirit” in quotes because: how do you know it was the “spirit” who told you to react that way and not your own sensible intuition? I have been bugged lately, at church and elsewhere, of how people attribute so many things to the “spirit.”

    And I’m feeling generally snide today. Hopefully I won’t be tomorrow.

    Comment by Jordan — November 18, 2005 @ 11:57 am

  19. OK- after reading that, it is much less sympathetic than I actually am. Sorry for misrepresenting myself.

    It’s just hard to hear about your perfect life and all the blessings you get from “following the spirit.”

    But I guess I can sincerely say that I am happy you have such experiences to draw upon.

    Comment by Jordan — November 18, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  20. Jordan,
    Don’t sweat it man, I’m actually a big fan of snideness, but only when I’m the one being snide :)

    My reaction was definitely not to pray for him. My reaction was fear, hate, thoughts of self-defense classes, vengeance, calling police, telling the principal, etc. I went to my seminary teacher because he was there and I needed to talk with someone. After having time to discuss it, to reason through it, and (what I feel/felt) being led by the Spirit, Brother Sims helped me come to the conclusion that I did. As a sophomore I didn’t have “sensible intuition”, trust me. Ask Don, he’ll tell you.

    I’m not saying the Spirit guided me through the whole thing but there were nudges here and there. And that’s been the pattern for how the Spirit works in my life. For others it’s different, but for me that’s exactly how it works.

    And I have to admit that this is my only General Conference-worthy experience in my life. If they ever ask me to give two talks I don’t know what I’ll say in the second one :)

    Comment by Rusty — November 18, 2005 @ 12:27 pm

  21. Jordan,

    Nothing in Rusty’s story suggests that the bully was justified in his behavior. And I don’t think anyone thinks “that “having a hard time” is an excuse for bully behavior”.

    “He had no right to treat you that way and humiliate you in front of everyone.” Maybe so, but what of it? Does this mean that Rusty’s response was wrong? When we’re absorbed in making other people pay for their sins we are not loving them as we ought.

    Comment by Eric Russell — November 18, 2005 @ 1:58 pm

  22. Eric:

    When we’re absorbed in making other people pay for their sins we are not loving them as we ought.

    You’re right, of course. I already admitted that I am a sinner, so what’s the point? That I’m not loving people as I ought? I know that already! So make me run through another several probations…

    Comment by Jordan — November 18, 2005 @ 4:18 pm

  23. Proberbs 25:21-22 (see also Romans 12:20)
    21 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
    22 For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

    I couldn’t help but think of these verses, which have always amused me because of the benevolence/malice balance they strike. At the same time, I like Rusty’s post because it shows that a person’s heart can be changed and that a person can truly learn to love his/her enemy.

    Comment by danithew — November 19, 2005 @ 11:59 am

  24. There should be no excuses. I don’t care if his mother had died playing russian roullette. He had no right to treat you that way and humiliate you in front of everyone.

    Of course, those aren’t excuses. And I don’t think that President Hinckley, in the story he told at the last General Conference, excused the kid who took an action that seriously disfigured the victim.

    But there are at least two points that need to be made:It isn’t up to us to judge others, even bullies. That boy’s life was not an excuse for what he did, but an explanation, or at least part of one. There might be people that “need” to have their lights punched out, but this boy wasn’t one of them. Because Rusty treated this boy the way Jesus would have treated him, he was able to some degree see himself as child of God, even if he might not have articulated that way.Praying for our enemies is always the right thing to do. We’ve been commanded to do it, so we should.I, for one, benefited from reading Rusty’s story, and I don’t understand this flak he has received for it. It seems like we want to follow the gospel only where it’s convenient.

    Comment by EricG — November 19, 2005 @ 3:29 pm

  25. Thanks for this post Rusty. I think I was “led by the spirit” to read it today.

    Honestly I have been dealing with an extremely difficult family member, a bully in a more subtle way, and have been at a loss as to how to deal with them. I think what Brother Sims told you would work for me.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by kristen j — November 20, 2005 @ 1:31 am

  26. Rusty, your post made me laugh. Whenever someone in high school wanted to fight me or my harmless, wussy friends, us “talking s#$@ about them” was the justification they used every time. Glad to see that’s a universal line.

    Comment by davis Bell — November 21, 2005 @ 12:03 am

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