When you are lost and you feel like no one is in your corner it is easy to gravitate toward hate. Hate is seductive. Hate that is shared is unifying and affirming in a sick sort of way. Hate feels good at the moment you are stoking it or feeling it. Hate can be a crucible to burn off or distract you from your feelings of dismissal, discontent, or discomfort. The ironic thing is the whole time you’re hating you secretly yearn to love and be loved.
There is a vital attribute of this love you are seeking and it is to be cherished unconditionally. Our hearts’ desires are to be embraced with the kind of grace that provides a warm, security blanket around us at all times. Some of us also recognize this brand of devotion as a mother’s love and other’s of us are reminded of God’s unique manner of love. Sadly, for all too many people, it is an alien feeling. I heard a story about one such man, a skinhead whose heart began to open up the first time he held his newborn baby in his arms. You don’t have to be a violent white supremacist to experience this transformation. I have heard the echoes of this story over and over again, where anger and hate are born of far less extreme circumstances, cases like mine, where someone who had just a bit of a hardened heart, for whatever reason, has that love that is locked inside them – set free.
In the case of the neo-nazi, the circumstances that hardened his heart started out with a family that rejected him, playground bullies that taunted him and morphed into joining, and later leading, a culture of hatred. At the apex of his hate, he despised anyone who he was taught to think of as different than him. Lashing out in his brainwashed mind, and with his deadly fists at those that spent their time supposedly scheming against him, “taking” the resources meant for him and his friends. The universe holds as many of these stories as there are souls. Luckily for this man, he found the love of a woman, who didn’t share his views and, with the help of others, helped him slowly see another way.
Long before our friend the skinhead learned to love fully and more unconditionally, he “went straight” from his life of skinhead crime by opening a record store to sell his self-made “white power” music, a step toward living a normal life after getting married and having a kid, that opened his heart ever so slightly toward this kind of unconditional love. Once the door of the record store opened he found that he had to offer a mix of hate music and garden-variety LPs to ensure the success of his business. Unbeknownst to him, people of all stripes started to show up in his store and in his life, including childhood friends long since cast aside, and it completed the journey of opening his heart to love all people.
I was never anything close to a white supremacist. In fact, my life has been spent in a passionate quest for diversity, or so I thought as a younger man. In my case, earlier in my life, my heart was hardened against God and what I thought of as “Christians.” I was convinced that most evangelical Christians were like the ones I saw on TV and read about in books and articles. These vampires, feeding off hate of all things unlike themselves, were no better to me than our friend the skinhead and his tribe. I now have a very different view, although I still rail against those who ostracize others because they are different, I have held a mirror up to myself and seen that I was guilty of the very thing I purported to stand against, namely arbitrary hate.
In other cases, otherwise “Godly people,” (whatever that means?) have hearts that are hardened, not against God, but against men; such as a father who broke their family’s collective heart or a husband who left a marriage after their wife was diagnosed with a disease. Some have been neglected, others abused. A majority of people most likely lived through a more subtle form of verbal abuse, parental indifference or a simple, but constant, dosing of negativity. “Godly” or “ungodly” we all hate, even if it is only for a fleeting moment. There resides in us an ugliness and a brokenness, we can’t run away from any more than our friend’s skinhead brethren could bring themselves to admit they found that Jewish man they met the other day wise and endearing.
So how do we overcome it? We can start by accepting that we are all human and prone to these feelings. Then we can ask ourselves some questions.
One question we may pose is: why is it so much easier and quicker to hate than to love?
Another, more crucial question may be, why is so much more powerful and life transforming to love than it is to hate?
I’ve heard it shared that we are created with a loving heart by a loving God who wants us to love Him and others. That is what I now believe, but if you believe something else, that is OK, I used to feel the same way. The one caveat I will share is that when I hung my “loving hat” on the hatstand of my own understanding, I was able to love, but not as consistently, deeply, fairly nor fulfilling as I feel I was meant to. I learned over the years that the ability to keep on loving people, and myself when it got hard, was way harder without God than with Him as my point of reference and my Hope. Like our friend the former skinhead, I credit my wife, my kids and many others that loved me into opening my heart more fully. I give God the credit for bringing them to me and pointing me toward Him.
I recognize I’m making it sound easy. It isn’t, and I recognize just talking about God might tune some people out. If you are like I was and have hardened your heart to God, you might not want to jump straight into His arms-I get it! So let me suggest the method that worked for the skinhead, learn to let go of your hate one interaction at a time. One conversation at a time. Here is one of the best parts of this approach. As you live your life more and more this way, you will unlock untold insights, joy, and peace, not just in yourself, but in others. Once you start practicing this approach, each encounter with someone, in person, on TV, on social media, and in our community will become an opportunity. It is, in fact, the ultimate opportunity: to choose love over hate.