I remember waiting for an elevator at a store. When it opened, there was a woman waiting to get off. I was lost in some random thought, so I rudely went in before letting her out. I realized my error as soon as I entered, and I said, “I’m sorry.” To which she responded, “I should say so.”
That little exchange stayed with me for most of the day. I can still feel a little sting when I remember it. I was in the wrong and she had every right to be angry. But strangely, this person I have never met before, and probably will never meet again, is left with a single impression of me (that she has probably now long forgotten) as a mean, terrible person (albeit in a smallish fashion). The idea that anyone could feel that way about me is unsettling.
I think that is the same with most of us. While there are those who let things like this roll easily off of their backs, many of us would do almost anything to avoid being hated. It gnaws at us when we are spurned and we burn with shame when we are bullied and defamed. We tell little white lies to avoid angering the people around us. We flatter so as to avoid wrath. In school we learn to conform so as not to stand out for ridicule.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I would say that it is very human of us to hate being hated.
And that is why it is so important that we learn to love being hated.
Now I am not talking about those who seek negative attention and feast off of the screams of the outraged, like the teenager who tries to shock others with a radically new philosophy meant to “blow your mind.” Sadly, there are people who only find validation when they get this kind of attention. It tells them that they are not ignored. It tells them that they have some kind of value, even if it is only in commanding attention.
And we are not talking about people who enjoy hurting others. There are some who make it a point to rain on everyone else’s parade. These Debbie Downers want to exercise their ability to manipulate your mood. These are the people that spoil movies and TV shows for no other reason than to see the look of anger on your face. These are the people that cannot stand to be in the presence of joy because they lack it themselves.
Even when we try to proclaim the Gospel, how often do we do it badly? How many people throughout history have excused their vices, their cruelty, and their desire to injure others because they do it “for God?” I know that many of our homosexual brothers and sisters feel alienated from God because some of His followers use their religion as an excuse to be cruel to them.
If we are hated for these reasons, then we should take those negative responses and transform them into something else.
No, I am talking about being hated for a completely different reason. I am talking about being hated for doing good.
I tell my students that if they want be extraordinary and do great acts of goodness, people will hate them. Sometimes this message is returned with looks of bewilderment. It seems so strange that being kind would lead others to hate. And yet that is what history shows us.
Think about Martin Luther King Jr. I don’t mean to be overly simplistic about his message, but the essence of it was, “Let’s all be nice to each other.” And for that, he was shot.
But why do people hate goodness?
I believe it is because the light always reminds people of the darkness. Jesus said “the Light came into the world, but men preferred darkness to light, because their deeds were wicked.” (Jn 3:19). Envy is an insane vice, but it spurns people to envy even the good in others. Standing next to someone who is much smarter than me (a common occurrence, mind you), might serve to remind me of my lack of smarts. And I might resent the good mental prowess of this person because of my own shortcomings.
Jesus promised us that hatred would come our way. He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (Jn 15: 18-19)
And later, the Apostle not only encountered suffering, but it says they rejoiced when it came their way.
I never quite understood that until last year.
I have a private blog where I go under the pseudonym “Catholic Skywalker.” I try to avoid using my real name online when possible. Somehow my students found out about my online identity. And one decided to take my online picture and make an anti-“Catholic Skywalker” Twitter account. Under this account, this student posted some truly vulgar things and went out of his way to be as outrageously atheistic and as offensive as possible to mock my Catholic beliefs.
I was not aware of this at first, but I stumbled across this person’s posts, which were full of it vile blasphemy and personal attacks.
And my only response was: “That is AWESOME!”
I finally understood why the Apostles loved being hated.
Look, and I say this with all the humility a venal person like myself can muster, I am a well-loved teacher at my school. I pour all of my passion into my class work and many respond positively. But I am also one of the most hated. I am a big disciplinarian. I am stickler for the rules. My class is not easy. And this doesn’t often win popularity contests.
But I always allow for the possibility that I am hated because of my own shortcomings. I daily try to examine my conscience and see if I was unfair in my application of the rules. Did I pick on a student too much in class? Did I say something to personally wound another? Was I lazy when I avoided reaching out to a student in need? Did I bully someone about the Gospel? I seriously consider that maybe I’m hated because I’m in the wrong.
But when I saw those attacks online, I noticed I was not being hated for anything else other than my love for the Catholic faith.
Like I said, I often do not have the confidence to know if I am truly doing God’s will. But when someone comes at you and hates you specifically for loving God, then you know that you are doing something right. This student thought that the best way to wound me was to attack my God. That must mean that they knew what was most important to me.
This meant that when they saw me, they knew that God was the most important thing in my life. If that is what I have been projecting, then maybe I’m on the right track. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I don’t ever feel more confident that I am doing God’s will than when I am hated for His Name.
And while I do feel a great swell of pity for the attacker, it is important to note that I got under his skin. I live rent-free in his head. For some reason, what I have said and done has elicited an extreme response. This attack took effort. It took time. And that is time spent wrestling with my witness of God’s goodness.
People who attack the faith are actually much closer to converting than those who are apathetic because they are emotionally invested. For whatever reason, this person invested a good deal of their heart into hating me.
And God can take even that hatred and use it as a lifeline to turn it into love.
So while it is natural to try avoid being hated for our faults, we should not fear being hated for our love of God. It is a truly liberating experience. And once you can digest the hatred of others, the fear of being hated in general begins to dissolve. You are free.
When we realize that being hated for loving God is a sure sign of our work, then we will come to love being hated.
Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson