A post on my Facebook feed this week said, “I must find ways to see the image of God in Donald Trump. And pray that he sees it too.” The post was itself provocative. The discussion threat that followed was even more provocative. At points it veered into an age old theological question – is God at the center of each of us – the homeless person on the corner; the politician, co-worker, family member with whom we disagree; the Las Vegas shooter? Maybe more importantly the discussion touched on the question – how do we respect, not vilify, those who engage in behavior we find abhorrent or that makes us uncomfortable?
A psychotherapist who worked at a Hawaiian hospital for the criminally insane was, near the beginning of his career, faced with this very question. His response was transformative. In the early years of his practice, he met individually with patients. He observed that there was not much progress. More importantly he observed his personal beliefs and attitudes toward the patients were not always the most compassionate. He found himself wondering if a patient was too ill to heal, or he found himself struggling to have compassion for a patient because of what the patient had done. This was not always the case and yet, he found it was true more often than not.
He was uncomfortable with this reality and as a self-discipline he began to pray for each patient in the hospital. At first this was in addition to individual meetings that he would have with patients. Eventually though the prayer replaced his individual meetings. He would first review the case file. He would then hold the case file and say four simply statements – I love you, I am sorry, I forgive you, Thank you. I love you honors that everybody is a child of God even if we struggle to see that. I am sorry acknowledges that we play a part in every grievance, every strained relationship, every person’s situation. I forgive you helps us release whatever anger we hold toward the person or the person’s choices. Thank you embraces the truth that we learn something and grow stronger through all of the people in life that challenge us.
During the period of time in which the Hawaiian psychotherapist was praying, every patient in the hospital for the criminally insane where he worked and prayed showed signs of improvement! Who might you transform with your prayer – the neighbor who continually annoys you by blowing his snow onto your driveway, the co-worker who never cleans the communal break room, the racist neighbor at the end of your street or on the TV, members of the President’s Cabinet, or Donald Trump himself. Whomever you choose the goal is to transform your inner attitudes and beliefs. As we transform our inner self, we transform others.