Religious Leaders Offer Guidance After a Tough Year

Finding beauty in your friends and co-workers is easy. The real challenge is finding beauty in people who hate you.

“You love your neighbor? Or you love your family?” said Mr. Roberts, with a wry smile. “What’s the big deal or special about that? Love your enemies.”

Mr. Roberts said he’s done weekend retreats for colleagues, inviting imams worried about gun-toting Christians and Christians he knows to be leery of Muslims. At first they keep their distance but once they do some kind of manual labor together, the barriers break down. He said it’s a myth that godly actions follow a change of heart. First do the actions, start the process, and the love and forgiveness will come along later.

But the hardest enemies to love, he said, are the people closest to you. The people who know how to really hurt you or have hurt loved ones. It’s easier to realize you misunderstood a faceless enemy than to forgive someone you understand perfectly well.

The first step, Mr. Pastor said, is to remember the people who have forgiven you, even when you were clearly in the wrong. Once you tap into that gratitude, forgiveness for others comes easily.

“The greatest forgiveness you offer people are to those who don’t ask it,” he said.

“It is not a coincidence that many, many religious traditions have some form of a festival of light in the dead of winter,” Rabbi Kligfeld said. The act of lighting a candle can be an act of hope. In fact, some have argued the real miracle of Hanukkah wasn’t that a temple’s oil lasted for eight days, it was that someone had enough hope to light it on the first day, he said.

Rabbi Kligfeld said this year the lighting of Hanukkah candles will take on a much deeper meaning. Ms. Blackmon agrees. So many people have died alone, with loved ones just out of reach, she said, “I want people to know that they’re not alone. And a candle does that” by reminding us we are spiritually connected.

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