Behind Enemy Eyes


She came to me bleeding. All over the table between us. All over the smartly manicured winter scarves and boots. All over the friendship we’d shared for years. The gush was coming from her broken heart. Circling over top the whispered secrets and so many rejoicings and all the day-in-day-out of family life we’d both laughed our way through,

There was now a pool of fresh red.

As I gently probed, she revealed more of her story. The injury tumbled forth slowly. Provocative descriptions and candor that made me wince. And then, when the weapons wrapped in words which caused the wounding finally surfaced, it was replete with renewed sobs. Misunderstanding. Disagreement. Insensitivity. Injustice. I heard instances of each. And, I’m not gonna lie, my anger began to rise. How dare they say that? What was he thinking? Could they possibly be so callous?

She settled down into a pool of snot and the heaving finally began to subside. I buried myself in questions, trying to draw her out of her pain. Trying to grasp the thread of grace I believed was there. Somewhere.

At that moment, my toddler waddled up to me. His diaper sagged and his face still wore vestiges of breakfast. The furrow of his brow shadowed unusually cloudy eyes. And I saw it coming: he was going to whine. But whining was just the tip of the iceberg. Even with all my attempts to comfort and console, to placate and blandish, he continued his sour behavior.

My mind whirled back over the morning. In a flash, it seemed, I remembered anger displays and uncharacteristic clinginess. Empty stares and more fighting than his siblings could stomach. How he slept extra long at nap time and how not even his cream cheesed bagel could coax him to eat much. And while I don’t consider myself a veteran mom yet, I’m certainly far from a newbie. Even so, sometimes it takes awhile for the facts to line up. In a rush of brilliance, though, at that very moment, with the events of the day swirling in my mind’s eye, it occurred to me to ask a simple question,

“Buddy, does something hurt?”

He nodded his towhead and squinted up at me. A tear dripped from his eyelash. He laid a hand on a cowlicked shock of blond hair, moaning. I slid my hand up to his warm forehead and suddenly everything was clear. A fever. Of course. 

New Picture (1)

It wasn’t until after the Tylenol had been measured and swallowed and my attention was back on my friend that I realized that I had made the same mistake twice that day. I had judged the person by the symptoms of their pain. Was my son a whiner? Did he usually bully his siblings or throw his bagel across the table? No. But the pain he carried around in his little two-year-old body transformed him into these things. Because I mean, really, who hurts people unless they themselves are experiencing hurt?

The one who had caused the bleeding in my friend’s heart was no different, although I had not given his case the same consideration as that of my fevered toddler. I had never gotten past the how and the what to ask the most important question of all: WHY.

And yet there is a sense in which my rage at my friend’s pain was warranted. I certainly believe there are times for outrage at injustice. Even Jesus’s actions in the temple tell us as much. But to slam my gavel without recognizing the injury behind enemy eyes is akin to allowing the bloodshed to continue. None of us are one-dimensional beings, after all. As much as it is true that insult and injury should meet their end with justice and good should be proven to prevail, perhaps a more important question than “Do you need a time-out?” is “Buddy, where does it hurt?”

Perhaps this is as true for the toddler as it is for the insensitive spouse or the cranky clerk or that crotchety old librarian who seems to enjoy the fact that you’ve lost books again and now have a fine to pay.

Everybody hurts.

People are never the enemy, even in the worst of evil choices.

And if it’s true that the cruelty done to someone else was the cause of the spiteful things said to my friend, then would my own hatred of the one who wounded her really do anything other than turn me into a hater, too? Wouldn’t that just perpetuate the cycle? As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

Maybe the thread of grace I found that day waddled up to me with a soggy diaper and just the faintest wisp of cream cheese on his upper lip. Maybe his vacant eyes initiated a question that would go much farther than my own to engender true healing. To introduce peace in the midst of violence. And maybe things don’t always change so much as we grow up. Because could it be that when someone seems to personify evil itself and we are bludgeoned by the blows, sometimes what they need more than a snarky rebuttal or a scripturized rebuke is a place to take off their mask and show their scars?

What if we remembered to look behind their eyes and into the soul? Knowing that it might still be bleeding.

“Forgiveness matures in us when we consider where our enemy cries.” Brennan Manning

~~Kelli Woodford {more of Kelli’s words are here}.

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35 Comments on “Behind Enemy Eyes”

  1. Oh, girl, YES! As you’ve done for me, see me stand slowly, careful and deliberately, and with rising clarity, conviction and agreement, hear me clap for you, see me raise my glass and wink, from my questioning, unbelieving corner. I step out of the shadows of doubt and cynicism into the light of His love, with you, friend.*Thank you* for the way you see things, for your voice. xo.

  2. Yes. Thankful for your story, your insight and wisdom. As a fellow mom of littles, this hits home for me, not just on that level, but on many. Thank you. So much.

  3. Kelli…yes…yes…I am walking my niece through a most brutal divorce…my heart can Become so angry and negative toward her husband…but God always reminds me…He loves them both …and to fully embrace that truth…it drives home the point…we can not earn or destroy Gods love. Beautiful write!!!

    • Oh, it’s so hard, isn’t it, Ro? I get that. And I think God does, too.

      May He help you see with His eyes as you minister in such a tender situation. Thanks for being here. Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself with us.

  4. It’s just so much easier to divide everyone up into good guys and bad. It feels better too. There’s something about my ego that just loves being on the side of righteousness and justice. But then I remember the righteous kneel and His justice has revealed grace. Thank you for the beautiful reminder, Kelli.

    • Kim, your words struck straight at the heart of this post. Because good guys and bad guys? Boy, can I relate.
      Thank you for bringing us back to the deepest truth of all: love. Bless you, friend.

  5. This speaks so beautifully of learning to love like Jesus loves. I always say we need to really see people. “Hurting people, hurt people.” There is such truth in that. You wrap it up so nicely here…”What if we remembered to look behind their eyes and into the soul? Knowing that it might still be bleeding.”
    Another post here that I’ve come back to and read multiple times.
    Much love to you,

  6. So insightful and eloquent, Kelli. Yes, indeed, we must allow ourselves to feel and be angry over another’s pain and the injustice of it, but, Yes!, what a great reminder to recognize that there is probably pain in the perpetrator that needs healing as well. I love the way you put it: “What if we remembered to look behind their eyes and into the soul? Knowing that it might still be bleeding.” And it probably is . . . And may we be people who love . . .

  7. Beautifully written and truthfully said. It is the “heart” of the matter that we need to see. How can any of us condemn another once we have all exposed our hearts. Actions are symptoms of a deeper pain. Diagnosing the symptom without the source of the disease is fruitless and well, heartless. I love how beautifully you tell these truths Kelli. So beautiful and sure to stir the hearts of the reader for good.


    • Kelly, the depth of your comment shows that this is not a new concept for you, but thank you for reading and encouraging anyway. Love the way you bless others, friend.

  8. Yes, it is a tragic circle. People who have been hurt do hurt others and not necessarily the people with whom they are upset. Often, (and surprisingly) it is the person who is trying to help or support or show unconditional love who receives the brunt of their anger. To love like Jesus loves is difficult sometimes. However, we can trust that one day, somehow, the seeds of love that we have planted will grow in the hurt person’s heart.

    Blessings, Joan

    • What a beautiful perspective, Joan. Thank you for this: “we can trust that one day, somehow, the seeds of love that we have planted will grow in the hurt person’s heart.”

      Oh, amen and amen. Overcoming evil with good. YES.

  9. Oh yes! How easy it is to judge someone when they’ve lashed out and hurt a friend, or worse, a precious loved one. But this is where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? We are to love at all times. Not just the lovable (or to those an injustice has been done), but also to those who cause the pain. We’ve all been in pain. We’ve all hurt those around us. Isn’t is so very cool how God uses our everyday experiences (your precious son) to speak to us? Great, great words as usual my friend!

  10. I love how you write. Your insights, your descriptions, your heart-I am blessed by it all! Love you friend!

    • And as usual, I’m touched by you showing up and loving me in these raw places where I unload my stories before the watching world. So glad I can call you ‘friend’, Helen. So, so glad.

  11. I dont take kindly to whining. It’s the Norwegian farmer in me. Just wipe your brow and get busy with getting on. But that brushing away of the pain of others isnt healthy for them and is inconsiderate of me.

    • David, you are so vulnerable and genuine here. Thank you for opening wide. Blessed are the broken, for compassion shall make them whole.
      (I made that up, but it sounds good … er, right? 😉 )

  12. Wonderful writing, Kelli. And such truth. Such important truth — and one often hard to remember, no? Thanks so much for this. And thank that little cream-cheesy boy for his good reminder. (Hope he’s 100% by now?)

  13. Oh Kelli…When I have witnessed emotional cruelty to a family member for too many years, forgiving is extraordinarily hard to do. The pain is ‘on behalf’, but it is still real. And yet, I know. I know the words about praying for those who mistreat you, and loving your enemies…
    So I am trying to turn my heart towards the light and away from the dark. Trying to keep it real with my Father, and let His love heal the pain, rather than covering it with a protective covering of hate. Some days I don’t know what that looks like, and other days I can see it a little clearer. And the fact is, I’m not doing this for the person who caused the pain, I’m doing it for me. Because when I let myself hate, I could feel my soul starting to change, just a little, like I could feel wrinkles forming, or something! So, out of almost purely selfish motives, I am trying to forgive the unforgivable, one day at a time.
    Lol… God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform!

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