We don't need to travel far to find adversarial relationships, yet most of us are reluctant to use the word 'enemy' in describing people who are part of our daily lives.

I have an exercise for you. You'll need a piece of paper and something to write with.

Stop for a few minutes and think about people you know who make you feel anger or fear, persons you dislike and whose company you avoid, individuals in your family, neighborhood, workplace, or church whom it distresses you to see, individuals who have hurt you or hurt those in your care. Think of people you would prefer not to pray for. People you find outrageous.

Also think about groups or categories of people you think of by national, racial, political, or religious label. Think of people who are the current or potential targets of weapons and armies that in some way you support, passively or actively, willingly or unwillingly, through your work, political alignments, payment of taxes, or other activities.

As names occur to you, pause to write them down. Do so even if you think the word 'enemy' is too strong. In instances in which you haven't got a name, use a label.

Okay, now you have a first draft of a prayer list. Try to refer to it on a daily basis.

Look again at what you have written down. Think about each name or label. In each case, picture an individual face or, in the case of labels, an appropriate image. Give yourself at least a minute for each name or label. Insofar as you are able, consider in each case how the enmity began. Consider incidents or reasons that explain or justify your feelings. Consider ways in which the enmity involved has shaped, limited, damaged, or endangered your life or the lives of people dear to you.

Next step. Try and take the point of view of those you have listed. Are they actually your enemies? Or might it be truer to say you're their enemy? Or is it half and half? In either case, what have you done or failed to do that might explain or justify their hostility?

Now a potentially embarrassing question: You're a Christian. Christ has told you to pray for your enemies. When have you prayed for any of the people on your list? Regularly? Occasionally? Rarely? Never?

Have you searched for points of common ground and possible agreement? Have you allowed yourself to be aware of qualities that are admirable in those you have listed or have you preferred to see only what, from your perspective, is flawed in them?

Consider what might happen to you, to others, if this enmity continues: separation, divorce, court battles, children caught in the crossfire, shattered friendships, division in your parish, division among co-workers, misery in the work place, loss of employment. . . .

In the case of differences between nations, think of ways in which you participate in enmities that, if they worsen, could explode into war. In a world in which there are thousands of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, consider what war might mean in the worst case. Are you doing anything that might make war less likely or helping bring to an end a war in progress?

Prayer that doesn't influence your own actions means little. Why should God pay attention to a prayer that has little or no influence on your own behavior? What steps have you taken to change relationships with those on your list? Have you talked to others who might help or intervene in a constructive way? Can you imagine what you could do that might help bring to an end any of the enmities you have listed? What can you do that might help convert enmity to friendship?

Jim Forest in Loving Our Enemies