Developing The Right Habits
It is one of the great existential questions: What is love? The world’s definition of it has become so distorted, so shallow that it is often nothing more than, at best, a syrupy, Hallmark Valentine’s Day card aphorism like, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry,” or at worst, mere sex. Most seem to think today that it is nothing more than an emotional feeling. If that is all that love is, it can never be anything more than a brief, fleeting and shallow firing of nerve endings in the pleasure centers of the brain. If this “feeling” goes away, it is often interpreted as a reason for moving on to the next potentially exciting stimulus. The result is that there is an overwhelming confusion as to what love really is and a great deal of pain and suffering is experienced because of it.
In these few words from this passage, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a revolutionary way to begin to understand what real love is. It is “revolutionary” simply because it has all the earmarks of truth and wisdom in it. The first thing he challenges us with is the idea that love is an active, not a passive verb. It is not an accident. It is not something that “happens” to us because of the alignment of the stars. No. It is something that is done. It is a willed act. The first verse in this famous discourse on love from his first letter to the Corinthians may seem very simple and very clear, but there is much more here than meets the eye.
“Love is patient…” What does it mean to be patient? One who is patient is able to bear unwarranted provocations, annoyances, or pains without complaint or anger. The patient person perseveres and remains steady through the difficult or challenging times in his or her relationship with others, particularly with the beloved. A patient person is “willing” to endure the difficulties and pains that come with life because he or she remains capable of seeing the good news in the other, especially in the beloved, despite the occasional misunderstandings or sufferings that are a part of life in general, or in particular. None of this is easy. It sometimes takes a lifetime to develop the habit of patience. But patience is so much a part of love, that is, real love, that it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, the very essence of God’s love for each one of us. Our sins do not change his love for us. He remains patient, enduring our failures, and He is always ready to forgive us when we turn to him, always ready to be with us, even in the difficult times. This, then, is the love that we are called to have for one another, especially the beloved.
“..,love is kind.” This, too, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22-23) To be kind is to be of a morally good, or benevolent nature or disposition. It is the habit of being considerate or helpful when the need is seen. Kindness, may be interpreted as a weakness by many in the world who are caught up in the dog-eat-dog, competition game. But kindness, in reality, is one of the most powerful tools that we can bring to bear in the effort to liberate ourselves and others from the destructive and demeaning forces of the world’s competition ethic where there can only be winners and losers, and the losers don’t count. How many relationships get torn apart by this competition game? How many relationships suffer from the comparison game, with one partner comparing him or herself to the other as being more important, more valuable, and treating the other out of this attitude? How many, after being treated so at length, come to believe that they are not as good as, or as valuable as the other? There is no room for kindness in such attitudes. Developing the habit of kindness, though, can liberate us from the dark weight of such attitudes. It can make bitterness and jealousy melt away. It can destroy the urge for vengeance. Kindness can heal the terrible problem of low self-esteem with the truth that the other is made in infinite dignity and is, therefore, worthy of infinite respect.
This is only the beginning of the definition of love according to the wisdom of God. There is much more in this passage from 1 Corinthians 13. But this is a good beginning. And it is worthy of our contemplation and practice. Patience and kindness are virtues that give nobility to our humanity. They are the solid core virtues of a love that is worthy of beings who are made in the image and likeness of God.
Lord, help us to turn away from the worldly practices of competition and comparison. Help us to empty our hearts and minds of pride and fill us rather with patience and kindness towards all others, but especially for our beloved ones. This is the love that will make our houses true sanctuaries and our relationships strong and enduring. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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