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Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not ambitious, it is not selfish, it is not easily provoked to anger. It rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

I’m willing to bet that 1 Corinthians 13 (see above) sounds familiar to you, even if you’re not much of a church-goer. Probably because you heard it at a wedding. 1 Corinthians 13 is practically de rigeur at weddings. Heck, it was read at my wedding. But with so many marriages failing these days (Mr. and Mrs. Humphries, we hardly knew ye), perhaps it’s time someone took St. John to task for his writing. Because clearly, 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t telling us everything we need to know. To wit:

1. Love is weird. It doesn’t always make sense, so don’t expect it to.

2. Love can’t be judged. Just because you don’t understand it or condone it doesn’t mean it’s not love. Love is purer, and just plain better, than we human beings are. Anyone who claims that love is wrong is the wrongest person there could ever be.

3. Love changes. I am not the same person my husband married; neither is he. You’re going to do a lot of growing up over the years. Try to ignore the things that grow you apart and focus on the things that keep you together. At the very least, don’t rub these changes in your partner’s face.

4. Love does fail. But only because we do. Falling out of love doesn’t just “happen”; it’s a choice.

5. Love is bigger than you are. And it should be. In fact, it’s not about you at all. It’s about all of us. Love is the only thing that keeps humankind going. What’s the point, otherwise? And that means love is precious. It’s not like the weather, something that changes from one day to the next. I once had a colleague who told me, “My marriage is like a rollercoaster — it’s so exciting.”
“Well, mine isn’t. It’s a pretty steady road,” I replied.
“I feel sorry for you,” she said.
Guess which one of us is still married?

6. Love is hard work. Don’t doubt it for a minute.

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1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

As a writer, the big rule is:  Save your work!

So much of our lives is about saving.  Saving time by taking the highway, not the back roads.  Saving money by clipping coupons.  Saving electricity by turning off all the lights at night.

For the last few years, I assumed that because God kept putting people in need of encouragement on my path, it meant He was telling me to take care of them all.  As in, be their counselor or clergy, and let them unburden themselves onto me.

Oh boy, was I wrong!  I think now it may have been a nudge in the opposite direction, as in, “How can you add to your caretaker duties when you’re not even taking care of yourself?”

You can’t save everyone.  That’s not why you’re here. It’s not a pleasant analogy, but they say that if the plane starts going down, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first, then put your children’s masks on them.  Why?  So you can breathe.  You know.  So you can live.

First Corinthians 13 is a beautiful Bible passage, describing what love is.  I spent a good part of the last few years learning what love is not.  It’s not allowing people to bring you down just because they’ve been wounded and they want to pick at their scabs.  It’s not allowing people to vent the toxic fumes of their regret to the point where you’re about to pass out.

“Love is patient. Love is kind…  Love never fails.”

It never said, “Love is a doormat.  Love has to carry other peoples’ burdens at its own expense.”

The most amazing thing I realized is that you can love people from afar.  You can essentially put them out of your life and wish them well, knowing that being drained and bombarded with negativity isn’t good for your own well-being.  If that’s the only way to save your own sanity, keep your oxygen mask of faith on all the time and leave the saving-souls-business in God’s Hands, where it belongs.

 

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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