When my son Joel was little, every once in a while we would go into what I call “lecture mode” with him. All parents do it, hoping to instill lessons and values into our offspring. These lecture series often came with a tone of impatience, knowing we had usually said it all before. Joel would never enjoy these (what we thought were) insightful discourses, saying with a moan, “Mom, Dad, I know this already.”
This is a bit how I felt this week when we were asked to read a very familiar passage and reflect on it for this Sunday’s homily. The passage is 1 Corinthians 13, a well-known hymn or poem on love. Phrases of it echo in our culture and even non church-goers would recognize them – “Faith hope and love, and the greatest of these is love”; “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not seek its own way…”; “if we don’t have love, we’re like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal”.
Like Psalm 23 or John 3:16, I could almost recite this passage by heart. I played it on piano at my sister’s wedding long ago. I’ve heard it read at countless weddings and heard it in even more sermons. Sometimes passages become so familiar to us they become almost cliché. It’s difficult sometimes to get a fresh take on things. What does it really mean to love one another? Don’t I know all this stuff already?
But Cal’s invitation to reflect got me thinking about the question “What is my deepest aim in life?” The passage says to “make love your aim”. I remember a poster from my high school which read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” I’m a Christian, a follower of Christ – of course Love and God are guiding my life. That’s where I’m going… right?
Well I’m here to confess that I’m not as saintly as that. This passage was in my mind as I began to observe my thoughts. Here was a passage about love being kind, patient, slow to anger, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful… this list felt like a glowing white beacon, and compared to it, my thoughts and actions felt like dull grey rags. I shouldn’t even put this in past tense because the ego is a tenacious entity. My thoughts and actions are often consumed with self – how do I look, how am I doing. I have gifts, such as encouragement and hospitality, but often I hide these gifts, crippled by the unconscious aim of “self”, not love.
By mid-week, I realized I was in a fix and couldn’t think my way out of my dilemma. By Thursday, I was doing all out therapy sessions in my brain. “Why am I like this? Did something happen in my childhood that I need to look at?”
Thank God I am never left alone with my thoughts, because God spoke to me through the passage. Cal sent out a quote detailing two things about love: it is patient and it is kind:
“Love is patient – willing to receive slights, injuries, and hardships without complaint, even over a long period of time. Love is kind; it eases another’s pain, soothes anxieties, fears and hostilities, and contributes positively to the happiness of others. The root word occurs in the gospels (Mt 11:30, Lk 5:39, 6:35) and suggests that kindness is characteristic of God, is a concern to eliminate suffering and increase joy. Far from being mere sentimentality, kindness to individuals is a practical demonstration of one’s concern to alleviate the miseries and improve the lot of people in general.” (from The Anchor Bible Commentary by William Orr and James Walther)
I realized that there really is no answer to the clamoring insecurities. I had made the solving of a problem my aim in life when God had already given me an aim and more important, a relationship with a Being beyond myself. What a relief! The insidious disease of “I’m first” had snuck into my brain and even into my relating to Lyle at home.
There’s a great song by Mavis Staples with the lyric, “Jesus is on the main line, just tell him what you want…”. I prayed to God and it felt like I was dumping all my questions at God’s feet. I had no answer to them, but God’s answer was simple. “Make love your aim, kiddo. Don’t you worry about all those insecurities. You’ll be fine.”
I was blessed this week to go to the funeral of a retired co-worker. Wendy was a teacher who retired 4 years ago and had battled cancer for almost as long. Very sadly, she passed away last week. Her funeral was very sad but also inspiring as we heard about how her life was so guided and shaped by love. The minister told us that Wendy had chosen 3 scripture passages to be read at her funeral and 1 Corinthians 13 was one of them. The words she spoke felt urgent and I sat up and listened – “Remember to honor your relationships. Don’t let anything less than love guide them. Remember the One who is higher than yourself. Remember to love God.”
I feel honored and forever grateful that God forgives my ragged, grey thoughts and still calls me to something higher. Like my son so long ago, I began the week thinking I knew this lesson of love, but if I’m honest, I know it only in part, like the verses say. Thank God that God knows the way fully. I’ll keep listening and one day, I will be fully healed.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:12-13)