A mini-sermon on Love
At some point a number of years ago, I was struck with the importance of this little chapter [1 Corinthians 13]. If God Himself is Love, and this chapter is a detailed description of Love, then I realized that I needed to be paying very close attention to it. So I did. I prayed that God would teach me this chapter, teach me about Love. It was probably His idea in the first place. In any case, the lesson began.
The first, perhaps obvious, thing I noticed was that there is an order to the list that starts in verse four. And for the first time I considered that maybe the order of that list wasn't just random, rote, or meaningless. Maybe it had this particular order for a reason. Why, then, would patience come first? Then it hit me. If you're going to learn, going to live, the different facets of love, you really want patience first. Why? If you have patience, you can wait for everything else.
Not surprisingly, this lesson on patience took a long time. Several years, in fact. I don't remember all the details, but I know God had to be patient with me even as He was teaching me patience. I don't remember that time as a series of specific, individual lessons as much as a continual re-focusing of my heart and mind—What does patience look like here, with this person? How about with that aspect of your life? What about that situation?
I learned about short-term patience versus long-term, the difference between waiting in a slow checkout line versus waiting for “that special person.” I saw how some people can have tons of one, but very little of the other. But loving, in each time frame, requires one or the other (or both) kinds of patience.
Over time, I became a more patient person. I won't say that I became simply a “patient person.” but I was definitely more patient than I was before.
There came a point when I sensed God wanted me to move on. After several years, He was aparently satisfied with my progress. I wasn't thrilled to move on—I had become comfortable with this theme. But I found my attention drawn to the next item on the list: Kindness.
I wasn't sure exactly what I would learn about kindness. One thing I learned was the way patience and kindness go hand in hand. To be kind to a person, you often have to overlook the differences between you. You have to say things repeatedly, in different ways, before they're communicated properly. You have to put up with them doing things differently from the way you do them. You have to listen, over time, to learn more about them—what they like, what they believe in, how they prefer to be spoken to, etc. These things all take time.
Eventually—it was a matter of months or years, rather than weeks—we moved on. The last theme I remember focusing on from this list was “not jealous.” That was when I learned the importance of giving the loved one freedom, of trusting them enough to not manipulate or attempt to control them. Jealousy involves a desire to control the other, a fear that you will be endangered if you simply let things be. Love sets them (and you) free from that desire, that fear. This was a key lesson for me in particular as God prepared me to meet and marry my wife Danielle.
I wonder from time to time if God has continued to use First Corinthians 13 as a lesson plan, a curriculum of sorts, in my life. I haven't been aware of it as such for a while now. But I'm sure I will be learning and re-learning lessons from this list for a long, long time.