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Archive for January, 2016

Life Notes

Love is not Envious

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious… 1 Corinthians 13:4a,b,c

Near the end of the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard gives the Tinman a heart and says, “Remember, my sentimental friend, a heart is not measured by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”  The deeper we dig into Paul’s exposition on love in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the clearer it becomes that love is only experienced in our relationships with others. We cannot be a loving person – we cannot experience deep love – without first becoming a person who loves others. The Tinman loved his colleagues deeply and sacrificially, but he felt unworthy of receiving love because he did not have a physical heart. Paul writes that love is first patient and kind. He follows that with a list of things that love is not, beginning with envious.

Envy is a feeling of discontent with another’s accomplishments, successes, or good fortune. It orients us in a negative, covetous manner to another. It is impossible to freely love someone toward whom we feel envy or jealousy. One reason we have negative feelings for others is that we compare ourselves and our situations with others, which puts us in a confrontational position toward the other. One of us is always better looking, more talented, richer, smarter, better dressed, more socially acceptable – name the trait, whenever we compare, there will be a winner and there will be a loser. One person will gloat, and the other will sulk.

True love, on the other hand, is not threatened by the good fortune of the other. The Tinman was genuinely thrilled that the Scarecrow received acknowledgement for his intelligence, and that the Cowardly Lion was rewarded for his courage. When we compare ourselves to others, we feel threatened whenever something good happens to them that is not also happening to us. When we only think of how we are different from others, instead of how we are similar, something good happening to another feels like something good has been withheld from us. That sort of immature, emotional (and all-too-common) response is selfish and narcissistic, making it incompatible with love.

This leads us to the basic belief that underlies envy – that of scarcity. If we believe, even subconsciously, that there is only so much love and blessing to go around, then we will see the love bestowed on others as love we cannot get for ourselves. We become envious because someone else has something we will never be able to have. God, however, is a God of abundance. Being envious shows our lack of faith that God will provide good things in our lives, too. One way we can reduce the envy in our lives is to recognize and name the abundance we experience. Less envy results in more love.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes

Love is Kind

Love is patient; love is kind… 1 Corinthians 13:4a,b

Plato, the 4th century BCE philosopher, is credited with saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” As we explore the characteristics of love, as outlined by Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth, we find that love is first patient, and then love is kind. Plato, 2500 years ago, nailed the essence of the need to be kind – we cannot know the magnitude of the needs and struggles of others. We like to guess, but in so doing we place ourselves in what we believe to be the circumstances of the other and, in too many cases, incorrectly judge their situation to be more favorable than it is.

As in most cases where we compare ourselves to others, our vision is limited, biased, and inaccurate. Everyone needs and deserves love, including patience and kindness. In one of the most straightforward biblical passages on what God expects from us, the prophet Micah (6:8) lists three things: Be just, be kind, and be humble.

What does it mean to be kind? The compassionate focus of kindness is on someone else and his or her situation and needs. When we are kind to someone because he or she deserves it, we are not being kind, but only giving the other what he or she has already earned. Kindness is given, not earned. In that sense, kindness and grace are related. Several years ago, a movement encouraged random acts of kindness – doing something nice for someone else for no reason other than to be kind. The thought was that if I perform a random act of kindness for you, you will be inspired to be kind to someone else, and at some point everyone will receive acts of kindness.

We should be kind to others not because they deserve it, not because they are kind to us, and not because we feel sorry for them. Our motivation for kindness should rise from a loving center within that understands that being kind to others enriches our life, too. It is a natural instinct to want to bless another from our own abundance. The blessing need not be expensive, extravagant, or well planned – a note, a hug, or a smile. A simple kindness is sufficient, and that is what loving people do as a matter of habit, almost unconsciously and often anonymously. We should never doubt that the kindness we share with another may be received as a loving sign from God by the other. A sign that they are recognized and valued; a sign that they are not alone or forgotten. Kindness is an important quality of love and a habit that loving people cultivate.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes

Love is Patient

Love is patient… 1 Corinthians 13:4a

There was a popular saying not long ago that went, “Be patient with me. God is not finished with me, yet.” I am not a fan of maxims that oversimplify or trivialize complex or important concepts, or of those that seek to shift individual responsibility elsewhere. This saying, though, expresses a profound truth in simple terms – God is not finished with us, yet. In that sense, we are equal because we are all in various states of becoming. No one is complete; no one is perfect.

Whenever someone is in a process of becoming, patience is called for. Of course, with each earthly breath we take, we are in a process of becoming, so patience is always warranted. In parenting, this is obvious. We do not expect a two-year-old to possess the conversational skills of a 22-year-old, so we are patient with their limited dialogue. We do not expect a child in Kindergarten to be able to understand Algebra, so we patiently teach them basic numbers and counting, first. There is a point in a child’s growth, however, where we begin to lose patience. With adults, our patience is often very short indeed. We forget that the process of becoming is life-long.

Impatience is a product of unmet expectations – not meeting our own expectations or not meeting those of others. People simply do not behave in the ways we always wish them to behave. Sometimes we show tremendous patience with some people and very little with others. The person we typically have the least patience with is our self. Most of us are aware of what we are capable of becoming and how we wish to always behave, so when we fall short we forget we are in the process of becoming and are simply not there, yet. Sadly, the other group we are frequently impatient with is those we love the most.

Speed, or lack thereof, is often a trigger for impatience. Someone is simply not moving or becoming as quickly as we believe they should. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” The same can be said of love. Step one in becoming a more loving person is to become a more patient person – patient with ourselves, patient with others, patient with God. We have our earthly lives to become what we can on earth, and we have eternity to finish what remains. There is really no hurry. Where love is the goal, there is always time for patience. A life of love is a patient life.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Life Notes

Love Is…

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love will be the theme for Life Notes in the coming weeks. I will use Paul’s familiar words from 1 Corinthians 13 as an outline. In these 4 verses, Paul lists 8 characteristics of love, and 8 traits that do not characterize love. Love is not something we achieve on our own; rather, it manifests in relationship to and with others. Most importantly, love originates in God.

To introduce the theme, however, I want to back up to the verses preceding the ones quoted above. To begin chapter 13 Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I can identify a number “noisy gongs” and “clanging cymbals” in my life (too often, one stares back at me in the mirror). Paul continues, “And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Finally, in verse 3, “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Paul’s message, clearly, is that nothing we do or accomplish – in 2016 or ever – will amount to anything worthwhile if love does not motivate it. It does not matter what we learn, what heights we attain, or what we give away. If love is not at the heart of whatever we do, it will ultimately mean nothing. It makes sense, then to begin the new year with a study of what love is and what love is not.

We tend to define love in a too-restrictive manner. The traditional Chinese character for love, Ai, according to Wikipedia, contains the symbol for a heart surrounded by acceptance. Love is described as a graceful emotion. It can be interpreted as “a hand offering one’s heart to another hand.” Many languages have several words that represent different manifestations of what we, in English, lump into the word love. It is a common mistake to limit the broad, inclusive reality of love to only one of its manifestations – romantic love. Because many of us are disillusioned by romantic love one or more times in our lives, we may avoid a serious consideration of the sheer practicality and breadth of love. Understanding what love is and what love is not, we learn to live better – not just for others, but for ourselves. We are happier, freer, and richer by living a life in love than in any other way.

My song, Love Never Ends, can be heard at www.ContemplatingGrace.com. Go to the “Music” page, to “Finding Grace in an Imperfect World,” to “Love Never Ends.”

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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