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Archive for February, 2016

Life Notes

Love is not Irritable

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… 1 Corinthians 13:4,5a,b,c

irritationSome people seem to have a natural ability to annoy me. I can name several people who cause my blood pressure to rise just by entering the room. You can probably do the same. Whether these people cause irritation intentionally, or whether it is a natural byproduct of the way they are is a mystery to me. What I do know is that something about them causes me to become irritable. Okay, let me be honest – something in me becomes irritable in their presence. This is an important distinction because the people who annoy me may have no such impact on you. In fact, you may enjoy their company. This is a humbling fact. It means the source of the irritation resides within me.

The origin of the word irritate suggests an arousal to anger, excite, or aggravate. Irritation can be emotional or it can be physical. For example, I like to tell others that shopping for too long – particularly for clothes or (ugh) shoes – gives me a rash. Of course, I do not get a physical rash, but the emotional toll on me is similar. What I mean is that I am likely to display irritable behaviors when shopping for too long. An example of a physical irritation in nature is the annoyance caused by a grain of sand in the body of an oyster. The irritation causes a reaction within the mollusk that creates a pearl.

The famous 20th Century psychiatrist, Carl Jung, observed, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Personally, I find this quote irritating. When someone annoys me, I do not want the finger of guilt pointing back at me as the one with the problem. But of course, that is exactly what is happening. When we are in a relationship with another, the other is often a mirror for our deepest, most repressed characteristics. The weaknesses, insecurities, and annoyances we recognize so clearly in the other are most likely reflections of our own weaknesses, insecurities, and annoyances. It is much safer and easier to project our shortcomings onto others than to have them exposed in ourselves. Is it any wonder we feel so irritated at times, with others holding up mirrors reflecting our most secret inner failings?

The bottom line is that when I am irritable, I am neither patient with nor am I kind to others, which are the first two traits the apostle Paul names when describing love. My blood pressure rises, my vision constricts, and my head hurts. Being irritable is not a loving behavior toward others. It is also not consistent with self-love. Acceptance of the shortcomings of others may be the first step to being more accepting of ourselves.

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

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Life Notes

Love Does Not Insist on its Own Way

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way… 1 Corinthians 13:4,5a,b

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul provides a straightforward explanation of what love is and what love is not. The fifth trait that does not characterize love is insisting on its own way. Most of us have had experiences dating back to childhood with others insisting on their own way. It might be a sibling, a bully at school, or a bossy cousin, but there is often someone who insists that whatever a group is doing be done in his or her way. (If this does not ring a bell, that person may be you!)

selfishnessWhen we insist on our own way, we imply that we know best or that we are the smartest (thus, everyone else is dumber). It is selfish and narcissistic, in most instances, to insist that our ideas are always superior. Certainly, we can and should express our opinion, but when we demand others always comply is when we cross the line into unabashed vanity. We become like the boss with the philosophy of “My way or the highway!” or the child forever threatening to take his or her toys and go home. At least in a work setting, one is getting paid to put up with that sort of disrespectful, unloving behavior. In general, when we always insist on getting our way we are telling others they are neither important nor are their opinions valued. That is not a solid basis for a loving relationship.

Love does not insist on its own way because love is other-focused. Even though there is often a return to us from our acts of love, that return is not our motivation. Genuine love is not conditional. It does not have to be earned or repaid. We act in loving ways toward another because we care about them, and because we love to love. Love is its own motivation, and acts of love spring from an internal abundance that longs to express.

A common cause of tension in relationships is the need to be right, which is a form of insisting on one’s own way. Recently, I saw a post that said, “Would you rather be right or happy?” Being right and being happy are not always mutually exclusive, but when our need to be right tears down others in our key relationships, happiness will be difficult to achieve. When one person is right, by definition, another person must be wrong. It sets up a win-lose situation, which is not the ideal for a relationship. It is much better for us and for our relationships to swallow our pride and seek the greatest good for all involved. If the relationship or group we are in does not respect or recognize that which is important to us, it is probably time to find better company.

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

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Life Notes

Love is not Rude

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. 1 Corinthians 13:4a,b,c

rudenessAfter he lists two of the characteristics of love – patience and kindness – the apostle Paul begins his list of traits uncharacteristic of love. Envy, boastfulness, and arrogance begin the unloving list, followed by the declaration that love is not rude. One who is rude to another is not only unkind, but is deliberately unkind. It is one thing to hurt a person unintentionally; it is quite another to hurt someone on purpose. Many times I have said or written something that someone else received in a negative way that I did not intend. That is not rude. It may be careless or thoughtless, but it is not rude.

What motivates us to do something intentionally that we know will offend another? A common reason stems from our own insecurity. We feel a person has more than they deserve and so we seek to cheapen their good fortune by surmising that they probably inherited their money, or they moved up in an organization in unethical ways, or they were born with superior genes. A less obvious manifestation of rudeness occurs in gossip – speaking poorly about a person who is not present. Gossip is intentionally cruel because we say things about another in their absence that we would not say in their presence.

The theme of this series of Life Notes is love. Love manifests in relationship with others. It is a verb, meaning action is required. Even though love demands that we act in ways that are not harmful to another, I find myself most likely to be rude to those I profess to love the most. Love and rudeness are uneasy partners, although much rudeness stems from our inability to love as we should.

I will go out on a limb and proclaim that the number one reason many people act in rude ways is that they feel unloved and unworthy of receiving love. Somewhere in their past their inherent need to be loved was shunned, perhaps repeatedly, and they learned that being cynical is less risky than trying to reach out or respond in love. Such a person becomes like the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They gain a measure of pleasure in seeing others suffer. When pain has been the primary outcome of our key relationships, pain is all we know how to give. Seen in this light, rudeness is a desperate cry for help. We are not offended when a baby cries out in the middle of the night. We recognize the need in another that they cannot yet express in a more loving manner. It should be no different with the adults in our lives – more difficult, certainly, but no different. Everyone needs and deserves love. Sometimes, we are called to love through the pain of another, even when they are rude.

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

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Life Notes

Love is not Boastful or Arrogant

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

Two of the characteristics Paul lists as representing what love is NOT are boastful and arrogant. I will address them together because they are similar traits. In general, one boasts out of one’s arrogance. Although I did not consciously plan it this way, what better week to consider boastfulness and arrogance than the week of the start of the presidential primaries in the United States! Obviously, boasting and arrogance are not the exclusive domain of either political party, nor of a specific gender, age group, or ethnicity – all of the candidates display these traits to a troubling extent, at least it is troubling to me.

ArroganceAs a country, we want leaders who are accomplished and confident. Winning elections is about convincing voters that one’s experience is evidence of their ability to do the job well, as well as selling one’s vision of a better future. Educating an audience about one’s accomplishments can easily deteriorate into boastful bluster, however, particularly when one is insecure about those accomplishments, or when others are questioning those accomplishments. In a similar way, our attempts to display confidence can very quickly devolve into a show of blatant arrogance. There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance, and many – including the non-candidates among us – find ourselves crossing back and forth with regularity.

Yet, I digress. This series of Life Notes is about love, not politics. Even so, we live in a politicized world. What would a candidate who based his or her campaign on love look like? I am not referring to love of country, as in patriotism, but a genuine love of humankind – all of humankind regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion – everyone! I am talking about a Jesus-kind-of-love. Such a candidate would reach out to the poor, the sick, the lost, the lonely, and the sinners. Of course, Jesus also spent time with tax-collectors – likely the wealthy of the day – but never to the exclusion of the excluded. Our candidate of love would be patient and kind, even to and especially with his or her attackers. Would such a candidate have a chance of winning a national election? Sadly, I fear not.

Paul’s writings about love make it obvious that becoming more loving requires becoming more vulnerable. A loving person will not brag about their own accomplishments because they have no need or desire to make themselves appear superior. Loving people are humble and recognize everyone has strengths and weaknesses. We are only as strong as the ties binding us together. Love requires mutual vulnerability, but vulnerability does not win elections. It does win hearts, however, while boasting and arrogance isolate them.

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

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