Love never fails.
~ I Corinthians 13:8a
Did you happen to remember the February holiday which was celebrated last week?
It seems people are really into it and go all out or people do their best to avoid the day and the chocolates, giant teddy bears, and roses associated with the holiday altogether.
Personally, I both love and hate the holiday. I love having a day set aside which reminds people to tell their spouse how much they love and appreciate them. Too often we take those we love the most for granted. Too often we assume they know we love them instead of explicitly telling and showing them how much we love them. Perhaps if we had a Valentine’s Day holiday every month we would find people who are less frustrated and angry with their spouse on a regular basis.
But I also kind of hate the holiday. It is focused so strongly on romantic love that we forget about the many other types of love which are just as important. There is the love between parents and children. There is the love between brothers and sisters. There is the love between friends and neighbors. There is how we love ourselves and how we love God. All of these sorts of love are part of the fruit of the spirit in our lives.
I’ve personally been challenged in the last couple of weeks in regards to growing in love. It’s easy to love those we like, those we choose to have as part of our lives.
Even when those people frustrate us to no end, we still love them. Perhaps you remember the sitcom FRIENDS. Ross and Rachel have a very on again – off again romantic relationship throughout the ten years of the series. At one point after a particularly hard break up, they are arguing and Rachel frustratedly tells Ross, “I broke up with you because I was mad at you, not because I stopped loving you.” Even in the midst of great emotional hurt and anger, like Rachel, we keep loving those we choose to have as part of our lives pretty willingly.
But what about those we don’t choose? What about those who are placed in our lives whom we don’t click with? Don’t get along with? Maybe there is a specific reason or perhaps it is just a conflict in personalities. Either way, we all have at least a couple of people in our regular life who, if we are honest, we would rather not part of our lives. How do we do when it comes to loving those people?
I Corinthians 13 offers us a great explanation of what love in action looks like. Most of us have heard it before. In fact, most of us have likely heard it enough that it has lost a lot of its power and impact. “Yeah, yeah…I get it,” is the tempting thought as the verses are read. For me, it has lost a lot of its power because I can think of a hundred times I was patient and kind towards someone I care about. But can I think of a hundred times when I treated that annoying co-worker with patience and kindness? Or the obnoxious in-law? Take a moment to allow yourself to think about that person who seems to be a perpetual thorn in your side. Now read through I Corinthians 13 and ask yourself they can see love in through your life:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, 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.
In reality, it’s actually pretty easy to feel like we are growing in our ability to love if we focus on the people we choose to have in our lives. However, it is likely a much more honest assessment of our ability to love others if we focus on those in our lives who are harder to love.
Learning what it means to love others as Jesus loved others is key, not just for happy marriages, but to being effective in all we do in our Christian lives. Just before defining love in I Corinthians 13, Paul is clear to say that love matters. Without love as the basis of our actions and service, we are nothing and gain nothing.
It’s a humbling reality for me the last couple of weeks. I know I’m better at loving difficult people than I once was but I am also reminded on a regular basis that I am not perfect. There are always some people in my regular life who I have a take a breath and ask God for help with when I encounter them. That’s part of what makes love a fruit of the Spirit; relying ever more on the help of the Holy Spirit to grow it in your life. Because, honestly, if we are left to our own strength to love everyone, we are going to fail on a regular basis. It is only because of the Holy Spirit in our lives we have any hope of someday succeeding.
So if you are loving people well, please pray for those of us who happen to be struggling at the moment. And if you are struggling, take heart. You are not alone. We have each other and the Holy Spirit ready and willing to help us out!
Loving others doesn’t mean we have to be best friends with everyone. But it does mean we have to show them kindness and patience, be willing to always hope for the best for them, and not dishonor them. Think of one person who has been difficult for you to love recently. What is one small way you can better love them this week? Maybe it is something tangible. Perhaps it is a shift in your heart. Either way, ask the Holy Spirit to help you love that person better.
In the post-Valentine’s Day recovery, think through your list of friends and family. Who might be having a hard time feeling like they are loved and need a little extra encouragement after the emphasis on all the romantic love in the world? Reach out to them this week and remind them of how much you love and appreciate them.
Has someone been particularly good at showing you love recently? Take the time to thank them and let them know you appreciate their example.