A Holy Chastening
A few years after I first became a Christian a pastor confronted me with a harsh proclamation, “You don’t love anyone.”
I was devastated. Since my conversion, I had painted the Church, taught bible studies, tithed, and many other things. How could it be that I didn’t love anyone when I was doing all that stuff for others?
Even though these thoughts of self-justification flashed across my mind, I knew he was right. Stunned and wide-eyed, I asked him, “What should I do? I don’t want this to be this way.” He said, “You can start by memorizing first Corinthians thirteen.” I followed his recommendation, and it changed my life.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
In the process of memorizing the chapter I realized that, though I had read it often enough, I didn’t understand the deeper meaning of authentic self-sacrificing love. One particular phrase from verse seven drew my attention – “Love… hopes all things.” I thought to myself, what does it mean to “hope all things?”
The Beginning of Change
I looked up the word “hope,” and light began to shine in the darkness. A key line in the definition struck me, “…a joyful anticipation of good.” I thought, “To love someone, is to joyfully anticipate good from them.” It then occurred to me that I needed to dig deeper to really live the kind of love revealed here by the Holy Spirit. So, I decided to create “if-then” statements for each of these manifestations of love in order to derive something concrete that I could act upon.
In the case of hope my statement read, “If I loved ___________, I would joyfully anticipate good from them.” Still deeper. I asked myself, “How would that look to them?” “What would they experience if I demonstrated my joyful anticipation of good to them?” The answer was clear. As they approached me, they would see a noticeable look of joy on my face anticipating the good that I expected to see in them.
I completed these statements for every attribute and found myself drenched in tears at the end. I understood what the pastor was trying to teach me. I was broken and ready to change. If Christ had done so much for me, how could I fail to give that self-sacrificing love to others?
Joy Inside and Out
Joy is both an internal and external reality. It is the fruit of an internal recognition of God’s love and presence even in the midst of our darkest trials. It is a peaceful exuberance when we get a rest from holy purgation. It is an external manifestation of a smile, of eyes and body language that loudly and clearly send messages like:
- I am grateful to God for you.
- I am so happy to see you!
- I am glad you are here.
- You are important to me.
- I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.
- I am interested in you.
- You matter to me.
- I love you.
If you are like me, you have not had much natural training for this kind of expression. The messages I received in my youth were often the opposite of many of these phrases. To demonstrate my love for others tangibly, I had to mechanically practice this external joy until I became aware that others could see and experience it. Once they did, I knew I was on the right track.
After some time, by God’s mercy and much effort, it became somewhat natural, and more so each time I practiced. In fact, I often purposefully practiced it when I didn’t feel well. In the end, it seems that this outward practice reinforced and strengthened the inward reality. Most importantly, people around me began to experience my love for them, which is just as important, or maybe more important than “knowing” that I loved them in some intellectually abstract way. I am still a long way from where I ought to be but thank God the work is underway.
It is not enough to love with a mere interior sentiment. If love doesn’t make it to our face or our outward affect or actions toward others, it is a weak or false love reflecting a heart in need of conversion.
Finally, some might argue that I was acting out of concert with what I felt and thus I was disingenuous. This is nothing more than modern psychobabble. We are called to act in accordance with God’s will, not our feelings. We are even commanded to “Count it all joy when you encounter various trials…” (James 1) By the grace of God, we act because we love and we come to greater love because we act. Eventually, as with the heart of a child, our love becomes pure and our external actions match our interior sentiments.
Love hopes all things – love looks at others with a joyful anticipation of good. Authentic love reaches beyond mere interior ideas and sentiments, to holy exterior manifestations of tangible grace.
As members of Apostoli Viae, let us strive with all we are to show this kind of love to the world.
“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”