Thursday, August 27, 2015

Love is Kind

If you’ve attended more than one wedding in your life, there is a chance you are at least vaguely familiar with chapter 13 from 1 Corinthians in the Christian Bible. It's the one with all those beautiful words about love. Even couples who aren’t especially religious often include these verses in their ceremony:
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.
I don't know about you, but a lot of what I see called “love” seems nothing like this. There are probably countless reasons for that, but one I’ve been thinking about specific to the Church is our tendency to idealize a passage for a singular situation or relationship, and in the process, hinder our ability to be transformed by it. It is one thing to parade out beautiful, poetic words for a day of celebration with a joy-filled couple. It is quite another to take those words down from a pedestal and give ourselves over to their life-altering truth.

My new appreciation for 1 Corinthians 13 began when I came upon these words in Psalm 69 some time ago: “Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me." The phrase for your love is kind captured my attention.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard God’s love described many ways, but “kind” is not one I remember. Kindness as a general concept isn't especially revolutionary, but this was completely new way for me to understand God’s love. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the idea and asking myself what it means to profess faith in a God whose love is kind. What beliefs do I hold that are incongruent with this concept? What are the practical implications for my life?

In light of 1 Corinthians 13, I’ve come to understand that it’s not only God’s love that is kind. Real love is kind. My love needs to be kind.

This truth is not just for a wedding day and is not only for a person’s relationship with their spouse, as important as kindness is for those partnerships. There are also no qualifiers such as “Love for fill-in-the-blank is kind” or “Love is kind unless….” I’m made uncomfortably aware of all the times I’ve acted in an unkind way in the name of “tough love” or “speaking the truth in love” when what I was really doing was reacting out of anger, judgement, fear, or self-righteousness.

The first way I began to incorporate “love is kind” into my life is in my relationship with my children. It has changed the way I parent. When I struggle over how to respond to new challenges, I do my best to ask, “What is a kind response?” Lately I’ve even added in, “Am I being patient? Am I insisting on my own way?” My kids are different people from me. They have different perspectives, ways of understanding, and getting things done.  It is loving (and kind!) to be patient and not always insist they see or do things my way. Of course I still have moments when I give in to irritation, impatience, and rudeness. I’m human. But the words “love is kind” have forever altered the way I experience parenthood.

And what of Jesus telling us to love our enemies and to love our neighbors as ourselves? No matter how I try to spin it, I can’t free myself from the realization that this includes kindness.

When I’m facing conflict, when I feel deep dislike, or when I’m baffled at the actions of another, I often struggle with an urge to react. What I’m coming to see is that when I react with judgement, blame, disgust, shaming, or self-righteousness – anything other than love and kindness – I still have work to do.

Others have had different lives and experiences from mine. I can rarely know why people do or say things I find baffling or appalling. I admit I have a hard time not being rude or resentful if someone dismisses my idea in a meeting or insults me for a belief I hold, so I'm still wrestling with how to experience true loving kindness toward someone who does far worse. I am learning to see that even even when I feel incredulity or outrage or fear, I'm not exempt from the truth that love is kind. That has to be what I’m working toward, even when I fall short.

I cannot change other people. What I can do is allow the truth that love is kind to transform me and pray that I will continually learn to live it better. I can recognize unkind, unloving behavior for what it is. I can purpose to learn how to better respond in the face of all that I don’t understand. I can ask questions. I can offer kindness. I can be love.

Love is kind.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Gifts of Silence

My word for 2014 was Silence. I practiced this mainly in daily centering prayer (which is basically time in stillness and silence dedicated to being totally present with God), but I practiced it in other ways as well. There are few things I can write that will convey my experience with Silence, because it was so much more difficult and beautiful and isolating and connecting than I could have possibly imagined. What I can do is share with you some of the gifts I discovered in Silence. These are not gifts to me only, but are gifts I've come to understand are waiting for anyone who is able to make space and time in their life to practice Silence regularly. I imagine each of us would experience these gifts in a different way and that these gifts I'm writing about now may not be the gifts others would recognize most from Silence. Yet I do believe that in a regular practice of silence, most of us would find these and other gifts in one way or another.

One gift is a growing realization of connection with others--past and present--who have made a practice of silence part of their lives. I see now that over the past few years, I had been striving to express all my thoughts and ideas and experiences and inner turmoil, but could not find sufficient words. Through my previous experience and resources, I tried to flesh it out, but always fell short. I felt increasingly frustrated by a complete lack of my own understanding of the faith crisis I was experiencing and the void in my vocabulary preventing me from explaining myself.

Becoming comfortable with silence allowed me to spend necessary time listening and finding others who were expressing what I was experiencing in words that meant all the things I'd been longing to explain. I’ve discovered in books and lectures the wisdom of a host of teachers and guides far ahead of me on the Spiritual journey and more in-tune with the process. I've also connected with a few beautiful souls whose journeys have allowed us to meet and support each other as we walk new paths.

Another gift is the acceptance that change in relationships is part of life and that growing apart isn't always someone's "fault." I’m coming to understand that some connections with others are for a season, when our paths intersect and are aligned in some way. When our paths diverge, the love and support shared in those close times still exists as part of the beauty of our lives, albeit in a different way than before. It’s still difficult for me to see this as a gift, because the pain of accepting change is hard, but I know that it is a gift. I know that the love I received while I was walking closer with some people was a balm to my heart when I was floundering, and I pray that the love I offered was the same for them. I pray that somehow our paths will bring us to a new closeness in the future, yet whether or not that happens, I hope with all my heart that they find just what and who they need in all the transitions and intersections that lie ahead.

One of the most profound gifts I found in Silence is summed up in this quote:
"With grace I am led to see that the only person I can judge, with God's help, is myself. I slowly come to understand that part of what is keeping my community from being all that it can be is my own lack of love, my own carelessness with God's love and the love and struggles of [others]. Seeing us in process and being able to value our incompleteness has been for me a great means of grace." - Macrina Wiederkehr
This reminder that we are all in process is a beautiful, beautiful gift. We are all incomplete. We are all at various stages on our journey. Of course I still experience my own ego and self-righteous judgment welling up when others react or respond in ways I disagree with or when they make choices I don't understand. Yet from my time in silence I sense that I am becoming more in-tune to the knowledge that many of my own actions, choices, and responses may bother or confound others. I can recognize this and soften my heart. I can accept that there is only so much change and progress humans can make in a single day or interaction, so I must be patient with myself and with others. I can work to set aside judgment, to be a peaceful and loving presence even in the midst of what causes me confusion, hurt, and anger.

Silence is a gift, which opens our hearts to many other gifts. I am so thankful for the gifts of Silence. I am so grateful for the transforming work continuing in my life, which has its roots in one word in 2014.

If we fill our lives with silence, then we live in hope, and Christ lives in us and gives our virtues much substance. Then, when the time comes, we confess Him openly before men, and our confession has much meaning because it is rooted in deep silence. It awakens the silence of Christ in the hearts of those who hear us, so that they themselves fall silent and begin to wonder and to listen. For they have begun to discover their true selves. If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. - Thomas Merton