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.