Here’s the thing. Just when you think you’ve learned something…or at least worked hard enough to graduate with a credible “B” on your transcript…you find that all you just went through was really just kindergarten.
Next will come first grade. Than second. Then third. Because God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.
I guess the good news is that as long as He is still pruning, we know that He has not given up. He is still a good father; watching and disciplining. He is still a good shepherd; pursuing and protecting. He is still a gentle potter; shaping and perfecting. He is still a wise friend; wounding and sharpening. He is still a merciful Savior; convicting and convincing. He is still a loving God; giving us free will; yet in relentless pursuit of making us more like Christ.
The last few months, I have been trying to be deliberate about being kind. I’m trying to use kinder words and more respectful tones. I’m trying to give a little more and expect a little less. I’m trying not to let my own needs be an excuse for selfishness.
But here’s the other thing. I’m learning how hollow even kind words can be when your heart is not them.
It’s interesting to me because all my life, I’ve been taught the counter-cultural characteristics of love found in I Corinthians 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy… The “agape” love described in this renown passage is that of learning to put others before ourselves. Love is the action of putting you before me.
I’ve been told time and time again that love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is an action.
That’s why I don’t believe in happily ever after…or pretty much any Disney film…or Hallmark movie…because happiness in love is not the result of luck in finding the right person. Feelings come and go…as do good looks, compatibility, magical moments, and Christmas.
Romance is temporary; but love can be forever because love is not a feeling; it an action. It is a choice.
But I’ve always been a little confused by the opening part of that passage, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become like a sounding gong or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy…and have all knowledge…and have not love…”
I guess, against the backdrop that “love is the act of putting others before ourselves,” it makes sense that we could be a famous speaker and not have love…because we could be making the bests of speeches while really trying to draw attention to ourselves.
And perhaps we could have the gift of prophecy and understand knowledge and mysteries and not have love…because we are like that. We get big heads and small hearts.
But the third one has always stumped me… “And though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.” Give my body to be burned? Really? What selfish motive could one have in that? Perhaps you would go down in history. Perhaps you would be well thought of by those left behind. But you would also be…dead. So what good would the admiring obituary do you if you are tiny flakes scattering in the wind? Why would a selfish person give their body to be burned?
Is the author trying to tell us that an ultimate act of sacrifice can be done without love?
If so, what happened to the theory that love is an action? Can it be that a choice to do a right action is not actually love absent the feelings…the motivation…the energy…that we traditionally equate with love and romance?
I’ve noticed that as hard as it is for me to be kind, that the recipient of my kindness can sniff insincerity a mile away. Often long before I will admit to it.
While I am focused on my sacrifice, the recipient is often looking through my thinly veiled kindness directly at my tiredness, my crankiness, and my shrinking hoard of patience. While I’m convinced that I am speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, they hear only gongs and symbols.
If I’m being honest, it doesn’t seem quite fair.
Because sometimes a dry, heartless affirmation is all I have to give. And if you don’t like it, you should hear what I’m really thinking. And sometimes, the silence that may seem uncaring and aloof may be the very thinking keeping me from FLIPPING MY LID. Yep. Be glad I’m not talking right now.
I feel like I should get points for trying. For holding my tongue. For saying something nice when I didn’t feel like it. A participation ribbon at least.
But Paul seems to be telling us something different. He is, in fact, pretty emphatic: if your heart isn’t it in, it isn’t love. It’s gongs and symbols.
It’s noise. But it is not music.
So I’m coming to believe that emotion is a necessary part of love after all. That love requires ingredients of vulnerability, sincerity, and energy that transform the noise of our actions into music.
A closer study of I Corinthians 13 would support this. Love bears. Believes. Hopes. Endures. It is more than action. It is something that looks a lot like what we commonly call “emotion.”
I’m coming to believe that emotion is a necessary part of love. It is the energy that brings patience and kindness to life. It is the harmony that ties the melody of our actions to the rhythm of God’s truth.
Did I mention it’s difficult?
It might start easy and get hard. Or start hard and get easy. Or ping pong back and forth between easy and hard. But it’s subject to change; therefore, it’s difficult.
It just is. I’m convinced that the only thing harder than taming the tongue is cultivating healthy emotions. Long after we have learned to behave and use kind words we have to still force our selves to blaze trails in the mind and go where we didn’t think it humanly possible. Our emotions are the final frontier.
Here’s my conclusion:
I should still say “I love you” when I don’t feel a thing. But I should let it bother me that I don’t feel a thing. I should still use kind words when kind words are all I have to give. But I should be asking God to breathe energy into my words. I should still be gentle even when I can’t be excited, but I should ask God to set a fire in my soul.
Because love bears. Believes. Hopes. Endures. Love includes emotion; it is vulnerable, sincere, and exudes energy.
It is not just the noise of our actions; It is the beauty of our emotions that makes the music.