“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
—1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)
I have some problems with Paul, the writer of this letter. I also have some problems with the translations in the New International Version of the Bible. All that aside, there’s something deeply moving for me about the idea of a love that will always have my back. "Always"—meaning unconditionally and without hesitation. And there's something deeply jarring for me about the idea that, despite my most earnest hopes, my best intentions and desires for others may have interrupted the flow of love from me to them. It's so easy for me, when I'm motivated by what I think is my love for someone, to decide that I know what's best for them and what they most need.
I'm brought back to memories of growing up in the church of my childhood, where love was instructive and constructive, but not necessarily protective. This was especially troubling for me around topics like gender and sexuality, but also vocation and relationship. Is love really love if it fails to support me, or hold me up, or keep me safe? How many times have I told someone something "because I love them"? Did they feel loved in those moments? Did they feel held up and supported? Or is it more likely they felt criticized?
I think about this today, in the organizations I serve, when we’re contemplating major (or sometimes painfully minor) change. What would happen if each of us loved the people in our communities in a protective way? What if we loved one another more than we love the buildings that house us, the traditions that have defined us, and even more than our own comfort? Imagine a love that calls us to stretch ourselves, so that those whom we love are always guarded from storm, violence, neglect, and need. Does that kind of love bring us into a deeper and truer humility? If not, is our love even complete or authentic?
That which is in us and all around us and which constantly draws us to our holiest selves, bring me into a practice of loving without fail. Strip from me any fear or arrogance that might prioritize my own comfort over the care of others. And help me to be forgiving of myself and others when our expressions of love fall short of the truth. Amen.