As most of us have learned from the past two years of pandemic limitation and uncertainty, grief is not limited to the experience of death. During this challenging period in our history, most everyone has experienced grief in some way. Some grieve the loss of a job or a home; others grieve the loss of a relationship; still others grieve because of a divorce or separation from a spouse, family, or friends.
When we grieve—whatever we are grieving—often we are riddled with guilt about what we did or did not do, or what we did or did not say—the “should haves” and “if onlys” that can stay with us for a long time. Second-guessing ourselves prolongs our struggle with the unresolved emotions of relationship, especially in the aftermath of a protracted illness or a sudden loss. When we realize that nothing is gained by holding on to that which we can never change, gradually we are able to release most of what is destructive—rather than constructive—for our experience of loss and grief.
A fundamental source of inner turmoil may be the quandary of love, especially if the one now lost to us was not an object of great affection. Sometimes we pull out a kind of spiritual scorecard to determine whether we have measured up. We want to know whether or not it’s sufficient simply to be loving. The answer is an unqualified “Yes”. When we act lovingly and do that which is loving, we are being loving. Even if we are not filled with deep adoration and warm devotion, being loving can be sufficient so long as our heart is sincere.
It is not always easy for our spirit to find this place of nobler love. Yet being loving is one of the most honorable things we can do spiritually—being loving honors God’s love for us all.
There is an authoritative checklist for the traits and characteristics of being loving in first Corinthians chapter 13, verses 4-8, “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.”
Being loving is a high calling, especially when relationships are fractured, unstable, or even non-existent. Being loving requires spiritual fortitude, emotional self-discipline, and the resolve to prevail in love. Here are some thoughts on being loving that parallel the checklist in first Corinthians 13, verses 4-8:
- Being loving is not noisy. It is silence that elevates our self-sacrifice and self-giving.
- Being loving is a way of life. We do rather than speak, especially when love is complicated and entangled.
- Being loving sometimes requires extraordinary patience.
- Being loving is constructive. It is making something good, positive, and useful out of the emotional pile of rubble that feels like the remains of a relationship.
- Being loving is not about ownership. Sometimes we feel suffocated by the overwhelming neediness of the one toward whom we are being loving. We are and remain our own true selves.
- Being loving is about humility. It is dying to our own self-interest, at least for a while.
- Being loving is about good manners. We are kind, polite, and respectful, even if our urge might be to act, respond, or speak in a way that is less than our best self.
- Being loving requires that we concede our hyper-sensitivity to the moment. We give of ourselves from the grace of who we are.
- Being loving is not about keeping a record of the perceived failures and wrongs of another.
- Being loving is looking for and finding the good—some good, any good—without reservation or judgment.
- Being loving is about endurance, trust, and hope.
Whether we give ourselves high marks for being loving, or just barely scrape by, over time, this is the love that enables us to release every trace of residual resentment, built-up ill-will, and every injustice—large or small, imagined or real—that does nothing more or less than tarnish our own soul. And though there may never be a final resolution to what we’re feeling, as we pray and work to free our spirit of all that diminishes our heart and soul, we move forward. This is the blessing, indeed the power of being “truly loving”.
This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive.
It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy.
It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.
Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.
In this life we have three great lasting qualities—faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of them is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13 JBP