A few days after my beloved husband died I found myself looking through his books, the ones he’d taken home from his office after he first got sick. I don’t know exactly what I was searching for or what I thought I might find, but I was desperate for some sign, some message, some clear indication that his spirit was still alive and speaking to me.
And although Leighton was a minister, he rarely marked or made notes in his Bibles. As I leafed through The New Testament in Modern English, by J.B. Phillips, I found a single verse he’d marked, “And above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues (Colossians 3:14 JBP). With the fine point of his Cross pencil he’d circled the phrase “truly loving” three times and put an asterisk in the margin beside it. For me it was again a powerful encounter with the reality that he lived what he believed – he was truly loving.
When we grieve, especially in the aftermath of a protracted illness or sudden loss, often we’re riddled with guilt about what we did or didn’t do, or perhaps what we did or didn’t say – again, the “should have” and “if only” of grief. Second-guessing ourselves can become an easy habit that keeps us stuck in the unresolved emotions of relationship. But if we listen to what grief is saying to us, at some point we realize that nothing’s gained by holding on to that which can have no outcome other than the reality of the present. Slowly, gradually we release the pain that's unproductive and counter-productive to our experience of loss and grief.
A fundamental source of our inner turmoil may be the quandary of love, especially if the one now lost to us in death was not the object of our spontaneous affection. Often we pull out a spiritual checklist to assess whether it’s enough simply to be loving.When we act loving and do that which is loving, we’re being loving. Even if we’re not filled with warm adoration and deep devotion, being loving allows us to check most of the boxes. It’s not always easy for our spirit to find this place of nobler love, yet being loving is an honorable and honoring expression of God’s love for us all.
In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul walks us through the traits and characteristics of being loving:
- Being loving isn’t noisy. It’s silence in response to 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’s making something good and positive and useful out of the emotional pile of rubble that feels like the remains of a relationship.
- Being loving isn’t about ownership. Sometimes we feel suffocated by the overwhelming neediness of the one to whom we’re being loving. We are – and remain – our own selves.
- Being loving is about humility. It’s dying to our own self-interest, at least for a while.
- Being loving is about good manners. We’re kind, polite, and respectful, even if our urge might be to act and speak in a way that’s 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 isn’t about record-keeping, especially 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 an A+ for being loving, or just barely pass with a D-, this is the love that’s able to release - with prayer and over time - every trace of residual resentment, ill-will, and injustice, whether imagined or real, that does nothing more or less than tarnish our own soul. And though there may never be a final resolution of what it is we’re feeling as we grieve, we move forward when we work to understand and free our spirit of all that’s diminishing to our own heart and soul. This is the blessing, the power of being “truly loving”.
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 13:4-8 NIV
Keep me this day, O God, in the heart of your love. Amen.