Last week I spent some time looking at Saint Paul’s first qualification of love from chapter 13 of First Corinthians. That first qualifier was Love is patient. A little digging in the dictionary uncovered the fact that a “patient” love is a love that bears with difficult people and circumstances without complaining or retaliating. Patient love is tolerant and seeks to understand. It remains calm even in the fact of personal attack. To say that love is patient is to say that love responds to everything, even hardship, attack, abuse, and annoyance, in a particular way.
Hopefully some of you took the time and opportunity this past week to practice love through being patient. If not, then maybe you will consider using this week as an opportunity to remain calm and tolerant and so on no matter what happens and no matter who is making it happen to you. If you have spent last week practicing being patient, then you are ready for the next qualification this week. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to live Saint Paul’s second qualifier for love: love is kind.
To say that love is kind is to say that love is not merely a way to respond (as is being patient), but it is also proactive. Perhaps when most people hear the word “kind” they think of being “nice.” To be nice is to be pleasing or to be agreeable. It is being pleasant. All of this is somewhat passive. Yet, when we say that love is kind, there is nothing passive about it.
Kind, however, is having” a good or benevolent nature.” Okay, now we have to find out what “benevolent” means. Benevolent is “expressing goodwill.” It is “desiring to help others.” So love is kind and part of what it means to be kind is to have a benevolent nature, then “LOVE EXPRESSES GOODWILL TO OTHERS. LOVE DESIRES TO HELP OTHERS.”
Being kind is not merely about being benevolent. As the definitions continue, we learn that love is “indulgent” which is to say that love is “BENIGNLY LENIENT.” We also learn that love is “considerate,” meaning that LOVE IS AWARE AND CONCERNED ABOUT THE FEELINGS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF OTHERS. “Kind” is also defined as “helpful” as well as sometimes being defined as “humane.” It is also defined as “mild” and “gentle.”
Patience was a manner of responding in love. When others are being difficult, we are open-minded and tolerant. We are understanding. We do not complain about them. When others are attacking us, we calmly endure it. When circumstances are difficult or annoying, we remain calm and free of complaint.
Being kind is a manner of acting in love. It is not our response to people or circumstances. It is how we initiate interaction with others and with our circumstances. Sometimes our proactive kindness is met with difficulty or attack. Then we are patient. But whether we initiate interaction, or whether we are responding to it, we are practicing love.
Jesus tells us that the two commandments that sum up the entire Old Testament and how we are to live is: Love God and Love others. This means that we are to be Patient with God and with others. This means that:
We are to be open-minded;
We are to be tolerant;
We are to be understanding;
We are to refrain from complaining;
We are to endure difficult situations and people;
We are to remain calm, even when being attacked.
We are to be this way toward God and toward others.
It also means that we are to be kind to God and to others. This means that:
We are to express goodwill;
We are to want to help people;
We are to be lenient with others (as long as it does not hurt them or anyone else – enabling someone is not benign leniency of being kind);
We are to be aware of the feelings of others;
We are to be aware of their circumstances;
We are to be helpful to others;
We are to be mild and gentle with others.
Now all this sounds great on paper. As no one is attacking me and as I am not encountering anyone to respond to, or to initiate kindness with, I can sit here and write about love. But what do I do tomorrow when I am at work and my co-worker starts attacking me for some reason? What if my co-worker begins attacking my faith? How do I respond with patients and be proactive with kindness?
One of the most helpful things I have been taught is to think of these people as “spiritually sick.” When I have a cold, or even when I am just tired or run down, I get cranky. Sometimes in my crankiness, I get snippy and lash out at others – often at the very people who are trying to help me. People who are serious illnesses or conditions that come with a lot of pain and fatigue often go through periods of being snippy and lashing out at others. When they do, we tend to ignore it. Why? Because they are sick people and it is not them who is acting out, it is their illness. We have learned to be tolerant of sick people when they behave in ways we do not like.
This is spiritually true as well. We are all, to some extent, spiritually sick. Some of us are sicker than others. Some of us treat our illness, some of us ignore it. The sicker we are, the more badly we behave. When we do not feel well, we do not behave well.
When someone attacks you, or behaves badly, or is annoying, just say to yourself: “This is a sick person” and be patient and tolerant. You may need to pray: “God give me the patience to treat this person with the same tolerance and compassion as I would if he were battling an illness” – because that person is battling a spiritual illness.
You can also be proactive to these people who are not behaving well by trying to be aware of how they must feel and understand what they are going through. None of us know the interior battles that others are fighting. We can no more judge peoples’ insides by their outsides; any more than can judge our insides by other peoples’ outsides. Express goodwill, be determined to find ways you can help, and be gentle.