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The Greatest of These Is Love

February’s history is of being a month of love. I trust you receive lots of Valentines and special attention to celebrate the special person you are. You are unique and special and very loveable. Please believe it. Love is complicated.

My sister - in her high school days - was given a homework assignment to define love. She interviewed couples. Their advice ranged from the melancholy - “being able to see through each other and still enjoy the view”, to the cynical -“something sent down from heaven to aggravate the hell out of you.”

Love is complicated.

Which brings us to this article. The greatest of what is love? The Apostle Paul was looking at qualities valued in leaders and parents and ordinary folk like you and me. After a long discourse on being charitable – i.e. loving - he concluded with “And now abides faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Corinthians 13)

It’s all Greek to me. As if love was not complicated enough, we Americans use the word love to express our affection for everything from people to popcorn to places to puzzles to pets. The Greek language has different words for different loving emotions.

“Eros” (cupid) is the romantic love, “Philio” is friendship or brotherly love and “Stoic” is the kind of love for whatever is left over - things, places, activities, chocolate. There is also “Agape” love which is God’s kind. A love that is unconditional, eternal and healing.

Love, passive and active. The Hebrew language has two words for love and both are in the present active tense. “Ahab” is choosing to love from afar with the intent to pursue and to woo. Ahab love is hopeful. “Hessedh” is choosing to love and to keep-on-loving whether received or rejected. Hessedh love is steadfast and eternal.

Faith, hope, love. The Apostle Paul gave a benchmark for us mortals to use to measure our romantic and brotherly love. He said outrageous things such as; “Love is kind. Love does not envy. Love does not get puffed up or pouty. Love does not always have to have its own way. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13)
A flip of the coin. In meditating, I like to look at words from all sides. To observe the direct meaning as well as seeing what is inferred. One day in measuring myself by Paul’s love yardstick I noticed two phrases coupled together. “Love is long-suffering and is kind.”

It dawned on me that I had that long-suffering to a fine art. I could roll my eyes and sigh deeply and it was so obvious I was suffering in my patience. But Paul concluded with “and is kind.” Oh no! In my suffering, I was not so kind.

Give me a break. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I said out loud, “Surely You jest! Are You telling me You expect me to be kind to my mother-in-law?!” (Or mate, or child, or boss or neighbor; you fill in the blank. Especially when they….)

Another word for love is “charity”. “Charity” is used instead of “love” in that passage in the King James Bible translation. I like that. I find in some incidents that it is easier to be charitable than it is to be loving. I am learning to be kind to the lovely and the unlovely alike. To overlook bad attitudes and respond in kindness to irritants or rudeness or disrespect.

Charity begins at home. Garland and I married fifty-two ago February 24th. I am humbled by the fact that this guy loves me and keeps on loving me. Opposites attract. Over time, that refreshing opposite way of seeing life from the way you view life becomes stale. Irritating. Wrong. Often opposites attack. Let’s be charitable.

How to be charitable. The hormonal passive love of Eros and Ahab may draw a couple together, but it is the active, on-going, over-and-over choosing to love of Hessedh that keeps a family together. And it is the friendship of Phileo love and the fun-seeking-shared-interests of Stoic love that makes the relationship enjoyable. It grows into the love that “endures all things” – hardships, grief, difficulties – and “believes all things” – sees the good in the midst of the not-so-good. A love that is in it for the long haul. A commitment with no escape clause.

Fifty-two years and counting for me and Garland. It has been quite difficult at times. It has also been a wonderful, magical adventure and the road ahead looks promising. A love that lasts is one rooted in friendship and mutual respect.

It’s a lifetime and counting for genuine Agape love and me. Because I am the willing benefactor of God’s universal blessings and unconditional love, I am able to accept myself as I am and be charitable to others as they are.

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