Love is the heartbeat and essence of the Christian life. Because of how important it is, this blog entry will be a little longer than normal. As you memorize this week’s Fighter Verse, let it sink into your heart and color your every interaction with people. In honor of yesterday’s “Special Needs Sunday,” let’s talk about how the passage applies to us in general, and also how we can love people with disabilities. Obviously, disabled people or people with mental disorders can have certain difficulties functioning in society like neurotypical people or able-bodied people. Someone with lupus has described their situation like this: on a given day, they might wake up with a limited number of “spoons” (sort of like a reservoir of emotional & mental energy) for that day, and they can “spend” these spoons on various activities: taking out the trash, taking a shower, talking to someone, taking care of a responsibility at work, etc. Every task, no matter how small, becomes a strategic decision based on how many spoons are left. (By contrast, on days when they’re healthy, they have unlimited spoons and don’t have to think about it.)
LOVE IS PATIENT
Literally, “the love is-slow-to-boil.” The sense behind the word for “patience” here means that it stays calm, tranquil, and uncomplaining even when waiting or being provoked or prodded. So even when someone is antagonizing you, love stays calm. Even when someone is avoiding you, love waits for that person to return; love will not dissipate due to difficult circumstances. I know with my breathing problems and with my anxiety disorder (unrelated to each other), I too can have a limited number of “spoons.” But when I don’t have the “spoons” to do something with a friend, “love is patient” with me. And “love is patient” to explain something to someone who is hard of hearing, and “love is patient” when an autistic person shows a repetitive, weird (to society) behavior.
LOVE IS KIND
Love is patient (it does not get irritated or give up), but more than that, love actively gives affection. Love shows kindness. It is gently giving.When you love someone, you will not only not react negatively to their “annoying” behaviors, but you also won’t ignore them. You’ll humbly give of your time, affection, and energy to them.
LOVE DOES NOT ENVY
Love doesn’t get jealous. When other people are blessed, your heart doesn’t fret about why they have those things but you don’t. Instead, your heart is consumed by caring for others.
LOVE DOES NOT BOAST
Love not only doesn’t get jealous of people who are “better off” than us (whatever that may mean), but it also doesn’t look down on people who are “worse off” than us. Love does not act like a braggart or a windbag; it doesn’t heap praise on itself. So if you are blessed with an able mind and body and they are blessed with a disability, that is no reason to brag. And ultimately, what “love does not envy or boast” means is that “love is not selfish.” We aren’t focused on comparing ourselves to others, but instead are hearts are obsessed with loving them. If you’re concerned with love instead of social climbing, you’ll be others-centered.
LOVE IS NOT ARROGANT
Love not only doesn’t talk proud, it also doesn’t think proud. In other words, someone with real love will be humble in their heart, not just their words. Love is not “puffed up,” full of an exaggerated self-conception. So hey, guess what? You’re not better than disabled people. You’re not better than anyone with special needs. Period. Do you really believe that in your heart? Furthermore, do you think (even subconsciously) you know better on what they’re going through than they do? For example, a very common refrain to people with chronic illness is “but you don’t look sick.” Or to depressed people, “You’re fine. Stop feeling sad. Get over yourself.” Or to parents of people with special needs children: “You mean I shouldn’t say the word ‘retarded?’ That’s just political correctness!” (And by the way, the “don’t be so PC” excuse is even more frequently used to arrogantly dismiss people’s actual experiences with racism.) Instead of arrogance, choose to listen instead. Don’t “pity” or dismiss, but listen and empathize; try (by the supernatural grace of God) to feel what they feel.
LOVE IS NOT RUDE
The sense behind the word “rude” here is to “behave dishonorably,” or to “act contrary to the standards of public decorum.” So you have to ask yourself, what is rude in a particular situation? For example, in our society, it’s considered rude to not tip your server. So tip your server! As for people with special needs, treat them as people — and take them seriously. Often we can unconsciously be rude to people who are “different,” so be humble and ask for the input of the special needs person, or of one of their caregivers or friends… and don’t get defensive!
LOVE DOES NOT INSIST ON ITS OWN WAY
Another way to say this is that “love is not selfish.” You’ll notice by now that there are a lot of “negative” things in this list (love is not this, love is not that…); what that means is that if even one of these things is present in the relationship, it isn’t real, Christlike love. Anyway, in this case, love does not strive (exert serious effort in searching) for its own benefit. If you love, you won’t be scheming to get what you want. This frees you up to love EVERYONE, “even” those that society rejects.
LOVE IS NOT IRRITABLE
Love is not provoked to anger. Love is incompatible with a temper. Love doesn’t lash out. Again, if you truly love someone with special needs, you won’t lash out at them.
LOVE IS NOT RESENTFUL
Love “keeps no record of wrongs.” This is literally an accounting term: it means to record bad things in the accounting books. I’m sure you’ve heard of getting “hysterical” by getting “historical” — bringing up in a conversation all the ways you’ve been wronged in the past. Or consider how some of these concepts interact with each other: for example, if someone you love doesn’t come through for you, how do you respond? Maybe you angrily tell them all the times you’ve loved them (“I do this for you, and that for you, and…”). That’s angry, bragging, selfish resentfulness, not love. Now, with disabled people or with people with mental disorders, sometimes we can slip up or get irritable more easily than we would if we were healthy — we ask you to forgive us and be patient with us instead of keeping a mental record of it in your heart.
QUESTIONS TO ASK EACH OTHER:
- In which of the things on this list of “the traits of love” do you see me as excelling by the grace of God? Please be specific in your answer!
- Where in this list do you see are my areas to grow? Please be specific in your answer!