In my living room, there is a beautiful piece of art. (Which doesn't say much, as there are many beautiful artworks by my sister all over the house. I am proud to say that without being an art connoisseur, I have enjoyed all her artwork so far with only one exception, which was a particularly obnoxious object called Worm Baby. Not a horror movie person; that Thing was. I think the name is graphic enough to suffice without description.)
This particular one, however, is 1 Corinthians 13 in Chinese calligraphy, framed in white, and without a backing so it looks like it's floating against the wall. It was done by a friend's father, given to my dad as a present, and one of my favourite things about it is that every time the word 'love' appears, it's written in a different way. I knew there was 'old' and 'new' Chinese script, but it's fascinating to see how many different legit ways the same word can be written, and still read as such.
To me, that reinforces how love is in essence so simple and universal, and yet in application so myriad.
All those Facebook quizzes on What is Your Love Language, and Asian Parents humour videos; and #growingupwithsiblings, for example.
Search the Scriptures challenged me to read 1 Corinthians 13 as 15 ways of describing love, and then summarize and apply it. 15 ways to love. Boiled down to what is most directly, personally applicable to your life. Which is not easy, if you take a look at those verses.
Love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy;
love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
The first three times I read them through I felt hopeless: "okay, I need them all, every single one of them--I'm just adding a growing number of ticks at the end of each line! How to pick the most important one, or summarize all of this??" But that's precisely why--it breaks down an otherwise overwhelming or abstract list into specific, personal, and most of all, applicable articles.
I finally decided the best approach was to describe it as two general categories:
1. longsuffering /patience /fortitude
All these terms, at least for me, translate to having a higher threshold of forbearance when things don't go your way, by cultivating humility and sincere love and concern for others. This is really difficult for someone who thinks there's a specific format even for hanging up the laundry. I mean, obviously my way is the best, right? Usually, I close my eyes as much as possible whenever someone helps me, (I'm tempted to write, 'attempts to help'!) but that's where the second part comes in. Not merely for the sake of avoiding a petty quarrel over socks and underwear, but out of greater humility; ok, maybe my way isn't flawless after all, you do have a point about bedsheets--
--and love for others; I appreciate you wanting to help me, and I want to remember this could be a fun and pleasant opportunity for us to work together IF ONLY I CAN STOP NOTICING HOW YOU'RE DROPPING CLEAN LAUNDRY ON THE FLOOR AND NOT PUTTING THE PEGS INTO THE BASKET but yeah, those don't really matter in the big picture, do they? *sweats*
In how you interact with and care for others. To be interested in them--not how they reflect upon or affect you or compare to you (which may sound immature and and at the level of teenage friendship problems, but which extends even to parent-child relationships--both ways, at that.) To be less self-conscious; which, as has been so rightly pointed out, is true humility--not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. So your love for others is more genuine. Again, this is challenging in a culture where we are constantly aware of how we look, how others see us, how others reflect upon us; where we zoom in on group pics to see ourselves first, where there are people it's uncool to be friends with, where we squirm when certain people comment on our Facebook page or spoil our feed.
I feel disappointed with myself when I think about how flimsy my love for others is, how it hovers so precariously upon my threshold of forbearance, and how much selfishness is mixed up in it. I remember one quote from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov which really struck me: "The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular."
It's easy to feel a benevolent, if vague and undemanding, compassion and love for others; you feel soulfully convinced that you, too, have a heart to end world hunger or smooth fevered brows and generally be the next Mother Teresa;
but when it comes down to everyday life, to individuals, to toothpaste tubes not rolled neatly, to hairs on the floor you just swept, to unmade beds and apologies and grumpiness and yes, the right way to hang out laundry--we need the Spirit to teach us how to love.
We need Him Who loved us first, and enabled us to love in turn...
Listening is a gift which we take for granted.
Growing up, my best friend was my cousin, who was the same age as I, and who came over almost every weekend to spend the day at my place. Sometimes she got to stay the night, and then we celebrated like there was no tomorrow with late night games which required us to pretend our (increasingly) noisy antics were all stealth-mode operations which the rest of the house was somehow immune to hearing. Usually resulting in panda eyes and bruises the next morning (from blind man's bluff in a house full of furniture.) Looking back on our friendship--swimming lessons, yellow noodles, drawing countless stories which were supposed to be joint productions but which I inevitably ended up monopolizing--I feel so chagrined that I was such a domineering, talkative, and generally insufferable child. I practically reduced my long-suffering cousin to a permanent listener, though with characteristic graciousness she insists she enjoyed listening to me.
Looking back, I am grateful for her listening ear. For so many children that I've met and worked with, that's so often all they want from adults. As parents or teachers, we're so conscious of our role as adults; there's so much to say, to teach, to guide. But for children brimming with excitement and wonder, they just want to talk. And it does so much to them when someone--and especially an adult at that!--listens seriously, sincerely, and with interest to what they have to say. Even if it's froth--like what I subjected my long-suffering cousin to all those years.
I am sometimes tempted to think that David had it good when it came to prayer.
After all, whereas we sometimes struggle to sense God's presence, when it seems we're talking to ourselves, David had first-hand, tangible, incredibly effective experience of God's realness, that God heard and answered his prayers. Wouldn't it be much easier for us to pray if God gave little encouraging 'mhmms' every now and then, affirming His presence and His listening ear? If we felt that He was there, the way David did?
It was a good reminder to read Psalm 116. David bursts into such confident adoration it's as if God has just taken him by the hand, he's brimming with the certainty of God's presence and favour. Ah, if I could feel that too tomorrow at seven in the morning, when I sit at my desk with a Bible in front of me while trying not to look at an open schedule, squinching my eyes shut tightly to try and force away the visions of dirty laundry, unswept floors, half written essays, and unread messages.
I am sometimes tempted to think that I too would be able to love God so fervently and passionately, be a woman after God's own heart, if He spoke to me the way He did to David.
What I found interesting when I read Psalm 116, then, was that David's joy stemmed from the simple fact that God 'inclined His ear' to him. David found comfort and strength in that knowledge even before God answered him. I realized I take prayer so much for granted, that I hardly think about the privilege of being heard by God. I forget that I end 'in Jesus's name' because Jesus was the One who made this relationship possible, enabled me to pray so easily, so directly, with all the struggles on my side--being distracted, finding time, learning how to pray. For David, in the Old Testament before Christ came, being heard by God was something much more--just last Sunday I covered the (very challenging) chapter 28 in 1 Samuel where "the Lord did not answer" Saul's desperate prayers. My Sunday Schoolers looked rather disturbed and asked, didn't God say He would always hear our prayers?
I was reminded again of the immense privilege we have as New Covenant Christians, with Christ, and the full significance of His death, the magnitude of what it accomplished for us. Because of Him, we pray 'in Jesus's name;' we pray with the assurance that He hears us; we pray with the confidence that our words--no matter how disordered or distracted or even insincere--are listened to.
"I love the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplication..."
That phone call you're dreading. Forgetting someone's name when they remember yours. Clearing the sink hole (you wouldn't believe how much foul-smelling gunk there is in there.) Spilling Ribena on someone's beautiful white shirt. Having to tell your friend that the goldfish you so confidently offered to babysit while they were on holiday died on you almost immediately.
Up there along with all these other squirm-inducers is the word 'witnessing.'
As Christians we often talk about how important a Christian witness is, as a church, as an individual, to your non believing friends and family etc...
But perhaps for you--as for me--that doesn't exactly equate to passing out tracts on the street and sharing your testimony every day. I'm afraid the reality of being a Christian witness, for most Christians, doesn't mean simply sharing the gospel. Sometimes you're not allowed to. Sometimes there's too much hostility or sensitivity. Sometimes it just isn't the right opportunity. Sometimes your relationship or friendship just isn't at that level yet when it can be discerned as sincerity instead of a threat.
And that's okay. Since we strive to be like Christ in all areas of our life--when we're in church singing hymns, when we're eating out, when we're on the bus, when we're in a meeting, when we're in our pajamas watching our favourite TV show...
One of the best ways you can witness is by not being afraid to apologize.
An apology is a rare phenemonem now. Remember as kids how your parent would drag you over to that annoying kid and watch you sternly until you ground out a "sorry"? Insincere much? Well, adults don't even do that. Even insincere apologies are rare. People prefer to pretend they've forgotten about it, or ignore what happened. (I'm not talking about people who chronically and automatically apologize for everything, whether it's cold coffee or you didn't like their shirt colour or that you didn't find that joke as funny as they did...that extreme warrants another whole post for itself.)
Situations where real apologies are needed, when someone has offended or hurt someone, when the two of you are strained and uncomfortable, if not downright hostile, around each other.
If--when everyone around you says it's okay, just pretend nothing happened, maybe she didn't hear you, anyway he's said nasty things about you too, who cares what they feel--you can bring yourself to apologize with courage and honesty and humility, with sincerity and kindness, showing grace where you didn't have to, showing humility when you did wrong, showing kindness when you could have responded with coldness--you have, just for that moment, taken others aback by demonstrating that there is an alternative, in Christ's love. In Christ's example.
I remember I first started thinking seriously about what it meant to be Christian because of the witness of my parents in their everyday, normal home life with us. Doctrine I knew in heaps. I thought I knew every single Bible story. I'd memorized the Shorter Catechism, okay (at one point, I could recite it so fast it almost sounded like rapping.) But what really made an impact on me wasn't so much all the good decisions, the wise words, the love from my parents, as when they apologized. When they had made a mistake, they apologized to us. When they lost their temper, they apologized. The mistake itself wasn't so important--as I got older, I realized that yes--drumroll--even parents made mistakes! The first stage of growing up.
But they were able to apologize. Humbly and honestly, without making excuses or grudging the apology, simply admitting they had done wrong and needed to be forgiven. This was something I couldn't have imagined bringing myself to do, what more if I put myself in their shoes as the parent, as the authority figure; didn't it, humanly speaking, logically speaking, undermine everything they'd been working for--earning their children's respect and obedience, showing their wisdom and authority--?
This was something I couldn't understand how they could bring themselves to do. Heck, as a teenager apologizing was something you hated having to do, and didn't see other people do. It was literally telling the world that you weren't the perfect image you tried so hard to convince others you were. That stuff hurt. Not in a glamorous way either--it hurt in the most embarrassing, unattractive way. I remember brainstorming glamorous injuries for my lead characters in so many of my stories; broken collarbones were a favourite, they were non-fatal and yet impressive enough (sorry nurses, I know I'm probably being idiotically ignorant and unrealistic here.) Well, apologizing was like giving your lead character diarrhoea in the middle of the climax. There is nothing glamorous and everything to dislike about it.
And that, I slowly realized, was what dying to yourself meant. The Bible kept using that phrase and I always felt it a bit extreme, like those Taiwanese soap operas where every slap or punch or kick is replayed five times from different angles, in slow-mo...when you try to convince your mom it's bad enough to warrant skipping school for the day--"I feel like I'm dying! Serious, mom! "
Apologizing in today's culture--where appearances are so important, where insecurity and the pursuit of glamour and popularity are so prevalent--is like dying. Shooting yourself in the foot, as some worldly-wise people would doubtless say. "You're just showing that you're soft, and that they can treat you like a doormat! Even if you did make some mistakes, so did they, and if you apologize, they're going to assume it means you're accepting responsibility for everything, and they'll happily treat you as if you're responsible for their mistakes--they're never going to face up to what they did wrong--"
But that's why it can make all the more impact. I saw this (below) on Pinterest and found it very moving for that same reason. It's so rare when someone is brave enough to apologize, humbly and honestly and sincerely. Especially if you are put in a position where one's 'face' is important. The next time you face an opportunity to apologize, don't just forget conveniently about it or get away with a cup of coffee or an awkward shoulder pat. It feels like dying, but as John 12:24 reminds us, death can be the start of something new--something far greater--something far more alive.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are