Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
I’ve read 1 Corinthians 13 a thousand times. I’ve quoted it at weddings and used Paul’s writing to remind well-intentioned friends that having the right answers doesn’t give them permission to hurt other people. I know most of this chapter by heart.
I thought I knew what it meant. Then, I was taken to the school of Scripture Applied to Real Life. Like most Scripture, the verses of 1 Corinthians 13 take on a different meaning when they become the text of your life.
The last several months have been difficult for our family. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. I had to move her to an assisted living facility near where I live to care for her. I had to move her against her will. (If you’re driving along I-65 south of Nashville, you’ll see two large ruts along the highway where I had to drag my mom up here.) Every day she tells me she’s leaving and I can’t keep her here. Every day she complains that I’ve thrown her in prison…
And every day is a little worse than the day before. It’s the nature of the disease. This is our new reality. This is hard because my mother is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known. To see her like this breaks my heart. She still has plenty to say. She’s not short on opinions. I get an earful every day. But it’s different now.
I took care of her taxes. She got mad because I used a different accountant.
I pay her bills. She gets mad that I use the computer and don’t handwrite the checks.
No matter what I do or how well I do it, she gets mad. And that’s just part of it. She’s mad—she’s mad at life, she’s mad at the illness, and she needs somewhere to express that anger. So, she yells at me. She knows I’m not going anywhere. She knows I won’t leave.
I am, after all, her son. I’ll do the right thing just like she taught me. And when she yells at me, I’ll remember 1 Corinthians 13. Love keeps loving even when love doesn’t come back. Love doesn’t keep a list of who owes whom. (If it did, I’d still be in debt to her.) Love does what’s best for the beloved even when it doesn’t feel good to do it. Love doesn’t give up.
I’m learning a lot about love.
The next time I preach from 1 Corinthians 13, I’ll do a much better job. I understand it at an entirely different level now.
My mom taught me all about it.
Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.