When I started with Love Is… Patient, I had been planning to reflect on each of the attributes of love in the order in which they are spelled out in Corinthians 13. It’s a little odd but I really like (certain) things to be orderly!
Unfortunately for me, for the last couple days I’ve been focused on a character of love that does not follow “patient” in the list, but lands somewhere abouts in the middle. So that is what I’m looking at today, even though the unorderliness of it is making me a little anxious.
Love Is Not Self-Seeking.
I don’t know what you believe about how we came to be where we are, or where we came from, or where we’re going. But I think regardless of this, it’s pretty safe to look at human experience and conclude that we are creatures that desire and thrive in community. We need to share our experiences with one another. We need to take care of each other. We work best when we have someone to love.
Love is not self-seeking. In fact, it is entirely self-giving. When I love someone, I want to meet their needs and desires above all else. And when that person loves me back, they wish to do the same for me. And in this way, each of us is providing for the happiness of the other person and in doing so are also providing for our own happiness in that we are doing what we’re made to do: put someone else ahead of ourselves. Love.
This is why I think the atmosphere of self-help and the prevailing ideas of “independence” and being “free” and “not tied down” and “in control of my own life” are optimistic at best and probably more in the realm of misguided and misleading. I’ve been “free from personal ties” – it’s also known as “lonely.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that unhealthy relationships don’t exist and I know there are times and situations where being free of a *specific* tie is exactly what is needed. When you have a relationship where one person is entirely self-giving and the other person is simply taking that for granted and not giving anything back, it is certainly hard to see any happiness coming out of it. Of course, the “other person” by definition is not loving, and therein lies the problem. There are plenty of examples of people getting it wrong, but still we have a need for community that we simply can’t meet for ourselves (ventriloquists included).
So why is it that I often find myself begrudging this self giving that I know to be the best route to both my own happiness and that of those I love? I’ve made a specific committment to love my husband and children, and I know that love is not self-seeking, and I know that in the perceived sacrifice of putting their needs ahead of my own I will in fact be gaining satisfaction and joy.
And yet, selfishness often prevails.
What leads me to spend late evening hours reading useless – totally and completely useless – Internet news instead of organizing that giant mass of paperwork sitting right next to my computer? Selfishness. Why do I grumble when my kids “interrupt” me to ask me for something, even when I know it’s something they require and cannot get for themselves? Selfishness (compounded by sleeplessness, a side effect of previously noted selfishness). Why do I tell my daughter there’s no ice cream left where there might be a last serving tucked away in the freezer? Selfishness. Ok, and possibly a regard for the health of her teeth and overall being, but still, my selfish side benefits.
In little things and big things (and little things that lead to big things), selfishness is the opposite of love. Fortunately, a little bit of discipline and a lot of reminders about why and how much you love the people you love can go a long way towards overcoming the habit of selfishness. Love is a decision of the will. It takes committment, and we don’t always get it right. In a time and generation largely wrapped up in entitlement to all things, anything that is not self-seeking goes against the grain.
And yet, love is not self-seeking.