Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. — 1 Corinthians 13:4
There’s a reason that 1 Corinthians 13 is the passage-of-choice for many couples when they get married. It contains a concrete, practical description of how love is expressed. Paul wrote it to give guidance for Christians as they formed the early faith communities. And, of course, it does the same for a couple as they live out their marital vows.
It strikes me, though, that loving as Paul describes provides a powerful tool for dealing with the inevitable changes each of us faces in life. As we transition from child to youth to young adult to middle age to not-so-middle aged (my euphemism for elderly), we discover life to be more fluid than solid. Change happens every day and is well beyond our control.
Paul’s instruction in his famous love chapter helps us prepare, though. It can be summarized in a three-part formula.
LOVE FIRST. When I’m with another person, how can I show them how important and special they are? Can I block out everything else, even my own problems, and give them my undivided attention? Can I look for the best in them instead of the worst?
LISTEN SECOND. What’s on their mind and heart? What are their joys, hopes, needs, fears? Can I enter their world in such a way that I’ll discover my preconceived judgments and assumptions are invalid?
TALK LAST. When I finally express my thoughts or feelings, they won’t come across as an unasked-for sermon. The conversation will connect authentically with the other person because they’ve been cared for and listened to.
Relating to others in this way builds relationships; after all, didn’t Jesus model this way himself? And when we’re connected to each other like this, transitions may not seem so scary. We’ll have partners who are willing to walk with us into the unknown because we’ve done so with them. No wonder Paul concluded, “Now faith, hope, and love remain–these three things–and the greatest of these is love.”