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A life-changing way to read the “love is patient, love is kind” passage

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I used to think I was a little afraid of God, but it must be something else I’m afraid of …

You know that Corinthians passage that everyone’s got half-memorized, just from all the weddings and greeting cards it makes its way onto? This one:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

We know the passage so well (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) that we already know what it means. It means, “Be more patient!” It means, “Be kind, be humble, stop holding grudges!”

Christians are supposed to love one another, and here we have a quick sketch of what it looks like when you love somebody.

And, okay, that’s a fair interpretation. But I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves if we immediately jump to applying the passage to ourselves.

We are supposed to be loving, but that’s because we are supposed to be like Christ, like God who is Love.

So I’ve been re-reading the passage, not as a laundry list of ways I’m not living up to my duty to love, but as a description of God’s own personality. It’s a small tweak, and it’s totally changed the way I pray.

God is patient, he is kind.
He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.
He does not dishonor others, he is not self-seeking,
He is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs.
God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
God never fails.

Doesn’t that just change everything?

God is a person. He has a personality. It’s hard to imagine that sometimes; we can get so caught up in the abstractions of God’s nature — his transcendence, his power, his knowledge. This passage comes to my rescue when I’m praying and I’m worried God is frustrated with me, or angry, or just fed up with watching me commit the same sins over and over and over again.

This passage (I’ve got it written on my wall now) reminds me that if the God I’m imagining is angry at me, I’m not imagining God. If the God I’m imagining is ready to give up on me, I’m not imagining God. If the God I’m imagining can’t do anything to help me out of the hole I’ve dug myself into, I’m not imagining God.

We know God is love. If this is what love does, than we have here an incredibly accurate picture of God’s fatherhood, how he relates to us, how he thinks of us. We know he’s good, we’ve always known that — but did we really understand what it means that he is good?

I used to think I was a little afraid of God, but it must be something else I’m afraid of, since nobody could be afraid of somebody who’s patient, kind, humble, and protective, and unfailingly persistent in love.

As for my own role? I still need to pray and work every day towards becoming just a little bit more loving. It’s just clear that the old way I had of reaching for that goal wasn’t working. Every day, I was measuring myself up against that passage, falling horribly short, and praying that God would help me keep my temper with my kids, help me manage to be consistently respectful of others, help me move past the wrongs that have been done to me.

And I was making no progress at all, that I could see. I don’t seem to have it in me to cajole myself into living out those virtues like I ought to. When I quit focusing so hard on my deficiencies and started focusing harder on a God who already is everything I aspire to be, the sheer gratitude from having a God who’s not looking at me and thinking of all the ways I’m failing him took over. That in itself was enough to get me closer toward my goals than I’ve gotten all year on my own.

We know we’re supposed to trust God, but that’s hard when you don’t have a clear idea of who he is. It’s a lot easier to have a relationship with somebody when you’re given such a simple, powerful description of the person who is asking you to trust him.

Read more: The word Abba is like a recording of Jesus’ voice, says pope

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