Love is not self-seeking (I Corinthians 13:5). I have been chewing on this one for a while now. I thought that this year would be easy to dissect love as it is shown I Corinthians. It is not easy. Not. One. Bit. This is painful, looking at what God says is love. It’s like pulling out multiple splinters out of the bottom of your foot, painful and necessary. Some of those splinters are deep and they need digging out. This whole not being self-seeking business is one of those deeply embedded splinters.
I always think in terms of relationships. Really, how else would you think about love? When I think about not being self-seeking, I go straight to thinking about marriage. The relationship of marriage is so often looked upon, by women at least, in terms of how we feel about what our husband does or does not do to make us feel loved. Wow, if that isn’t self-seeking I don’t know what is. But let me tell you, I have had many conversations with many different women, through different phases of their marriage and it is very much how we look at marriage. I am no different. I judge love in my marriage by what I get, not by what I give. This reality has come to the surface of my self-knowledge and it needs to change.
Yes, there are times that I think of my husband and what I can do for him or how to make him happy, or feel loved. Yet in my heart of hearts I know the truth, the truth that I really want to be more on the receiving end rather than on the giving end. How can this be turned around? Oh, it is like trying to change the course of a huge ship going 25 knots! The turn must be wide and will take time and a lot of resistance! It’s time to move the rudder! Read along as I think of what to do to express love in a way that is not self-seeking and remember that I’m preaching to the choir.
The first step to loving in a way that isn’t self-seeking is to allow the other person to be who they are. As I wrote those words, pictures of people come to mind, reminding me that I do not accept them just how they are. I want others to fit into my script, they should play the part I want them to play in my life. In the real world, life just doesn’t play out that way. We all are different and at different stages. I would want someone to love me for the real me, at whatever stage of life I am at. I need to do the same. This is especially true of my husband. He and I are very opposite in our personalities and I find myself wanting him to be more like me. I have a high need for people and activities of life, he on the other hand is more to himself and happy to be home when not a work. We are in agreeance with our values and lifestyle, but the difference comes in our approach of life and what we need socially. This is an area that I’m always working on, acceptance of him, just the way he is, without trying to change him. It is strange how women always want to change and improve their man, but we don’t feel we need any of that turned around on us! My goal is to have more patience and acceptance. You can ask me how I’m doing.
The next step in loving in a non-self-seeking way is to ask questions. When you ask questions, and do not assume that you know something about another person, you are showing that what they prefer or feel is important. Good questions to ask are, “How would you like this done, what would you like, when would you like to do this or that?” This shows that one person is interested in the other person’s preference and feelings about something in their life. I have always been a take charge and get the job done kind of person, believing that my way of getting things done was good enough for everyone. Over the past two months I have been involved in different things with a lot of different people. What has really come to the forefront of my awareness is how different people like things done, and how different all of our taste are (food and everything else under the sun). Asking what the other person in your life wants and trying to get things right for them is such a loving task.
Learning the other person is so important to loving without being self-seeking. When Jeff and I were just newly married I learned that when I get him a drink he likes it in a big cup filled to the brim. When I get him something to drink I do my best to do it the way he likes it. It has taking him years to learn how I like my drinks, but he has finally got it! If I am drinking a soda I want a lot of ice and for the soda to be poured very slowly so that it won’t lose too much fizz. Not doing things your way for the other person, but doing it their way is a very simple, yet powerful way to show unselfish love.
Hear ye, Hear ye! This is a big-y! Listen up, I’m going to tell you a tip that will speak volumes. Listen. Really listen. Try and not focus on what you will say in return and listen to what the other person is saying. Listening to the one you love says so many things without saying a word. My husband is amazing at listening to me (it’s a good thing because I must process everything in my head by talking and I really need someone I can trust too listen to me). He has given me the gift of freedom to say whatever I need to say and he listens so that I can get out of my head my thoughts that get trapped unless I give a true voice to them. You know what that says to me? He loves me enough to let me share my very deepest soul. He gives me a safe place to let the raw me come out, without judgement or correction. He is the soft pillow for my truest self to land on. He has modeled non-self-seeking love by listening. He doesn’t need to match my every story with one of his own, he doesn’t take over and make the conversation all about him, he doesn’t tell me that what I feel or what I’m going through really isn’t all that bad. Nope. He listens. That is a gift of unselfish love. I want to be increasingly like that.
This was not an easy thing to ponder over the last few weeks, this topic of love not being self-seeking. If non-self-seeking love were a contest in my marriage, my husband would win. God has been showing me that although I think of myself as a giving person, one who isn’t selfish, I need to work on loving in a non-self-seeking way, more and more, with my husband. What relationship needs your attention in this area too?
To love, honor, and respect are terms that have been in traditional wedding vows. These terms must have been rooted in the biblical definition of love in I Corinthians 13. As I have gone down through the verses on love I got stuck on the one that says that love does not dishonor another. Over the past few months I have just been slowly and thoughtful chewing on its meaning. There is a general meaning and then their is a more specific meaning.
Here I will turn the word around from what it is to dishonor to what it means to honor. To honor someone is to give preference to them and to lift them up. The tradition of opening a door for a woman by a man is a public way of showing honor and respect. To be polite and say words like excuse me, thank you, and please may sound like just good manners, but they are in fact showing honor for another person. To the believer in Jesus, we are instructed in Romans 12:10 to "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor others above yourself." In a general sense, honor is thinking of and acting in a way that gives preference to the people in your life, those you know and strangers you encounter. This seems so foreign in our "Me" culture. This very lack of honoring others is a killing disease among us socially. We all feel the effect of being dishonored and know intrinsically that it is wrong. Our sinful nature has been given free reign with far to little social constraints. Rudeness has been widely the norm. I can't change the whole world, but I can change myself by trying my best to act in love to those who are close and those whom are strangers. I encourage you as well to be mindful to show honor to all those around you. Honor is manifested in kindness, gentleness, patience, truly listening and caring. If you are a follower of Christ, remind yourself that you are an alien and stranger in this world and that you do not live by the ways of this world, but you live by the rule and reign of your Lord whose kingdom is a heavenly kingdom.
Showing respect is the more specific way to show honor to an individual. Now this is where I got stuck, this is where my writers block came in and froze me in my tracks. I had to stop and check myself before I could even write about respect. I have heard the term "disrespectful" used many times to describe me. I have been told that my words or actions were disrespectful and it has broken me. In the depths of my heart I do not will to be that way. My core being loves people and wants very much to respect them and relate to them. And yet I have embedded in me this notion that I am disrespectful. Because of this I have developed a desire to not be disrespectful at all, ever, to anyone. And let me tell you, this makes it very difficult to manage in this world of power hungry rude people. When I talk about respecting others I do not want to give the message of being a doormat. I do not believe that it is ever ok for someone to take advantage of another because of bullying, abuse, or power grabbing. As my husband says respect is earned and to be respected you need to act respectable. Respect is dependent on your actions, not the interpretation of them. Respect is honoring the desire of another person. Disrespect is not something that happens by mistake, by making someone angry, or by stepping on toes that you had no idea were even under foot. To respect someone is knowing what bugs them and not doing it. Respect is knowing what someone would like and doing it their way. Respecting an individual is based in knowledge of them personally. We all must teach each other what it means to be respected by each other in the fine details of interpersonal relationships. These differences could come in the form of values, cultural differences, and personal preference. It always takes two people who are willing to relate openly with one another and share what these differences are.
To those who really know me, you know that my husband and I are opposite in so many ways. If I come at a problem one way he will come at it in the exact opposite. If I naturally move to the left, he will naturally move to the right. In our dance of life we step on each others toes. Recently we have taken on a diy construction project. We had a shed built just off our deck back in March. This shed is to be a haven for me. I'm very extroverted and love to be with people, but at the end of the day I need some place to go and take the introverted side of me and recharge alone. ( Did you know that for people who are equally extroverted and introverted there is a term called amnivert? Yes that is me!) The shed needed to be finished on the inside and we are in the process of doing that. It is slow going because neither of us have experience in this and we have a hard time working together on projects. During the first few Saturdays of working together we were really getting frustrated with one another. I felt that whatever I said wasn't being understood. My husband has a way of knowing what he wants to say in his head but then never really says it, and I just don't get the message. I think he just is being careful with me and I just wish he would blurt it out, like me. In the frustration I was afraid that I was being disrespectful to him because our communication wasn't going so well. In reality we are constantly learning each other because we are so vastly different, and will always need to work on communication. Once I come across something that makes him mad or frustrates him, out of respect I have to make a mental note of not doing something or saying something. That is respect. Now I hate it when I step on his toes, but like I said before, if you don't mean to it isn't intentional disrespect. Honor and respect is knowing what is important to another person and complying. Philippians 2:4 explains this by saying, "Look not only to your own interest, but each of you to the interest of others."
What about honor and respect when someone is rude or abusive? In this situation complying is all they want and they have no respect for you. The type of respect I talked about above is when there is a relationship of mutuality and reciprocity. When you interact with someone who is rude or abusive you must always keep yourself safe first, then secondly respect yourself. Respecting yourself can mean removing yourself from the situation or the person. If you choose to stay with the person, respecting yourself would mean not joining into the abuse behavior and keeping yourself safe.
With a rude person respecting yourself means that you will set up boundaries and be firm about the way you expect to be treated. If the other person does not respect your boundaries you will have to accept that the trouble lies with them and be responsible to be a respectful person in how you handle things. Respecting yourself is to stay on the high ground and not retaliate. Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek. Turning the other cheek is choosing to not retaliate even if the person chooses to continue to disrespect you and wants to strike again.
To love other people with the love of Christ may look weak. To show honor and respect to people who are unlovely in their actions and words may seem like you have no backbone. But in reality showing honor and respect to unlovely acting people takes God powered strength. The amazing thing is that when you show honor and respect to others you are showing honor and respect for yourself as well. Go be God's love in the world!
I have been brewing on this topic for months. Some versions of the bible say instead of these words, "it does not dishonor others" that love is not rude. This topic has been coming up in my life in so many different ways and to share about it is difficult, because in every incident it is very personal. It's like the subject is just about to be birth and I'm ready to deliver it! I need to find the quiet space to pull my thoughts together, or maybe I should just push it out, like birthing a baby and let it be messy and unorganized and not necessarily pretty. I'm in labor and will soon deliver!