Unconditional love. Such is what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 13. A love that is patient (long-suffering) and (after all vexation) is kind. A love that is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. A love that looks out for the interests of others; love that does not become provoked, even with repetition; a love that refuses to keep an account of wrongs done. This love never rejoices in wrong, but always rejoices in that which is true. And at the end of it all? This love endures all, patiently. It is committed to trust regardless of how things appear to be. This love joyfully waits with expectancy, and has the courage to hold fast, no matter what life may bring. Love. Never. Fails.
I am pretty good at being polite and kind to strangers. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I hardly even notice. If a store clerk is being rude, I try to be extra nice and not make their day worse. Accidents like someone bumping into me, spilling hot coffee on my new dress, or bringing me the wrong meal at a restaurant hardly even phase me. But that is not unconditional love. That is called being polite and not making a scene.
But what happens at home when I am not in public and not required to keep up my reputation? Am I still kind? Well, that depends. Generally, yes. If my day is going alright and occurrences that frustrate me are not too common, I do a pretty good job of being kind and loving. If things are not going well and my hormones are out of whack, one small thing could push me over to sullenness, frustration, short responses, and rudeness.
My husband and I got into an argument about a week ago. Actually, it wasn't so much of an argument as I was frustrated with myself and was taking it out on him. Then, when he handled the situation differently than I wanted him to, I got more upset at him and he got upset at me for getting upset at him for no good reason. We were at work (cleaning an office building with no people around), and when we finished, I left and walked home without him. (Stormed home might be more appropriate.) About a block away, I texted him to let him know I was walking home and would not be riding home in the car with him. Yes, it was quite rude and entirely uncalled for, but I felt justified at the time.
Most of the entire situation could have been avoided had I not been basing my love on his. When I was taking my frustration at myself out on him, I expected him to love me unconditionally. I was almost trying to bother him in order to prove that he loved me. And for the first hour or so, he actually was doing a great job, but I felt the need to push his patience, to make sure that he loved me unconditionally so that I could love him in the same way. I expected him to not let it provoke him, to be kind, to look out for my interests, and patiently try to figure out what was really going on. And after all that, I would be able to love him unconditionally, because I would not feel like I was the only one being patient or kind or thoughtful. But what kind of love is that? How is that unconditional?
I cannot base my love of my husband off of his love for me. Yes, he loves me. And most of the time, he makes sure that I know it without a doubt. But what if that is not always the case? What if he forgets? What if he changes his mind? These are continual fears in my mind that try to drag me down. What if? is such an awful question to ask yourself. Nevertheless, what if my fears were to come true? What if he were to mentally check out? Would I still love him? Or would my love be shallow?
Is my love unconditional? Far from it. Try as I may, I seem to be incapable of being patient (suffering long) and still being kind. I am easily provoked. Record of wrongs? I have one. I can be terribly selfish and self-centered. I am rude on a regular basis. When he acts in an unloving manner towards me I almost always respond in kind. This cannot go on. His unconditional love cannot be a prerequisite for mine. Regardless of what he says or what he does or his attitude, I must love. Jesus is my example. Even in the face of total rejection (so much worse than anything I have ever gone through), His love NEVER ends.
The truth is, neither I nor my husband will ever be able to love one another unconditionally. We can grow together in that area, we can pray for grace, we can try our hardest, but in this life, we cannot love entirely unconditionally all of the time. But our inadequacies and failures from time to time must not deter us from trying. Because although I have not enough strength to love, the One who called me to this is faithful, and he is able to give me the love and the grace I need so that I can love my husband. Unconditionally.