Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Love . . . does not envy, does not boast.

We are talking about love this month

I should, perhaps, explain.  C.S. Lewis could explain much better.  He wrote a book called The Four Loves, wherein he discussed four different types of love, and how they relate to one another and where they culminate.  It would be good reading for February.

I am not going to address four different types of love, but I am going to break love down into two types:
  1. Romantic love 
  2. Love-your-neighbor-as-yourself love

Romantic love is what we usually think of first when we think of love.  Boy meets girl.  Dates, flowers, milkshakes with two straws, eventually a diamond ring, a white dress, and a trip to a tropical island.  Romantic love is fun to talk about, tell stories about, dream about.

Meanwhile, we all know that we can love someone, and then we can love someone else in an entirely different way.  I love my parents in one way.  I love my husband quite differently from the way I love my parents.  And I love my children in a way that is very different yet again.  All of these types of love are good and proper, and it is right that they are different.

We are supposed to love everyone.  We are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  This relates back to what I wrote yesterday about showing good manners to others (and probably should have prefaced it).

We are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and there is a chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, which gives us lots of practical ideas for how to do this.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)

This verse says so much.  Today we will only reflect on the part that says, "It does not envy, it does not boast."

In other words: "It does not envy.  It does not try to tempt others to envy."

Each of us has a responsibility to guard against envy.  When others have things that we do not have, or get opportunities that we do not get, or are honored in ways that we are not honored, we find ourselves sorely tempted to envy.  I myself am so wicked, sometimes I envy people for getting to do things that I would not want to do, or for owning things I would not want to own.  Why do I do this?  I suppose I am jealous that they enjoyed the option of deciding to do whatever it was that they did (or to buy whatever they bought) even though, if I had the option, I would not have made the same choice.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that people's hearts are deceitful and beyond cure, so I'm figuring that I may not be the only one who struggles like this.

It is a universal struggle, and it comes from putting ourselves first.  We are by nature utterly selfish.  We need to train ourselves to love, to consider the other person's point of view, and to be happy for the other person's good fortune.  Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice.  In a nutshell, that means: do not envy!

Of course, we cannot simply "train ourselves."  We have to ask God to change our hearts, to teach us to find our satisfaction and joy in Him so it doesn't make us envious when we see others enjoying satisfaction and joy.  He is the fount of every blessing, sharing streams of mercy that will never cease.  In Him we will never come up short, and supplied by Him we will always have more than enough to share.  (You can read Isaiah 55 if you want to ponder more about what the Bible says about this.)

Since we all, by nature, understand the universal struggle against envy, we learn that the next step in loving goes beyond "do not envy," to "do not tempt others to envy."

How do we tempt others to envy?  By boasting.  Bragging.  Putting on masks that lie and say, "I have my act totally together.  Why don't you?"

Here's the thing about boasting: we often don't really notice when we are doing it.  We are pleased about something, and we share it (Facebook is awful this way)... expecting others to rejoice with us, but others, being of the same human condition as we are, choke on the news of our good fortune and wonder why they don't have the same fortune.
  • I have new shoes!  Aren't they cute?
  • I have a new car!
  • I am building a new house (it's so stressful picking out paint colors and countertops).
  • My husband is the best; he sent me for a mani-pedi while he watched the kids!
  • I'm going to Aruba!
  • I got a raise!
  • My kid is an honor student!
Sometimes we don't realize we're showing off (ie bragging) when we flaunt things like:
  • Look at how organized my closet is! (--insert picture--)
  • Check out my Pinterest board to see all the details of the fantastic Disney superhero florescent snowboard ice-queen birthday party I threw for my one-year-old!
  • My kids did (--insert list of crazy, creative and extremely messy endeavors--), and I was completely calm and able to enjoy the blessing of being their mom!
When we brag and boast about our successes and triumphs, it very rarely has the effect of making someone else think, "Wow.  If she can do it, I guess I can too!"  It is much more likely to make someone think, "Everybody else is better at life than I am.  I give up.  I quit."  This is worth knowing.  The exception is when a triumph follows a hardship.  It is inspiring to hear how someone has risen from tragedy to triumph. Everyone loves to see an underdog succeed.  If you want to encourage people, you need to be willing to share the back-story of your humiliating failures before you tell them how you ultimately learned to choose well.  You have to be vulnerable before you can be helpful.

I'm just going to say something.  My husband is a good one.  Recently, he has done some very generous and selfless things for me.  I was proud of him and found myself exuberantly extolling his actions.  Then I had to catch myself.  I realized that when others speak the same way about their husbands, it makes me battle envy.  I may not actually become outright envious, but something rises up in me that I have to work to beat down.  If that happens to me, when I am in possession of a dear, loving husband, then what does it do to women who are not blessed with good husbands, when I herald my husband's virtues?  Yes, I should honor and appreciate my husband, but I should not do it in such a way as to breed envy in someone else.

There is always someone with more than you have, whom you will be tempted to envy.  There is always someone with less than you have, who will be tempted to envy you.  Always.

Love does not envy, does not boast.

This speaks to each of us, individually.  I must not envy.  I must must boast.  I must be happy for others when they are blessed: rejoice with those who rejoice.  I must not become hyper-sensitive to the boasting of others even as I strive to curtail my own boasting.  I must not criticize the boasting of others, for that only means that I am envious.  But I must be very careful not to boast, myself, and be aware of when my proclamations of joy may be problematic for someone else.  May the Lord help us.

Let us love one another.

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