In his first letter to the church in Corinth the Apostle Paul wrote in chapter thirteen about love. It is a passage that is often read during wedding ceremonies, and, to me, has become so over quoted as to have lost some of it meaning. The passage reads:
“1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
“8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
“13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I once heard a pastor teach on this passage, and it gave me a new perspective of the writing. He said that, starting with verse four, substitute your name for the word “love” and see if you measure up to what Paul was writing about. For me the paragraph would read: Joe is patient, Joe is kind. Joe does not envy, Joe does not boast, Joe is not proud. Joe does not dishonor others, Joe is not self-seeking, Joe is not easily angered, Joe keeps no record of wrongs. Joe does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Joe always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I don’t know about other, but that is not me. I am not always patient or kind. I am not without envy or boastfulness. I am not without pride (some times way to much of that). I have done dishonorable things and have been self-seeking and self-serving. I do get easily angered, and I have kept a record of the wrongs that people have done to me. I’ve not always rejoiced in the truth, but have twisted the truth to protect myself. I have not always been protective, trusting, hopeful or persevering.
Love is a difficult thing, and at times fragile. It can be betrayed and destroyed by many things: infidelity, drugs, alcohol, gambling, theft, abuse, the list is endless. And when it is betrayed it leaves the injured with a vacuum, a hole in their heart and psyche. They feel as though they can no longer trust anyone or anything. It matters not if the betrayal is from a parent, a spouse, or a child. It is the fact that someone you loved and trusted betrayed that trust and destroyed the relationship you had with them.
Sometimes the damage is so deep and intense that the only course of action is to move on, to start anew. Sometimes the relationship can be repaired, but that takes time and forgiveness. I recently watched Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman. The movie was both funny and dramatically intense. To quickly summarize the story, the heroine of the story, Helen, has the “perfect” life with her hugely successful lawyer husband Charles. Early in the movie Charles pays someone to pack Helen’s things and load them in a U-Haul. When Helen returns home she finds all her clothes packed and replaced with other clothes. The new clothing belongs to Charles mistress, and he drags Helen out of the house, throwing her out.
Left where nowhere to go she arrives at her grandmother’s, Madea. After explaining the situation to Madea, Helen and Madea pay Charles’ house a visit. In the name of “fairness” Madea decides to “divide” the property in the house with a chain saw. As the story progresses we learn that Charles’ success was built on helping drug dealers get out of their legal troubles. When he fails to get a drug dealer who shot a cop off, the dealer shoots Charles and paralyses him.
During the course of the movie Helen meets and becomes involved with another man. However, when Charles is shot, his mistress, friends and all that have known him abandon him, leaving only Helen to take care of him. At first she pays back his cruelty with a vengeance. It is only after her mother, Myrtle (played beautifully by Cicely Tyson), tells her: Myrtle: You know I know this man put a hurtin’ on you baby, but you’ve got to forgive him. No matter what he done, you’ve got to forgive him – not for him, but for you.
Helen: Forgive him for me?
Myrtle: When some body hurts you they take power over you, if you don’t forgive them then they keeps the power. Forgive him baby and after you forgive him, forgive yourself.
Helen does forgive Charles, but still divorces him and moves on with her life.
Having been on both sides of the betrayal equation, I know how hard it is to forgive and be forgiven. It is not easy to ask someone you have hurt to forgive you. What if they say, “No”? Then the problem is not yours, it is theirs. You have done your part to seek forgiveness, closure and reconciliation. It is even harder to forgive someone who has wronged you. Deep within all of us there is a dark place that wants to continue to hold on to that grievance. To keep our hands tightly wrapped on our anger towards the other. To make them pay for what they did. But as Myrtle said, “When some body hurts you they take power over you, if you don’t forgive them then they keeps the power.”
I don’t know about others, but I do not want, and will not allow any human to have that kind of power over me. I have learned the hard way that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And that is where Paul’s words come back into play. Love “keeps no record of wrongs” and to be able to love yourself, and love others we must forgive those that have hurt us, no matter how deep that hurt is.