Most of us are familiar with the phrase “Love never fails.”1 It’s illustrated in children’s devotionals. It’s woven into songs, stories, and poems. I can’t remember a time when this scripture wasn’t familiar to me.
In my younger years, I took it to mean that love was always strong enough to get what it wanted. “Love” held the trump card and could somehow get its way. I guess I had a somewhat manipulative idea of love. I thought it could outsmart, convince, reason and persuade to encourage whatever results were necessary.
Looking back, I can see that I applied this meaning of “love” generously in my friendships. I thought, “Love never fails. It pushes till it gets the necessary results.” I thought that love had license to manipulate, because my “love” for my friends was only after good results.
As you can imagine, this didn’t always make me a good or sought-after friend. I tried, I really did, but somehow, I often fell short. I did great with people who weren’t in my life for very long. And the fact that my family’s lifestyle was one of constant travel worked well for me. Even though I had many short-term close friendships, I didn’t often have to work through a lot of issues with my friends, since we were only around each other for a limited time.
When I hit my early twenties, I settled down a bit and stayed for several years in one place. That’s when I had some of my first experiences with the ups and downs of close friendships. Sometimes things were fine, and I was in sync with my friends. Other times, things didn’t flow so well. One of us would hit a rough patch, do something that hurt the other, develop an interest in a hobby that didn’t include the other, or pursue a friendship that wasn’t inclusive.
When that happened, I always tried to figure out how to get things back to the way they were. I didn’t always look at what my friend needed or wanted. I just thought about how I felt things should be.
This caused me to hit a wall with my very closest friend. Over a period of time, she and I fell so out of sync it was hard for me to believe that we used to spend our free time climbing hills together, frequenting our favorite coffee shops, and talking for hours to each other. I missed her and I wanted things to go back to how they were!
Week after week of us not syncing or understanding each other got to be more than I could bear, and I finally took some time to pray about it. The verse God brought to mind was “love never fails.” I was more desperate than usual and felt that I needed something deeper. Then it dawned on me: love never fails to love. Love isn’t after any set outcome. It just keeps on loving!
This was the key to unlocking what the preceding verses in 1 Corinthians 13 were talking about. Love “bears all things” (it’s okay if you’re upset at me); “believes all things” (I know you are an amazing person); “hopes all things” (I know we’ll always be friends); “endures all things” (I can wait until you feel like being friends again). Love never fails to love.
When I looked at my friend from that perspective, I didn’t feel an urgency to try to “fix” anything. I realized that I loved and respected her enough to just be patient, to keep on loving her, and wait until she felt ready to reinstate our friendship. Sure enough, things got better quickly.
I’ll freely admit that even now, more than a decade later, I still have a whole lot to learn about love. The Bible tells us that “God is love.”2 That right there pretty much makes it clear that we will never fully grasp love or ever have enough love ourselves. But it also highlights why love is so powerful, so worth striving for. When we love, we partake of God’s essence.
Love has many different faces. It might be taking your mom shopping, refraining from making a snarky quip to your friend, donating something you like but don’t have any use for, and on and on the list goes.
In trying to determine whether or not I’m truly doing something out of love, I’ve learned that my true colors show if I simply ask myself, What are my motives? If I’m seeking a specific outcome that’s advantageous to me, or if I’m pushing for a predetermined result, I can usually deduce that I have some sort of an ulterior motive.
Once I’m sure that I’ve purged my selfish motives and eliminated my excuses and “good reasons” for them, I only have one choice left to make: the choice to just keep on loving. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but I’ve found that it’s just a matter of making one little loving choice after another. When I try my best to do that, I find God takes care of the rest.