It’s about time to take down the Valentine décor on the shelves in the dining room and replace it with symbols of spring and summer yen. I love my Valentine display, not just because I’m a romantic and crazy about the man in my life, but because love is an every-day thing.
For those of you who don’t have a special someone, this blog isn’t about romance.
It isn’t about courtship or marriage.
It’s not about loving our kids.
Nor is it about being special to someone – or finding that someone special.
It’s not about a mission trip to a home of orphans in some foreign country.
So if you’re concerned that you might (again) feel lost and lonely by reading this, I’d venture to say you’ll be okay if you read it to the finish.
Yes, I said love – not live. (But then, changing the way I love does change the way I live)!
Love is not an emotion. It’s a verb. It’s action. And it’s a choice. The 13th chapter of I Corinthians describes the things that love doesn’t do as well as the things it does. Love is not proud or boastful; it is not haughty or selfish. Love believes in, and hopes for, the best.
It bears all things. It endures – all things. Listen to this description from the Philips Translation of verse 4: “This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience; it looks for a way of being constructive.”
Whether a person is single, married, divorced, or widowed, love is a choice. Whether we’re relating to a friend, a spouse, a child, a sibling, an enemy, a boss or a co-worker, love is a choice.
I have to admit, however, that the flush of feeling that comes with loving someone is a quite a bit more enjoyable than the work and conscious effort it takes to do love.
I’ve learned a few lessons, experienced a few trysts with this verb called love. I realize now that I’ll never fully arrive (until I get to Heaven). I know that each lesson prepares me for yet another obstacle in my way. I also have learned that doing my homework right makes it easier to keep from failing the next time a test comes my way. It doesn’t matter where we are in life; each of us faces our own construction zones.
Some of us are easier at demolition than building. Some of us can bulldoze away without thought to the landscape we’re destroying.
In the crumbled rubble of life, love looks for a way to rebuild and restore what has been lost or destroyed.
Our foundation must be Jesus – and building on His principles can make for some glorious rejuvenation along the way. I’ve had my fair share of upheavals – whether by my own undoing or someone else’s. When I’ve paused to look at the debris around me, I’ve always had a choice: to continue to tear down or to re-build.
Love chooses to build. It looks for a way of being constructive.
Nearly forty years ago I was dating a guy who was quite popular with other gals. While I didn’t question his care for me, I struggled with feeling jealous and envious of those other girls who would have liked to date this guy. One day in my feeling inferior misery, I decided to read that chapter in I Corinthians and apply it to those feelings of insecurity and jealousy.
Changing my attitude and doing some work in this area was the only way to handle this, or I was going to be one miserable gal. I started practicing the simple principle of building patience and being constructive.
Amazingly, a friend told me months later how much she admired me for my seeming unselfishness in allowing this guy to be such good friends with other girls. It wasn’t without some pain and work, mind you. I not only needed to not say anything negative to folks, I needed to respond in positive ways to them.
The price of my emotional freedom was worth the effort it took.
That unsolicited compliment told me I had accomplished what I had set out to do: love unselfishly.
Some thirty years ago I found myself rubbing shoulders with a nurse who was difficult to like and even more difficult to work with on an eight-hour shift. I dreaded going to work when I knew Dorothy* would be on my shift.
One never knew what kind of mood she would be in, and jumping through hoops to avoid her moods took our best focus off our patients at times. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to be sucked into discussions by fellow workers whose dislike for this person was even greater than mine. At times, I allowed my emotions to be governed by co-workers, some who professed no faith in Christ.
Sure, I knew better, but it happened so easily and without my noticing the deepness of the swamp.
I allowed myself to get caught in the fray and become part of the I-Don’t-Like Dorothy club. I knew I wasn’t relating to her as Jesus would have liked.
One day I decided it was time to get real about my faith, and I opened my Bible to that 13th chapter in I Corinthians.
“This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience; it looks for a way of being constructive.”
I asked God to help me be slow to lose patience with Dorothy, and to find a way to be constructive.
As it happened, both of us applied for a position that guaranteed a promotion. She got the promotion, so you know who didn’t.
I didn’t mind so much not getting the position because she had ten more years’ experience than I; what bothered me was that now she would not only be a co-worker but my superior as well.
I don’t respond well to dictatorship and knew the days ahead could be difficult.
It’s one thing to say nothing negative; it’s something completely different to look for, and find a way, to be constructive.
But that evening, I felt a nudge from God that I could not ignore. My spirit knew I needed to call Dorothy, congratulate her and offer her my support.
I tried to find excuses: I’d tell her next time I saw her at work; I’d write her a note and give it to her later. I kept feeling that prod from God banging away at my conscience. After all, hadn’t I asked Him to help me find a way to be constructive?!
Sometimes doing business with God reminds me of Jacob wrestling with an angel.
Driving home from town later that evening, I wrestled – verbally – with God. I had my reasons not to call her and I thought they were pretty good ones. I told Him so – gave Him every last reason I had. He would not leave me alone.
I could still take you to the curve in the road where I finally said Yes to Him if I could find her phone number and if she answered the phone when I got home. It is not surprising that I found the number, and the phone only rang twice before she answered.
The building of a relationship began when I congratulated her and offered her my support. I’m sure she was as shocked as I was.
You can’t imagine my surprise the next evening at Kroger, standing there in front of the meat department (I could take you to that spot, too) when a co-worker sidled up to me. For certain, I didn’t tell anyone about that phone call, but she apparently did.
“That was a hell of a gesture you did calling Dorothy last evening,” she said.
“Oh, it wasn’t a hell of a gesture,” I replied, remember that curve in the road when I finally gave in to God. “That was from Heaven alone.” (And yes, it made all the difference in the world.)
Did my emotions change drastically? No.
She still had that abrasive personality, and others were still frustrated by her attitude. I had to stay away when the I-Don’t-Like-Dorothy club met.
I had to keep looking for ways to be constructive.
Yet because I looked, I found those ways in ordinary situations at work. We never became close friends, but the wall had come down, and a new building took shape in its place.
The kids came home from school with tales about his remarks and the way he disciplined for misbehavior in his class. His birthday was coming up, and would you believe he told his class that he expected them all to bring him some cookies for his birthday?!
We made the cookies – two different kinds, to be exact. Mind you, my kids weren’t in favor of this idea. Had it been left to a vote, I would have been outnumbered, hands down.
What my cubs didn’t know was that this mama bear was also frustrated. She didn’t like anybody upsetting her cubs and would have as soon told that teacher so as to bless him with baked goodies. This mama bear also knew that there was a better way to deal with her frustration.
So we made the cookies, not so much for him as for this bear and her cubs.
The morning of his birthday, I sensed a little excitement in our den as we packaged the cookies along with a birthday card. No, they didn’t want to write a birthday card either. They didn’t think it was necessary.
But I knew it was necessary – not so much for him as for us. The card needed to not only wish him a Happy Birthday, but it had to tell him thank you for being their teacher.
I can’t tell you exactly what happened that day in school because I wasn’t there, but my cubs came home excited — and all of our attitudes were better. After that, he didn’t seem as gruff as before.
Maybe they discovered that, underneath that rough exterior, there was a heart that did care for kids. Or maybe they sensed that his gruffness was a cover-up for loneliness.
Was it he who changed, or did we?
I don’t remember what Dave had done, but I was hurt and angry. Humanly speaking, I probably had every right to have those feelings.
Those emotions sparked a desire to get even, make him pay, or to at least withhold my warmth and admiration. As the morning wore on, I knew I had to do something with those emotions because they were wrong. I remembered those words:—“love looks for a way of being constructive.”
Are you kidding? I thought. Why would I want to do that?!
Yet our marriage was not just about me and my pain. It was about us and about our commitment to this marriage.
Looking for a way of being constructive isn’t hard when life is good.
But I figured those words were written especially for the difficult times. So I looked for (and found) a way, that day. All I planned to do was complete a task. Yet doing so changed my heart.
When Dave started his own construction business twenty years ago, we had trouble keeping track of jobs and messages for him. I’d try to remember to give him messages and promptly forget – not a good thing when you’re trying to build a business!
Or I’d grab a piece of paper to jot down the message when someone called, then one of the kids would get their hands on it, and the paper became history.
So I started a spiral notebook for business communications. Every few years I have to update the notebook and begin a new one. For some time, Dave had been asking me to redo the notebook because it was full. So, since I couldn’t concentrate on anything difficult (because I was mad at him!), I decided to update the phone book.
For several hours, I thumbed through the Solid Rock Construction notebook, making changes on my computer and crossing out names of clients who were no longer living. I added names of customers he’d recently acquired – over 100 names in all.
I remembered the customers and smiled as I read verbatim notes penned to my husband:
- “I have this problem, and I knew just who to call.”
- “I don’t know what we would do without Dave. Tell him thank you for coming when he did.”
- “My neighbor told me to call Mr. Slabach; she said he can fix anything;”
- and the best one from an 80-ish widow lady: “I tell you, if he wasn’t married, I’d be trying to nab him; he’s such a wonderful person, you can be glad you got him first!”
At first, my reaction to those words was a “humph” because I was still smarting. Yet as I continued paging through the notebook, I realized again how blessed I am to be married to a man whose business is conducted with integrity.
This man, my husband, is a gentleman and an honest businessman, and the work he does is stellar. There is no shame in bearing his name!
By the time I was done with the phone book, the anger in my heart was gone.
In its place was a fire, burning with admiration and passion.
Oh yes, I still had reason to be angry; but the balance of the scale was in his favor. Rather than focusing on his faults, I found release in savoring his strengths.
I found that being slow to lose patience, looking for a way of being constructive, and then doing it is one powerful way to show commitment!
When Dave came home that evening, he found, instead of a wife who refused to cuddle, a woman who wanted to renew her commitment by being his lover.
It’s true that sometimes I forget why I married Dave, and he wonders why he married me. In those times, there are not an over-abundance of warm, fuzzy feelings on either side. In those
In those times, there are not an over-abundance of warm, fuzzy feelings on either side. In those times, we don’t even like each other very much. I think we’re pretty normal, and looking for ways to be constructive because we’re committed has been the key in our relationship.
I also think that if more couples admitted that marriage is work, there would be more hope for others who are struggling.
It’s also true that in families and among co-workers, we will continue to face struggles in relationships. Some people are easier to like than others. We vary with those we mesh or clash with, depending on our personalities and strengths and weaknesses. I think it’s okay to be fonder of some people than others. It’s not okay to refuse to work on relationships and try to make things better between those with whom we rub shoulders.
Some people are easier to like than others. We vary with those we mesh or clash with, depending on our personalities and strengths and weaknesses.
I think it’s okay to be fonder of some people than others. It’s not okay to refuse to work on relationships and try to make things better between those with whom we rub shoulders.
I keep meeting Dorothys along my way – and the struggle is always there. Sometimes I’ve done well and other times I’ve allowed myself (again) to join the I-Don’t-Like-Dorothy club.
Each time, I’ve had to follow the blueprint and find ways to be constructive.
If you’re like me, then you need more than an unreachable goal when it comes to relationships that are sour.
When all that we’ve worked for and achieved seems to have crumbled, we need more than lofty theology and idealism.
When we’re down in the muck and mire, trying to find broken pieces to put together again, we need more than just grandiose schemes for living as we rise up out of our huddle.
We need more than a “be ye warmed and fed” approach. We need a way to live where we can feel the shoe leather gripping our feet and know we are making a difference because of our response.
I have to look for the hurt behind the armor, the pain behind the mask, the anger behind the aloofness. Then I need to figure out what I can do to be positive and constructive even when I’d rather spit nails.
When I am wounded, lonely, or feeling betrayed, I certainly don’t want to look for a way of being constructive.
I have to find ways to bless those who are unloving to me; I need to find the positive and affirm it.
Sometimes it means taking someone a loaf of freshly baked bread or fixing a meal even when I think I don’t have time to do it. Sometimes it’s a hand-written note or an email to give congratulations for a job well done or a specific achievement. It’s not enough to merely be silently idle or not be negative.
It’s not enough to think, “At least I didn’t say anything negative!” That’s just standing still.
Love is action.
It takes that step. It looks for – and finds a way – to be constructive. Looking for a way to be constructive (and then doing it) is one of the best ways I’ve found to practice -and do – love.
I know I’ll never have it all together this side of Heaven.
I win some, and I lose some. Hopefully, I’m winning more than I’m losing these days. While I’m not keeping score, it does help to look back and remember the times I’ve done it right – as well as the feeling of freedom and release when I’ve found ways to do love.
The more I practice looking for ways to be constructive, the easier it is to find them.
The blueprint is there.
All I have to do is read it, then get down in the trenches, and follow the plan.
* No, “Dorothy” isn’t her real name.