“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Common English Bible)
The other day I came across a piece written by Earl Nightingale that he titled, How to Be Miserable. He provided remarkable clarity about some of the things I have been wrestling with recently, clarity about self-inflicted misery. Nightingale writes, “The first step to real, professional-type, solid, unremitting misery is to get all wrapped up in yourself and your problems – real or imagined. Become a kind of island, surrounded on every side by yourself. By turning all of your thoughts inward upon yourself, naturally you cannot spend much or any time thinking about others and other things. And so, finally, the outside world – the real world – will disappear into a kind of Hitchcock-type fog.”[i]
Nightingale continues with a stinging observation that the type of person who chooses misery, who turns inward upon himself or herself doesn’t have much in the wisdom department. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t do it. With the absence of wisdom, they turn inward and discover that there is not much there. There is a kind of vacuum, and they have to embellish perceived, or real, hurts and slights from others or invent things entirely. Negative – and harmful – behavior is then directed outward toward those who have caused them harm. This behavior may simply be for punishment, to cause pain equal to what they are experiencing, or to manipulate others to meet some relational expectation.
Where Nightingale provides an unpleasant portrait of a miserable person, the apostle Paul provides divine knowledge – or wisdom – for fleeing from misery: love others, particularly when that love is difficult. Paul beautifully expresses the very nature of love by its positive attributes – “love is patient, love is kind.” Paul provides additional wisdom by sharing what love isn’t and doesn’t do – “it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.” What Paul provides is a different portrait from Nightingale, a portrait of a person who actively participates in the unity and well being of relationships with another.
It is widely embraced that the Christian faith is less to do with right beliefs and more to do with right behavior. A person may have a grasp of the Holy Scriptures that is unparalleled, able to articulate a particular theological position with uncommon clarity and yet remain untouched by God’s transforming power – the transformation that deepens love for God and love for others. Such a faith is a lazy faith because it requires no effort. Love requires effort. Love demands that we struggle against an impulse to turn inward and compile a record of complaints against another. Such love “puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” It is a love that knows no misery.
[i]Earl Nightingale, “How to Be Miserable,” Your Success Starts Here: Purpose and Personal Initiative (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 104.