In the book of 1 Corinthians Paul graciously sheds light on what genuine love is and isn't so we can measure our experiences.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres."What I'm walking through 'out there' isn't love. It talks like love but it walks like 'not love.' To an untrained eye it looks ideal. But it's a sham, a whitewash.
No, what I'm experiencing is not love. In my attempts to improve the situation I find myself pulled into the vortex of deceit and manipulation. I am deceived and a deceiver. I am manipulated and a manipulator. I feel myself staggering, the ground under me shifts.
The disorientation confuses me. I find myself assimilating. My own ugliness grows while the good recedes. The genuine battles the counterfeit. Up is down, wrong is right, what is happening?
Suddenly I recognize the trap. In near panic I search for an exit. The only way of escape I can find is to avoid the people who plot and scheme, who lie to me, who use me, who bite and devour each other, the greedy, self-seeking, deceitful, proud, rude, and angry ones who keep records of wrong.
Can this be the answer? To avoid? To give up? To run away in order to save myself? Can I help others when I myself am critically wounded?
Is it a matter of preserving myself and my integrity now in order to live to fight another day? Another year? Does perseverance mean I intend to return after my wounds are attended or must I stay in the grueling conflict until I am crushed?
Here in the shelter of my family of six - my husband and children - there is unmistakable, recognizable love. I am given space to be confused and work it out, to brood until peace is found, to love with too much enthusiasm and not enough, to be honest. I stumble, I fall, they help me up. This is love. This I understand. My senses recognize this genuine love as the real deal. This - my home - is not the 'out there' that plagues me. This is my sanctuary.
Just now the morning light awakens me before the star itself rises. A new day, freedom to straighten myself out or at least the opportunity to try, to begin. Here in the safety of my immediate family I can rest and ponder, struggle and relax, come to conclusions - or not - and know that I am safe.
They give me strength to continue on in the 'out there', they have faith that I will prevail over my sins, they give me hope that what is at the end of this immense pain is worth it.
"And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."Genuine love.