February 6, 2018

Living 1 Corinthians 13

It’s easier said than done.

Marybeth Mitcham

Not long ago I was rather peeved with my husband, irritated to the point of giving him the silent treatment as a result of a petty squabble. I felt so justified in my self-appointed superiority that I treated him with less dignity and affirmation that I would’ve granted a complete stranger.

This sense of faux supremacy came crashing down on me while in the middle of a hike. We had embarked on a 19-mile hike that would allow us, through an elevation gain of more than 5,500 feet, to reach the summit of three mountains. Self-assured in my independence, I gasped and wheezed my way through the first 13 miles of the hike, successfully summiting two of the three mountains. Although exhausted, I smugly approached the trail to the summit of the third mountain, stopping abruptly when I realized that in order to reach this peak, I would have to ascend sheer cliffs.

I love rock scrambling, and although I’m a bit ungainly, I’m actually rather good at scurrying over open-faced rock. These cliffs, though, lacked easily reached hand- and footholds, and were positioned in such a way that a height-challenged individual like myself could not possibly gain enough purchase even to start the climb, never mind finish it.

At that point I froze.

How was I supposed to finish this climb, especially when I could not see how I could complete any of the next 100-foot sections of near-vertical rock?

Being stubborn, and refusing to acknowledge that I needed help, I tried for more than 10 minutes to get up and over the first section.

I was an utter failure. I was simply too short. Finally I begrudgingly took my husband up on his multiple offers to help me, allowing him to hoist me up and over the first section of cliffs.

Once on the narrow shelf of rock, I looked up to absorb the next stages of the climb. At that point I completely lost it. As I sobbed and gasped for breath in a panic-stricken state, my husband gently took my face in his calloused hands, brought it close to his, and reminded me that I would be OK. He had promised to always take care of me, to never leave me, and he wasn’t about to break that promise.

His persistent love broke through my self-imposed hysteria. I was able to complete the rest of the hike (cliff section included!), assisted by his strong body and patient care.

Wedding Memories

As we completed the hike, God challenged me about my recently flawed treatment of my husband. During our wedding ceremony a dear friend had read 1 Corinthians 13. In that chapter Paul lists the characteristics of love

In shame I remembered not only how my husband exhibited love toward me during the hike, but how he has regularly lived out the biblical description of love since our wedding.

Love is patient: My husband not only took time to patiently wait for me to catch up with him during the hike, but has been patient throughout our marriage, allowing me the grace to grow and mature, knowing that God would do His work in me in His time.

Love is kind: Despite my meltdown and nastiness, my husband responded in kindness, personifying Christ’s kind love toward me. Throughout our marriage he has chosen to respond kindly to my self-satisfied comments and smug assurances of correctness. Rather than respond in kind, he acted as Christ would, in love.

Love does not envy: Rather than be upset or feel compromised over my successes of navigating the cliffs, he gave me credit for completing that challenging section of trail, not taking any credit for assisting me. Throughout our marriage he has always encouraged me to pursue my God-given gifts and passions, never begrudging me any praise or honor when it comes my way, but instead standing quietly by my side, celebrating my success.

Love does not boast: Instead of bragging about his strength and ability, he gave God glory for any good thing he was able to do.

My husband has accomplished many exceptional feats throughout his life. He was a starting lineman for a Division I college football team. He was an award-winning team leader in an Army infantry unit. He has been honored for his part in the rescue of a state trooper who was overcome by a violent perpetrator.. He does not claim any honor, and shies away from any recognition. Instead, he focuses on serving God with all his heart, mind, and strength, and providing for and serving his family with every fiber of his being.

Love is not self-seeking: My husband not only quietly helped me on the hike, but has worked countless hours of overtime, away from his family during the week, and sleeping at his desk, so that he could provide for us.

Love is not easily angered: My husband and I are both strong-willed individuals. We disagree regularly. But my fuse is much shorter than his. Instead of becoming angry over a slight, he asks God to help him, putting my temper tantrums to shame.

Love keeps no records of wrongs: My husband could have reminded me of how much of a pain I had been prior to the hike. Instead, he chose to speak only love, as he’s done countless times throughout our marriage.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres: Even though we had been engrossed in a fairly unpleasant disagreement, my husband still chose to protect me, knowing that by doing so he was continuing to show me how much he loved me.

Love never fails: When looking into my husband’s eyes during the most terrifying portion of that day’s hike, I was reminded anew that his love—and God’s love, after which my husband’s love is modeled—does not fail.

Everyday Love

Through this shift in perspective, God reminded me that I am to live out 1 Corinthians 13 in my relationship with my husband. I am to put, not grudgingly or resentfully, but instead joyfully, another person’s needs and well-being ahead of my own.

I should do this, not just for my husband, but for everyone with whom I come in contact, since I claim to be a follower of Christ, who was love personified.

I have to remember that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Marybeth Mitcham, an educator in nutrition, healthy living, and food sustainability, is also a freelance writer who lives with her family in the southern Adirondack region of New York.