Asking for a friend: Does 1 Corinthians 13 come with a mercy clause?
I know that we’re called to be patient and loving with our children. I know this. But somewhere deep inside me, I want to believe there comes a point when God says, “Oh no they didn’t. They’ve crossed the line. You officially have my blessing to lose it.” Like when those eyes roll. Or that mouth runs. Or they eat crackers on the couch.
Not only do I want a parenting provision that says, “It is reasonable to expect a mother to be patient up until a certain point,” but I also want bonus points for when I exceed said limit with gushing love and kindness. I want extra crowns in heaven engraved with the words, “They talked back, and she kepteth her cool.” If not a crown, then surely a scepter. Gold plated and diamond encrusted.
I was looking forward to my reward on one particular night of angst and patience—a certain child’s angst, my incredible patience. This child was melting down in a sea of frustration and insecurity, and I was oh-so-calm. I encouraged. I spoke softly. I prayed for this child. As this child’s storm was raging, it’s like I stepped out of my body and stared down at my cool, collected self with awe and wonder.
“You are amazing!” I told myself. “Look at you with the even tone! The sympathetic gaze! The soothing words!” I patted myself on the back and said, “Good for you, girl. You’re putting into practice all those things you’re learning from writing that Crazy Train book. No wonder they picked you to help write it—you are the epitome of stability and sanity.”
I was literally mid-compliment when this child crossed the line, some imaginary threshold of acceptability, and before I knew it, I was catapulted from a zero to a ten emotionally. It was on. Surely God wouldn’t mind? Surely He would understand my need to call off the niceness and instruct said child to go dig their own grave? Surely I can agree with Meatloaf and say, “I will do anything for love, but I just won’t do that”, meaning, endure with patience one more minute of foolishness? (What in the world is Meatloaf talking about, anyway? That question remains an unsolved mystery of my childhood.)
When tempers eventually died down and I took the walk of shame to go apologize for my tantrum, my apology started something like this: “I was so patient with you. I mean, I tried really, really hard. For a really long time. Successfully! Did you see me? Did you notice my kind words and gentle, inside voice?” What I was basically saying is, “I did my part, and how did you reward me? With sass. That ain’t cool. I deserved better, compadre. No wonder I lost it.” The beginnings of a super humble apology, right?
Many years ago, a wise counselor told my husband and me, “Be careful. The degree to which you feel you are sacrificing can be the degree to which you feel entitled.” That was me, for sure. “Look how I sacrificed my time for you! Look how well I held it together while you were so irrational! I deserved for you to cooperate, and then thank me for my display of super motherhood. How dare you not.”
Do you see this deserving mentality in yourself? Think carefully; it may not be obvious at first. A deserving spirit can be passively subtle; it can creep up without you even realizing it.
“I put the kids to bed this many nights in a row, so he’d better make it up to me.”
“I went out of my way to be thoughtful. Why didn’t she act more grateful?”
“I’ve set aside my career and interests for so many years to raise these kids. Don’t they know what I’ve sacrificed for them? How dare they not respect me!”
Unfortunately, the command to love does not come with disclaimers of, “Love only up to this point. Love only when you’re shown love in return. Love only if people will appreciate it. Love only to the degree that you receive love. Love big, and then demand that others return that love in equal measure.” In fact, if 1 Corinthians 13 did come with a footnote, it would say, “Love extravagantly. Love abundantly. Love with no promise of love in return. Step towards others in love even as they step away from you. Look that child straight in their defiant eyes and say, “I am still for you. I’m not going anywhere, no matter what you say or how you say it.” Love out of an unending supply straight from your Father’s heart. When confronted with nastiness, turn up the nozzle and shower that person with love all the more.”
I saw a beautiful display of this kind of love on Twitter, of all places. (Praise God for people who redeem the foolishness that can exist in Twitter feeds.) A New Jersey constituent tweeted this less-than-kind message to Senator Cory Booker:
“You really are a complete embarrassment to the New Jersey working class.”
Senator Booker responded with this: “And you are a complete human and I see your dignity and worth. May we both continue to grow better and kinder.”
I don’t know Senator Booker personally, and I don’t even know much about his political views, but his response held an aroma of grace. He could have demanded respect, he could have returned the insult volley, but instead He stepped towards opposition in love, calling out the beauty of an individual made in God’s image, rather than react in anger to being personally attacked. I think that’s beautiful.
Love doesn’t run out. There is no timer that says love this much, and then no one really expects you to keep loving after the limit is reached. After you’re tested one too many times. After love hasn’t been returned. After one too many disrespectful responses.
“Dear friends, as I have loved you, so you must one another” (John 13:34). How has He loved us? Sacrificially. Without the disclaimer of, “Only until you push my buttons one too many times.” Without demands and conditions.
I’m sorry I can’t give you an out today. I wish I could. What I can do, though, is encourage you to love harder, by His grace. Love deeper. Love bigger, because He first loved us. And when you fail to love, fall on grace and receive His love once again, the kind of love that gives you the courage to get up and walk towards relationship again.