“Love is patient, love is kind…” These words from chapter 13 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians have become a household phrase, particularly thanks to their popularity at wedding ceremonies. They are part of a comprehensive definition of love set forth by St. Paul – a model for humankind to follow when trying to figure out how to treat one another.
But I have to be honest. More than once, I’ve examined this verse and wondered how often (if ever) I’ve demonstrated this kind of love in my life. When I’m patient, it’s often with an air of exasperation. When I’m kind, it’s often in hopes of recognition or reciprocation. Are there people out there who actually exemplify true patience and kindness in their relationships?
When I asked this question of my friends, two responded with a resounding yes. Even more intriguing than their enthusiasm was the fact that they had both dealt with serious health conditions. It was through these battles that their partners really demonstrated the kind of true love St. Paul seems to be describing in Corinthians.
Battling Bipolar Disorder
Two years ago, “Elizabeth” was diagnosed with Type I Bipolar Disorder with mixed states. As she faced this diagnosis with her spouse, “Dave,” they were frightened about what was to come, but they were also relieved to have found an explanation for the symptoms she’d been experiencing.
As Elizabeth faced each day, she was grateful to have a patient partner by her side who, as St. Paul instructed, “kept no record of wrongs.” She reflects: “Even when I was irritable and said things that were snarky or hurtful, or when I was depressed and said self-loathing things that were sad or even scary, [Dave] stood by me, never taking it personally, always willing to grant forgiveness, and somehow managing to separate the illness speaking from me speaking.”
Elizabeth tells a story of how a weekend Dave had planned with his family was cut short when she realized she’d forgotten her medicine. As she began to experience withdrawal symptoms, Dave turned around and made the three-hour drive back home, disappointed but moreover concerned about his wife’s health and wellbeing. Elizabeth concludes, “Ultimately, I feel, when you have Bipolar Disorder, you need a partner who loves you so much that the unpredictability of your life doesn't faze them or prevent them from demonstrating patience and kindness.”
Beating a Brain Tumor
After “Jill” had been in a relationship with “Adam” for four years, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. As she remembers this time, she shares: “I had to pretend to be strong. Except with [Adam]. I know that he was deathly afraid, and worried. But he never showed it. He was a rock the entire way through.” She describes him as seemingly “emotionless,” but the unmoving strength and conviction that she would heal were exactly what she needed.
Understandably, the brain tumor exhausted Jill, physically and emotionally. She recalls: “I couldn't even remember conversations we had five minutes ago. It was as if I was living in a perpetual 10-minute span of time.” Despite this frustrating situation for both partners, Adam’s patience, strength, and sense of humor empowered her to conquer this enormous hurdle in her life.
Jill’s reflections on her relationship with Adam during her treatments for her brain tumor are characterized by awe at his unconditional love for her. “It was his ability to make me feel entirely free to be me, accepting me no matter what I look like, never telling me what to say or what to do, and being an emotional rock, that made me realize that this is the right person for me.” The two will be married in just a few short months, and surely the trials they’ve faced together have built an unshakeable foundation for their marriage.
Living Out Corinthians
I can’t help but wonder why it is that these two compelling stories of true love come from women who faced serious health crises with their partners by their sides. Maybe I’ve just stumbled upon two truly remarkable men. Maybe it’s true that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But maybe, more than that, health crises renew our sense of purpose in relationships. It’s clear that what both women’s partners gave them was what St. Paul was describing: unconditional love, the kind through which one casts oneself aside in order to serve the other, completely independent of what the other gives in return.
I hate to say it, but perhaps I’ve been waiting around for some impetus to really show this kind of love to my husband. But I don’t want it to take a health crisis to kick me into gear. What would our marriage look like if I actually lived out Corinthians on a daily basis? I’m guessing a lot like how God intended marriage to look – selfless and unconditional love between two people, in sickness and in health.