Fifteen Words

This scratchy back-to-school path I’m traveling finds me in between.

In between semesters. In between thoughts.

I keep thinking about an assignment from a class I just finished. I had to outline the New Testament book of 1st Corinthians paragraph by paragraph. Each summary statement could be no more than fifteen words — which you’d think makes it easier, but no. Harder.

One night, after reading one particularly well-known paragraph, I kinda snort-chuckled. You know, a mix of bewildering laugh and a disdaining nasal sound. I wasn’t snort-chuckling in regards to the scripture, but how in the world I was supposed to sum it up in less than fifteen words!

So, I read it aloud to my fifth grader. Naturally.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1st Cor 13:4-7, NRSV)

To her credit, Rivers did not snort-chuckle. She looked at me kind of wide-eyed, That is so hard to do! I agreed, I know! I can’t really do it!

This assignment really affected me in a subtle, yet meaningful, way. We could not give opinions about the scriptures. We could not go at it with a devotional mindset. The objective was to approach the scriptures from a critical approach: what was Paul’s message to his original audience?


Fifteen words or less? I had to really dig deep. Honestly, it took me a while…

Love is supremely unselfish, always seeks to build up others and never gives out.

(I know you just counted)

I could almost snort-chuckle now, but instead I do the slow sigh.

See, I find it much easier to live self-absorbed, tear others down (at least mentally) and quit (at least internally). I might keep going through the motions, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t walked away from the heart of the thing.

I’m captivated with this God-love. In a way that makes me stop to look at it, stare as though it’s a car crash on the side of the highway. Being a nurse, I want to know (in a disturbing way) if there are injuries. I might wonder do I need to stop. I want to deconstruct what I see.  Dissect what is happening.

And that’s it.

God’s Love. Deconstructed. I want to know what I’m looking at, what it means, what I really need to do.

Sometimes I get a glimpse of the monotony, the habit, the spiritual program.

I feel a wave of vague dissatisfaction. We keep doing what we do, but we don’t really change. We keep saying what we say, but we don’t change. We keep projecting and preaching and telling, and yet, we are the same as last year and ten years before that. The differences we measure are numbers in attendance, square footage of our buildings and maybe the percentage of the congregation tithing.

But what about the loving?

Sometimes it’s easier and much more comfortable to look the other way when we pass a roadside crash. It’s a better trip if we don’t have to look at the mess of it.

I can’t do it. I can’t look away from my own envy, boasting and arrogance. I can’t look away from my irritability, my resentments.

Oddly enough, I don’t feel “guilty.” I feel saddened because I know when I live loveless, I lose joy. But I also know that grace works on a gradient, rushes into a humble heart.

So, I think about my fifteen words. I know in some ways I live with a hard heart. It needs cracking. Crushing. It needs to bleed out pride and lie broken-empty.

Ready for a rush.

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