As I sat in a meeting with a parent recently, I became very uncomfortable. No exaggeration, there was a discomfort in my soul, as I sat and listened to him discuss his child. I did the best that I could to hide how I was feeling, but that type of discomfort is the worst for me, and very hard for me to hide.
For the first 15 minutes, I just thought the guy was a jerk. I shouldn't say that I guess, but that is what I was thinking. He was clearly doing well financially, and was able to let everyone know without talking about it, at least initially. He reminded me of someone who had either come from money, and therefore believed that it was the best measure of one's value. If you had it you were important. If you were unsure about where you stood, then you just need to be the loudest and make yourself appear the biggest, and that would tilt the score in your favor. Or, he had come from nothing, and now had "a lot", and because of that, all of the above things remained true. Either way, he was finding his value and ours in all the wrong places. People, to him, were clearly not the most important thing in the room.
As we started the meeting, he made it clear that he wanted to be in charge, and tried to dictate the direction that the meeting would take. He let everyone around the table know that he didn't trust us, and, again without saying it explicitly, he also let us know that he was better than everyone in the room.
This, is how I arrived at my jerk conclusion. It's possible, I suppose, that I am wrong.
But there are many jerks to encounter day to day or as we move throughout our professional and personal lives. I'm certain that in given situations, with different people, that I've played the role of jerk, depending on an individual's perspective, though I hope it wasn't to this extent.
So dealing with a jerk is not uncommon and certainly not unbearable.
As the conversation continued, I realized that being a jerk was the least of his problems. Based on his description of his child, his explanation about how he had approached their challenges at home, and the way he spoke to us as people who were trying to invest in the success of his child, it became evident that there was a bigger problem. One that, regardless of the collection of degrees in the room, the mountains of experience, or the commitment that we were willing to make, we could not fix.
In his home and in her life, there was a scarcity of love.
This realization was what put my soul in knots. He thought that buying her things and spending more money would close that gap. He thought telling everyone (including himself) that his financial commitment was synonymous with a commitment of the heart would make it so.
But you could feel it. Love may not have been absent, but it was certainly scarce. In high demand but in short supply. My heart was both sad and angry. I had nothing more to say to the man, other than what was demanded of me and my position.
And the following scripture jumped to my mind. I'm ill qualified to quote and interpret scripture beyond my meager understanding and perspective. So please read the remainder of this post with that in mind. Regardless of my lack of qualification, I feel incredibly strong about the message below. That, I think, speaks either very powerfully about the strength of my conviction, or makes me a fool for speaking so definitively on such a topic. I'll let you decide.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angles, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but I have not love, I gain nothing.
This is a verse I've heard many, many times, and skimmed right over it.
"Yeah, yeah, everyone knows it's important to love."
But a closer examination for me, shows me that it's more than that.
No matter what you do, or what gifts you have or think you have. No matter how impressive your resume. Without love, it's meaningless.
Usually, we read the verse that follows. We read it at weddings, and we get misty eyed, and we think back to our wedding day when the verse was read, and we think about love and we get all warm and fuzzy inside. I don't really think love is warm and fuzzy. Not most of the time. And these two verses tell us that. At least they tell me that.
So, I hear this:
No matter what you do, who you are, who you think you are, or what gifts you have, if you don't have love and do those things in love, it's meaningless.
What does that look and feel like? REALLY. So I should do all these things in love, and what is love?
1 Corinthians 13:4
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 account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Remember that next time you look at your child, or your spouse, or your students, and say,
"I love you"