I am awake after a night of fitful sleep, haunted by the things I cannot control. The scenarios in my dreams are fictional and strange, but they conjure up feelings true and familiar. Too much weight on too-weak shoulders. Not enough time and insufficient trying.
Managing the chaos has become my habit; numbing the need is my survival mode of choice. There are days I’m convinced I’m succeeding, but not today. Today even the untrained eye could recognize the ruse.
On any given day I look to a short list of usual suspects for my identity. My phone and my laptop, my calendar and my lists — these false friends prey on my weakness while I blindly reach to them for strength. They never fail to fail me.
Today is different. Today I leave those false friends where they lie and resign myself to a breaking that is long overdue.
This moment has been coming and I’ve known it. It is no secret that I’ve been barely hanging on. But fighting to keep your grip is what you do when you feel like you’re falling, no matter if you’re falling down or falling short — especially if you’re both.
It is time now and I’m ready, even relieved.
I take my worn Bible off the hotel desk and place it on the coffee table. I open the balcony door to let the salt air rush in, standing still for a long moment inside the sound of the waves. Raechel always tells me to travel with a tin candle and this is the first time I’ve listened, so I find the red book of matches and light the wick. I sit on the floor, take a deep breath, and open the thin crackling pages.
I turn to an old favorite, 1 Corinthians 13. I must have read it one hundred times before.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (vv. 1-3 ESV)
Yes, yes. Love is the thing. Love conquers all, love casts out fear, love wins and all that. But if all I need is love, why am I so desperate for lesser things?
I want the language of angels — the right words for my lips and my pen, the right actions to hold them up and follow them through. I long to understand these mysteries, to have knowledge and faith — oh, how I need faith! I desire the selflessness that gives without keeping a record of cost — to rid myself of this self-absorption that shocks me with its demands and threatens to hurt the people I love.
If I muster up love, can’t I have these others too? I wish the apostle Paul were here so I could ask him. Instead, I read on from verse 4:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (vv. 4-7 ESV)
Yes! Again, yes. This love is the goal. This is the love that is of Christ. It’s the kind of love proclaimed from the pulpit of elaborate weddings, the kind we sing songs about as children. This is the love that turns all the clanging noise into an effortless symphony. Surely I can remember it this time around. Surely I can get it right if I try hard enough.
With another deep breath, I look down at verse 8:
Love never ends.
I pause, shifting uncomfortably where I sit, legs crossed under the glass tabletop. They look like triangle appliques on the geometric lines of the hotel carpet. I study the design for a moment, preparing for what I know is next.
As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (vv.8-10 ESV)
“When the perfect comes, the partial shall pass away.” I read the sentence again slowly. Perfect. Partial. My head and shoulders drop low at the weight of the words. Which one did I wake up today hoping to find? Did I long for one and reach for the other?
The black letters begin to swirl on the page as tears flood into my eyes, and I shut them tight because I know. I know once again what I’ve forgotten ten thousand times over. I know what I need and what I’m really looking for.
It’s Jesus. Even when I don’t know it, I’m looking for Jesus.
I’m opening God’s Word to find the Living Word — the One “who was with God in the beginning,” the Word who “became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:2, 14).
The tears come quickly, and I go ahead and let them, wet eyes focusing in on verse 11:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Cor. 13:11 ESV)
This is the moment when I sense Him lifting up my head and gently redirecting my gaze — up from my need, up from my circumstances, up from my narrow reality — to see them in the fullness of His glory. My loving Father coaxes my eyes up to the story — His story — happening all around me. I have been earnestly focused on a single star, while He patiently gestures to the galaxy.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor. 13:12 ESV)
Oh, how dim is this mirror before me! But God. He is the God who penned redemption’s story, from the beginning of time all the way to the fingertips of eternity’s outstretched hand. He is the God who is not bound by my efforts nor held back by my doubt. He is the God who is Love infinite, Love perfected, Love inextinguishable. He is the greatest of these.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (v. 13 ESV)
His faithfulness is shattering my illusion of self-sufficiency in this moment, busting the myth of my fix-it-faith, and bringing me back to the Truth, the gospel of grace.
The silent tears have now become sobs, but I don’t give a thought to who might hear my cries through the open balcony door. All that matters is that I’ve found Him. Or rather, He has found me.
I came to the Book for knowledge, but here I find that I am fully known.
I came looking for faith, hope, love, but here I encounter Love Himself.
I came shortsighted — looking for the temporary, the partial — but I find myself looking into the beautiful, unmatched face of the Perfect.