By Norris Burkes Feb 12, 2023
Like a lot of folks, Valentine’s Day isn’t my favorite holiday. As it approaches, I’m still debating how much do I do and how many roses should I buy for 43 years of marriage.
However, my job as a hospice chaplain has taught me that expressing love toward my family and friends is the most important thing any of us can do.
This is my last month to work as a hospice chaplain before I return to pastoring. But during these hospice days, I was privileged to introduce myself to hundreds of patients and their family members. Most of them greeted me with the friendly respect they would afford their own pastor or faith leader.
However, some received me with skepticism as they assumed I had come to convert them before keeping their appointment with their maker.
I usually managed to push aside that impression with a reassuring smile. “No worries. I’m not here to convert you, baptize you or change your mind about religion. Let’s just talk about what’s going on with you.”
With that disarming introduction, they’d often invite me to pull up a chair so we could sort out the things that had suddenly become important.
That’s when some would recite what I call their “woulda-coulda-shoulda” list. They’d say they woulda taken better care of their health; they coulda taken more vacations; they shoulda been a better parent or spouse.
But the biggest “should” they imposed upon their stories is the notion that they should have shown more love for people – and in turn received more love.
The love they regretted missing was the kind of love found in 1 Corinthians 13.
From beginning to end, the Bible is a book about love by an author who is love. But this one chapter has become famous as the “Love Chapter.” Even if you don’t read the Bible, you’ll recognize the popular chapter from the wedding ceremony.
I’ve read this chapter to many of my patients, but a few years ago I was visiting a friend who was dying of brain cancer, and he inspired me to write my own version of the Love Chapter.
While I’m not nearly as poetic as the Apostle Paul, I trust you’ll find my version meaningful.
“Even if I become as persuasive as Martin Luther King Jr.,
If I’m as eloquent as John Fitzgerald Kennedy,
Even if I sing opera like Charlotte Church,
If I give the riches of Bill Gates to cure the diseases of the world,
Even if I use the brilliance of Stephen Hawking to fathom the secrets of the universe,
Nothing much matters if I don’t have love.”
When I think back on my hospice visits, I often imagine a scenario when the dying people grab my collar and pull me close. “Listen,” they say in a gravelly voice, “Tell everyone you know, if you don’t have love, none of it matters. It’s all trash.
“Do you hear me? If you don’t have love, all your efforts to be your best, gain the most and own it all are garbage. Your arguments are futile. Your life counts for rubbish. Your wisdom is nonsense. Your words are just a pile of stinking manure if you don’t have love.”
I’m sure if they could have, they’d paraphrase Paul’s teaching and tell you that “Love is persistent and persevering. It doesn’t advertise itself or race to be first in line. It takes no pleasure in the misfortune of others but sees the real fortune in honest truths. In the end, the earthly shell I occupy will crumble into dust and ashes.”
1 Corinthians 13 is the clearest Valentine’s Day message anyone could give and Paul summarizes it best in the last verse, “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (The Message Translation).
Those words should say Happy Valentine’s Day to anyone you love. But flowers will help too.
Please send some love to the children of Honduras to help Chispa Project start libraries in their elementary schools. www.chispaproject.org/love Or make checks out to “Chispa Project and send to 10556 Combie Rd Suite 6643 Auburn CA 95602
Email Norris at [email protected] or visit his website thechaplain.net to read past columns or purchase his books.