My uncle did.
Last month at my aunt’s funeral, friends and family were given an opportunity to share a memory or give a brief tribute. My mind instantly went to the prophet Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Of course, Aunt Miriam was nothing like the picture I had in my head of Elijah. She was a quiet, unassuming woman, certainly not one to call down fire on anyone! Still, I loved Elisha’s request, and I wanted a double portion of Aunt Miriam’s spirit.
Miriam Johnson was one of those rare individuals whose entire life exemplified First Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter of the Bible.
“Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (I Cor. 13:4-5).
When reading those verses, people often replace the word charity with love because that is what it means. I could just as easily replace it with my aunt’s name:
Miriam was kind… always.
She was longsuffering.
She was never envious.
She was not puffed up.
She never sought her own. She lived for others.
Just now, as I glanced back at the phrase “not easily provoked,” I almost laughed. Perhaps that means we can justify being provoked, just not easily! Aunt Miriam, however, was never provoked to anger. She was always gentle and kind… with everyone.
Since I can’t read minds, I suppose I shouldn’t claim that Miriam never thought evil, but I’m sure she never did.
Some might assume that my aunt had an easy life. Perhaps she was always surrounded by loving people who never let her down. Perhaps she never had a reason to get upset. Those people would only need to read her biography to see that the opposite was true. Aunt Miriam experienced far more than her “fair share” of pain. At age four, she lost her mother. At fourteen, her father. I could go on and on. Aunt Miriam knew pain, but she would not be defined by it.
I have been thinking about the things that provoke me…
How can I possibly show kindness and display grace under those circumstances? How can I possibly “think no evil” of those who hurt me after I have given of myself to them? Surely Aunt Miriam never had to put up with such nonsense!
It hit me recently that Aunt Miriam was nearly forty when I was born. She had already gone through much suffering by the time I knew her. Perhaps it was the suffering–the sadness–that the Lord used to mold her into the incredible woman I knew.
I often hear cynics state that a God of love would not allow suffering. If He’s all powerful, why can’t He simply make our lives easy and pain free? But what if He did? Right now I’m picturing a world that is void of pain and suffering. Everyone is living on Easy Street. It’s not a pretty picture! Everyone in this utopia is selfish and spoiled. (By the way, this is not a vision of heaven; it’s a picture of people on earth who have never learned to deal with life’s challenges because they’ve never had any!)
The Bible says that life is “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). Compared to eternity, life on earth is very short, so even the worst of suffering is “not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
But we don’t even have to wait for heaven to find the value in pain. It drives us to God in ways nothing else can. As C.S. Lewis said, God “shouts in our pain.” He uses it to get our attention, and when He does–when He gets us to gaze upon Him–we discover something: He is altogether lovely!
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Aunt Miriam found that rest. She had “peace in the midst of the storm.”
Note: As I write this, I’m aware that the focus has shifted a bit. I didn’t set out to analyze why Aunt Miriam was such an incredible person. I just knew she was!
If the average Christian were to be asked what types of people would be most honored in heaven, his answer would likely include preachers, missionaries, and others who sacrifice in ministry. According to First Corinthians 13, however, without love, even our greatest sacrifices and accomplishments profit us nothing. Even faith that moves mountains is nothing without love.
I believe with all my heart that what the Lord really wants from us is unconditional love. The agape love described in this chapter is not the give-and-take reciprocal love that is very selective. It is not based on the worthiness of the person being loved.
It is kind… to everyone.
It is longsuffering. (Some people claim that they “put up with” a lot of mistreatment. Love goes beyond that. It knows how to “let it go!”)
It thinks no evil.
The other day, my poor little feelings got stepped on, and I wanted to react. I thought up a three-point sermon that would effectively demonstrate how unfairly I had been judged.
Then I thought of Aunt Miriam. I remembered my testimony at her funeral: “I want a double portion of her spirit.”
I wondered how she would have reacted in that situation.
She would have prayed for the person who hurt her… she would have thought no evil… and she would have loved.
That’s how I want to be.