By J.R. Miller
People are beginning to understand that there is only one lesson in life to learn--to love. This was John's lesson. Tradition says that when they carried him for the last time into the church, he lifted up his feeble hands and said to the listening congregation, "Little children, love one another." The words are echoing yet throughout the world. This is the lesson we all need to learn.
The place to begin practicing this lesson is at home. Someone tells about a bird that had two voices. When it was out among other birds its voice was sweet. It sang only cheerful, happy songs then, without ever a harsh note. The birds all thought it was one of the sweetest singers they had ever heard. But when that same bird went back to its own nest, its voice instantly lost its sweetness and became rough, rasping, croaking, and fretful. Perhaps being out all day, singing sweet songs everywhere, and made the poor bird so tired in the evening when it got home that it could not be sweet any longer. But really if a little bird cannot be sweet both in its own nest, among its dear ones, and out among neighbors and strangers, would it not better be sweet at home, anyway?
It is sad that there are some people who, like this strange bird, have two voices. When they are away from home they are models of amiability. They are so polite and courteous that everybody admires them and loves them. They are most gentle and kind to everyone. They are always doing favors. They will go all lengths to show a kindness. They are always happy, cheerful, patient, and are ever encouragers of others. They are always saying appreciative things. They see the best in their friends and neighbors, and praise it, not seeing faults, certainly never exposing them or reproving them. But it is said that when these people get back home, and are alone with their own families--that this sweet, gracious voice at once changes, becomes dull, harsh, severe--and sometimes petulant, impatient, even angry. This is so sad!
It has been remarked by a careful observer that almost anyone can be courteous, patient, and forbearing in a neighbor's house. "If anything goes wrong, or is out of tune, or disagreeable there--it is made the best of, not the worst. Efforts are made even to excuse it, and to show that it is not anyone's fault; or if it is manifestly somebody's fault, it is attributed to accident, not design. All this is not only easy--but natural in the house of a friend."
Will anyone say that what is easy and natural in the house of another, is impossible in one's own home? It certainly is possible to have just as sweet courtesy, just as unvarying kindness, just as earnest efforts to please, just as tender care not to hurt or give pain--in the inner life of our own homes as it is in outside social relations. That is a part of what John means when he says, "Beloved, let us love one another." "One another" certainly includes our home loved ones. It is not intended that we should treat our neighbors in a kindly Christian way--and then treat our own family members rudely, discourteously, and in an irritating, unkindly fashion.
An English paper recently had an article on Home Manners. A young girl boarded with an elderly woman, who took a maternal interest in her. One evening the young girl had been out rather late, and a fine young man brought her home. The boarding house woman asked the girl who the young man was. "He is my brother," replied the young woman. "Your brother!" exclaimed the somewhat cynical old lady, in a rather doubting tone. "Why, I saw him raise his hat to you as he went away." The courtesy seemed to be to the older woman, impossible in a girl's own brother. Is it so? Do brothers not usually practice good manners toward their sister? Every young man with even the smallest pretensions to gentlemanliness will take off his hat to any other young man's sister. Does he not also to his own?
Another incident in the same article is of a young man entering a reception room with his wife. He carelessly stepped on her gown and stumbled. "Mary," he said impatiently, "I wish you would either hold your dresses up, or have them made short." The wife said nothing for a moment, and then she asked very pleasantly, "Charles, if it had been some other woman whose dress you had stepped on, what would you have said?" The young man was honest with himself. He bowed and said frankly, "I would have apologized for my awkwardness, and I do now most humbly apologize to you, my dear. I am truly ashamed of myself."
The lesson of loving one another, means that children should be affectionate to each other in their own home. Because you are older than your brother and sister, you will not feel that it is your privilege to rule them, command them, dictate to them, to make them give up everything to you and serve you, to please you and mind you always. That is not the way love does. Jesus tells us that love gives up, that it does not demand to be served, to have things done for it by others--but rather delights to serves, to do things for others. One of the most beautiful sights one sees among children, is that of an older child playing the maternal part with one who is younger, patiently humoring her, trying to comfort her, doing things to soothe her, carrying her when the little thing is tired, keeping sweet and loving when the child is fretful and irritable.
But it is not only among children that there is need for the cultivation of love in home relations. There are older people who would do well to heed the lesson. Some people seem to think of their home as a place where they can relax love's restraint, and work off the bad humours and tempers which they have been compelled in other place, to hold in check. But, on the other hand, home ought to be a man's training place, a place in which he may learn all the sweet and beautiful ways of love. One says, "The fittest and most practical place for the conquest of anger, selfishness, rudeness, and impatience--is in a man's own home. Be a saint there, and it does not matter so much what you are elsewhere."
According to Paul's teaching, love "is patient"--it never gets tired doing things, making sacrifices, even enduring rudeness and injustice. Love is also "kind"--it is always doing little, obliging things. Love "is not proud"--it does not pose or strut as if wiser and superior, it is not self conceited, masterful, tyrannical. Love "seeks not its own." This is the secret of it all. Too many people do seek their own, and never the good of the other. It is self-love, which makes so many of us hard to get along with, exacting, touchy, sensitive to slights, disposed to think we are not fairly treated, and which sends us off to sulk and pout when we cannot have our own way. What does it really matter--whether we are fairly treated or not? Love does not give a thought to such questions. It does not think at all of itself.
There is a story of two brothers who were crossing a lake one day, on the ice. They went on together until they came to a crack. The bigger boy leaped over easily--but the little fellow was afraid to try it. His brother sought to encourage him--but he could not put nerve enough into the boy to get him to make the attempt. Then he laid himself down across the crack in the ice, making a bridge of his own body, and the little fellow climbed over on him. That is what older boys should always be ready to do for their younger brothers--make bridges of their superior wisdom, strength, courage, experience, on which the little fellows may be helped over and on.
Older girls, too, have fine opportunities for helping younger brothers and sisters. They should be sure to show their love, in all self forgetful ways. A gentleman tells of seeing a half grown girl carrying a large over grown baby almost as big as herself. She seemed to be entirely unequal to her task, and yet she was as happy as a lark. "Well, little girl, is not your load too heavy for you?" he asked. "Oh, no, sir," she cheerfully replied, "it is my brother." That made the burden light. Love made the task easy. God bless the little girl mothers. They can be sweet influences in the home. They can do a thousand little things for their younger sisters and brothers. They can be patient and gentle with them. They can teach them many lessons. They can show them how to be sweet and brave. They can carry little burdens for them, and help them along the hard bits of path. Let the older girls be guardian angels for the younger ones in the home.
One beautiful thing about loving, is that it brings its own reward. We say it costs to love, and so it does. We must forget self. We must give up our own pleasure, our own way, and think only of others. But it is in this very cost of loving, that the blessing comes to us. We do not exhaust our store of loving, in giving and sacrificing. The more we give--the more we have. Instead of leaving us poor--it makes us rich. It is like the widow's meal and oil. If she had refused to share her little with the prophet's need, she would have had only enough to last her own household one day. But she gave to the prophet, and the little supply lasted for herself, her son, and the man of God, through years.
How can we learn the lesson? It takes patience and long practice to learn any lesson. The lesson of love is very long, and takes a great deal of patience and very much practice. It begins in the heart. As Christ dwells in your heart richly--he will sweeten your life. One day at an auction a man bought a vase of cheap earthenware for a few cents. He put a rich perfume into the vase. For a long time the vase held this perfume, and when it was empty it had been so soaked through with the sweet perfume, that the fragrance lingered. One day the vase fell and was broken to pieces--but every fragment still smelled of the rich perfume.
We are all common clay, plain earthenware--but if the love of Christ dwells in our hearts, it will sweeten all our life and we shall become loving as he is. That is the way the beloved disciple learned the lesson and grew into such lovingness. He leaned on Christ's breast, and Christ's gentleness filled all his life.