I spent ten days on a friend’s couch a few summers ago. I was interning in DC, and being from out of state, had nowhere to go between the end of the school year, the start of my internship, and the time that intern housing opened up where I was supposed to stay the rest of the summer.
With most of my belongings crammed in my car, I lived out of a suitcase or two for awhile, my compact life scattered around the tiny living room of my friend’s apartment.
That internship did a lot for me: helped me hone my career options, put some solid professional experience on my resume, and networked me a few references that I’m positive had serious impact on landing me the full-time job I have now. And in a partial way, I owe that to the generosity of my friend—since taking the internship would have been, oddly, considerably more difficult to arrange without her couch.
But she didn’t know any of that would happen. She didn’t have to put me up for ten days. She barely knew me, had graduated several years before I did, and the only claim I had to her friendship was that we had worked on the college newspaper together. But when I approached her with my awkward and rather desperate request, she welcomed me to her home, fed me, and put up with my mess and the fact that I had to use her shower and borrow her blankets for more than a week with not only social graciousness but real charity.
Often, when we think of charity, magnanimous but relatively easy actions come to mind. Dropping a dollar in the poor box; smiling at someone we dislike. (Which are truly charitable actions.) But while it is easy to envision ourselves fulfilling these neat, practical little acts of charity (at our convenience, when we remember, as we see the need), love doesn’t work that way.
What about those other times? When love isn’t convenient? When it isn’t easy? When it means disrupting our carefully balanced routine, dropping our hoped-for plans, putting us out of our comfort zone and even requiring that we be uncomfortable to help someone else?
Love often asks kindness when it is inconvenient; charity when it is annoying.
Love is to be there for someone who needs us when we really wish they weren’t having this crisis right now and when we feel sure we have more productive ways to spend our time.
Answering the phone when you’d rather continue what you’re doing; being patient with a child when you’re both feeling grumpy or tired. Offering assistance when it’s easier and safer to offer advice. Resisting the urge to just dismiss the homeless man on the corner with the thought, “Somebody will take care of him.”
In these ways, love asks more than we want. Charity turns its eyes to us and expects us to answer with generosity. As Paul said in the readings for today: “Love never fails.” When we succeed, when we choose to be other-centered, then that is love—whether it’s convenient or not.