Some quotes just stick in your mind the moment you hear them and never leave. I read Othello in high school and a quote from that story never left me. Except, now that I look it up, I have the quote right, but the story wrong. It’s actually from Hamlet. Seems to me it applies to Othello so well that that is where I should have read it, and it’s quite possible that a teacher quoted the line from Hamlet as we read Othello for just that reason. In either case, the line has been rattling around in my brain recently, every day, with my own addition to it.
Shakespeare wrote, “Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear.” I remember it in conjunction with Othello because this is pretty much the plot device for the entire story. Iago plants seeds of doubt which turn into fear of unfaithfulness between Othello and his love, Desdemona.
But my thoughts aren’t about romantic love or fear these days, they are about brotherly love for our fellow man/woman. The phrase that has been running through my mind, a secondary couplet, you might say, is this: “Where love is small, the littlest offenses are great.”
Have you ever noticed this at work? Have you ever had to share a space with someone who you didn’t have much of a relationship with and found that everything they did was annoying? Little things that should really not be that offensive are a great bother to you? On the other hand, have you ever had someone in your space with annoying, irritating habits, but that you loved deeply? How different is your response to them? I think of mothers. They may not like that their children fight, yell, demand attention impatiently, and leave messes behind them at every turn, but their love minimizes those offenses. What they might not tolerate from anyone else, they amazingly endure from their children. Not only do they endure it, they serve. They clean up the messes. They patiently ask their children to be quieter. They find ways to pacify them. The difference isn’t in the annoyance, but in the love someone has for the annoyer.
The difference is perhaps most pronounced when your reaction to someone’s quirks changes after you get to know them. I’ve seen it work both ways. You start out enamored with someone and see nothing troubling about them (even when everyone else may be trying to show it to you). Later, however, the newness wears off and your affections die down, and then you suddenly realize that love really was quite blind. Now you have no tolerance for things which you didn’t even see before. Or, more positively, it can work in the other direction as well. The movie Green Card showed this side of it. Two people couldn’t stand each other until they got to know each other and in the end, though neither had changed, their affection for each other had, and with it, their tolerance of their differences. There is no offense where there is love; there is only grace.
The Bible puts it this way, “Above all, love one another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Love minimizes offenses. It sees them less, and where it sees them, it covers them. Where love is great, offenses are diminished.
Is someone in your life annoying? Are you irritated with someone…or perhaps with everyone? Their habits, their hygiene, their loudness, their quietness, their rudeness, their sloppiness or their neatness… Perhaps the problem is not with them, but with your love for them. Maybe you don’t need to require that they become less annoying, maybe you need to pray and ask God for more love.
This sounds like I’m pointing fingers, making suggestions to you to change… Just know that that is not the case. There is a reason why this phrase has come into my mind every day at the same particular time of day. Because I have been annoyed, and I hear God gently reminding me that these are such small offenses to be so great, and the only reason they are offenses at all is because of my lack of love. The issue is that I am offendable. If those same “offenses” had been done by someone I loved, I would likely not even notice, or if I did, I would think nothing of serving and giving grace in response. So don’t take offense…I’ve been writing this article to myself for days.