Growing in Christ - Meditation

Everyday Spirituality: Love

February 2018

Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV): And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

John 13:35: "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

James 1:19: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires."

It is abundantly clear that Jesus wants us to love. The history of the human race makes it equally clear that we have a hard time doing this.  Our inherent sinfulness manifests itself in countless ways, both obvious and subtle, and human relationships become, or seem to become, infinitely complex.

Marriage relationships in particular demonstrate how our highest hopes for love sometimes result in the most astonishing and bitter disappointments. How can we reach towards the lofty goal of biblical love in our everyday spirituality; in the struggles and pressures of everyday life?

In his book, The Five Love Languages, Christian marriage counselor Gary Chapman explores the ways in which married couples can improve their ability to communicate love to one another. Not everyone is in a marriage relationship, but these principles of good communication are also broadly applicable to other relationships including children, friends, siblings and co-workers.

There are five ways, according to Chapman, that people communicate love. The first is Words of Affirmation. It seems that there is great power in verbal compliments. What do we mean by "everyday spirituality?"  In counseling an unhappy wife who says her husband doesn't do enough around the house, Chapman discusses taking out the garbage:

"the next time your husband does anything good, give him a verbal compliment. If he takes the garbage out, say, 'Bob, I want you to know that I really appreciate your taking the garbage out.' Don't say, 'About time you took the garbage out. The flies were going to carry it out for you.'"[1]

The wife discovered that genuine compliments resulted in a happier husband with more things getting done.

The second love language is Quality Time. This means giving someone your undivided attention. It does not mean watching TV together - but it might mean simply looking each other in the eye and talking.  Chapman discusses an example couple with what is probably very common - a case where one spouse is so focused on his career and the other spouse simply wants to spend quality time together. The career-oriented spouse knew very well what his mate wanted in quality time - weekend getaways, picnics, playing games with the children, eating out and talking - he just did not attach any real importance to these things. By realizing this was his wife's favorite love language, he soon began to respond accordingly and saved his marriage and improved his own happiness.[2]

The third love language is Receiving Gifts. Love and gift giving would seem to be obvious and inseparable in some ways. Wedding ceremonies involve wedding presents. Birthdays and anniversaries are also important occasions for gifts.  But think how special a completely unexpected gift is, particularly to someone who has a special fondness for surprises. Remember there are remarkable differences in how much importance people will attach to gifts. Moreover, a gift is not necessarily a material object. Chapman discusses an interesting case where a wife had endured a terrible sense of pain because of the lack of her husband's physical presence. In a time of emotional crisis, such as when her mother died, her husband only made a brief appearance at the funeral, and then went to play softball. The wife felt that she had been denied the gift of his physical presence. "Just being there" can be an essential gift. The husband did have his side of the story - he had taken a week off work prior to the death, visiting the hospital and doing practical things to help out, and he felt he needed a break after the funeral - but it was also clear he underestimated the importance to his wife of the gift of his physical presence.[3]

The fourth love language is Acts of Service. These are the things that one spouse does for another. These include many of the mundane chores of everyday life - cleaning, cooking, getting the car fixed, cleaning the garage, mowing the grass, walking the dog, changing the cat's litter box - the list goes on and on. Do we normally think of these things as acts of love? If we don't, we should. Chapman cites something from the Bible to illustrate what an act of service is all about:

Jesus Christ gave a simple but profound illustration of expressing love by an act of service when he washed the feet of his disciples. In a culture where people wore sandals and walked on dirt streets, it was customary for the servant of the household to wash the feet of guests as they arrived. Jesus, who had instructed his disciples to love one another, gave them an example of how to express that love when he took a basin and a towel and proceeded to wash their feet (See John 13:3-17).[4]

Love and service - once again, it should be obvious to us how closely connected these things are, but for various reasons we might overlook and under-appreciate the obvious.

The fifth love language is Physical Touch. Pay attention, married couples, because according to Chapman:

Physical touch is also a powerful vehicle for communicating marital love. Holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intercourse are all ways of communicating emotional love to one's spouse. For some individuals, physical touch is their primary love language.[5]

The physical side of love is perhaps one of the most complicated and sensitive areas of human interaction. Perhaps, for many, it is also the most natural and the most satisfying. But if we learn nothing else from this marriage counselor, we should learn that not everyone is the same when it comes to the different love languages. We must learn, somehow, what language the other person wants to speak and how he or she wants to speak it.

This has been a very brief introduction to some aspects of the effective communication of love. In some ways, it seems that love involves a fair bit of work. We must go out of our way to discover what matters most to our spouse, and then we must go out of our way to do it. It is also clear, however, that there are great rewards in store for those who love. Love can be fun! 

Before concluding this discussion, let's enjoy an example of how love has inspired poetry in the human heart:

Sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of every day's

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith;

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God choose,

I shall love thee better after death.[6]

Christian readers will recognize the reference to Ephesians 3:18 - depth, breadth, height - indicating  the author clearly wants to model her love after the love that Christ has for us.

God has surely built the desire for love into our hearts. He wants us to live in hope not just for love in this life, but for eternity. Let's pray, shall we? Lord we thank you for the gift of love; we thank you for your son Jesus Christ. Help us to grow and to learn constantly about the glorious gift of loving relationships. Help us to forgive one another, and help us to see opportunities to love even in the seemingly mundane and routine events of everyday life. Praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Holy Spirit. 

In faith and fellowship,

Patrick McKitrick, Outreach Canada Ministries.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to your Mate (Chicago: Northfield Publishing) 1995, p.41.

[2] Chapman, pp. 55-59.

[3] Chapman, pp.78-80.

[4] Chapman, p.88.

[5] Chapman, p.104.

[6] Roberta Charlesworth and Dennis Lee, eds., An Anthology of Verse (Toronto: Oxford University Press) 1964, p.192.