Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Morality Part 1: It’s About Relationship

The other day at dinner, I tell my boys that I am looking forward to teaching a class that evening on Morality–a favorite topic, which I hadn’t taught in a while.  My 6 year old asks:

“Mommy what is mowality?”

I pause, since I usually begin by acknowledging that most of us presume morality is about following a set of rules, and it’s not… it’s about relationship. But in that moment I was challenged to accurately and succinctly describe it in a way that my 6 and 7 1/2 year old would understand.IMG_1199

“Morality is about what’s right and wrong, and why.”

Without missing a beat, he tells me:

“Oh, Mommy!  But you teach me and my brudder about that evewy day!”

I want my kids to be good people, so yes, every day I am concerned with the decisions they make and developing their character–whether they’re playing with friends, following through on responsibilities around the house, working at school, or paying attention to the needs of the world around them. Morality is concerned with what’s right and wrong, and why, but it’s not about rules; it’s about relationship.

Relationship

The reason Why something is right or wrong has everything to do with relationship.

  • Think about three of your closest friends.  What are some of the “unspoken rules” that close friends follow to maintain a healthy relationship?  List these relationship-guiding rules out: trust, honesty, care and concern for one another’s well-being… what else would you add?

Who: From the perspective of Christian Morality, we are talking about living a good life in relationship with God.  What makes something moral or immoral is whether it strengthens or damages our relationship with God.  When we say something is a “sin” it’s because it damages our relationship with God; not because it is “breaking the rules.”

HowSo how do we strengthen our relationship with God?  By loving, honoring, and respecting God and all of God’s Creation.

The number one overarching principle that guides our approach to being in right relationship is a respect for the value, worth, and special dignity within each person as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God.  Catholic Social Teaching refers to this as respect for human dignity, which finds its Scriptural roots in Genesis.

God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

I love how Richard Rohr explains the depth of what human dignity means:

“You are a son or daughter of the Good and Loving God. The Divine Image is planted inherently and intrinsically within you. You cannot create it, you cannot manufacture it, you cannot earn it, you cannot achieve it, you cannot attain it, you cannot cumulatively work up to it. Do you know why? Because you already have it! That is the core of the Gospel” (Adapted from Dying: We Need It for Life)

As Christians, we are called to respect human dignity with the care and concern of divine, agape love.

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. (John 15:12)  

20090528_066 When we put together the Who and the How of morality, we can see that living a good life in relationship with God has three dimensions:

  1. Interpersonal– respecting the human dignity of others, which is demonstrated by how we treat one another.
  2. Personal – respecting one’s own human dignity, which is demonstrated by how we develop our internal quality of character
  3. Transcendent – respecting God, which is demonstrated by practicing the virtue of faith.

The Commandments, Beatitudes, and Virtues help flesh out the What of Catholic moral teaching with more specifics, but if we don’t begin with that understanding of being in right relationship with oneself, others, and the God who created us and loves us, then our approach to morality will be limited to simply “following the rules.”

In the next post, I’ll discuss the role of conscience and moral responsibility.  For now, consider how you think about morality:

  • What attitudes or assumptions do you bring to a discussion of morality?  Are they helpful or limiting?
  • Think about your relationship with yourself, with others, and with God.  In what ways do you see love and respect for human dignity guiding your behavior in those relationships?  Where do you succeed in practicing this “respect”?  Where do you struggle?  Is there one area that you feel called to work on improving?
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Many Parts

My sister and I often catch-up while I’m cleaning the kitchen and she’s driving somewhere. Most of the time, it’s your simple sisterly exchange-of-love-and-information phone call.

Laurie has been volunteering with SafePlace, a shelter for battered and abused women (and their children) in Austin. One of her stories struck me more deeply than others. Probably for the sheer banality of it all.

Laurie worked in the food pantry on Friday, helping the residents “shop” for the week. She surmised that cereal the pantry had to offer must have been donated by HEB as near-expiration-overstock that no one wanted – one of those full of fiber (and it tastes like it) cereals. There was a little boy who accompanied his mother in line. When they asked for cereal, and he saw the one and only option, he started to cry to his mother, “I don’t want that kind. I want our regular kind. Why do we have to be here? I just want to go back with Dad.”

The emotional devastation of every woman in the room could be felt.

The littlest things that we take for granted can bring such simple joy for those who are so broken and vulnerable. Once she returned home, Laurie posted a simple request to her local friends on Facebook. In addition to cereal and pancake mix for kids, the Moms wanted popcorn and chips for movie night, and as an extra special treat, some Betty Crocker boxed cake or cookie mixes.

As my sister has made a commitment to volunteer with various organizations in the Austin area throughout the past few years, she has continually posted simple requests like these on her Facebook wall. She even tells her friends that she’ll go  to them to pick up the donated items.

Laurie’s simple, specific posts certainly help direct the “givers” generosity to meet the “recipients” basic needs/wants. But she also does a tremendous service to raising awareness of social issues and offering both a model and vehicle of charity to her 300+ Facebook friends, some of whom might never consider the multitude of difficulties a victim of domestic violence faces.

I don’t want that kind. I want our regular kind. Why do we have to be here? I just want to go back with Dad.

When Laurie told Mom this story, not surprisingly, Mom offered to finance a “treats” run to stock the pantry. But in reflection, Laurie asked an important question:

It’s great that Mom is buying them groceries this month, but what about next month?

And that’s the point in the phone call where I went all theologian on her.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:4-12)

Everything that Laurie is doing right now for SafePlace is important – from personally volunteering to telling stories to posting donation requests on Facebook. But she’s not in the financial position to stock the pantry.

That’s ok.  

There are many parts. We are all one body.

Without the time to shop or undergo training for volunteering, Mom donated money. That’s all she was in the position to do at the moment.

That’s ok.

There are many parts. We are all one body.

Laurie and I share the frugal, money-saving, coupon clipping gene. So I suggested she consider clipping those coupons for items she doesn’t personally use, follow the sales posted on our favorite savings blog Hip2Save, and snag deals on these items. I can help with this, I say. I can’t volunteer or donate money, but I’ll keep an eye out for deals and sales.

That’s ok.

There are many parts. We are all one body.

So we wrap up the phone call (as she arrived at her destination and my kids needed something like food or attention), and we each go about our day.

Six hours later, I walk in to Kroger and see that they are having a 3-day sale on limited varieties of GM cereals – cereals with a sugar content that I do not want to give my kids and would normally never buy. In the before-you-walk-in-the-store, where you grab your cart, there’s a display offering these cereals 2 for $3. And I have coupons. Of course. So each of the boys got to pick out a cereal for “families who are going through a difficult time.”  Four boxes of cereal cost me $3.75 out of pocket.  That I can do.

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Of course I called Laurie to tell her how yes, indeed, the Spirit is at work.  And in her usual joy, Laurie remarked: “This is amazing!”

Sometimes faith leads us to service.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matthew 25:35-36).

And sometimes it is the experience of service that leads us to a deeper faith and spirituality.  It is that experience of service in which we are completely filled with love and joy.  It is that experience of service where we are overwhelmed by this “good feeling” and the only words we can muster is a humble recognition that we have received so much more than we gave.  THIS is the experience of divine agapic love (see here and here for further explanation on this).

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

When we accept the invitation of Christ to love others as he loved us, we are filled with the divine presence.

Thing that we need to remember when it comes to service — when it comes to a faith that does justice — is that (a) don’t think it all depends on you to do everything.  That’s what we call a Messiah complex.  And honestly, we already have one of those.  And (b) don’t think there’s only one way to help.  Do what you can.  Where you can.  When you can.

There are many parts. We are all one body.

Perfect

If there was one thing you could (magically, effortlessly) change about yourself, what would it be?

Play along: come up with one thing.  Perhaps it’s…

  • developing virtuous habits (and eliminating unhealthy ones)
  • addressing some physical characteristic (in the realm of body image or ability)
  • acquiring a desired talent

Sit with your answer.  What does it tell you about yourself?

  • Is it just for fun?
  • Does it have to do with something you struggle with?
  • How does it relate to your personal goals?  Hopes?  Dreams?

What does it tell you about where you are on the spectrum between self-love and self-loathing?

In the lifelong journey of growth and change, there is usually some thing or another that we are working on improving.  This is good.  However, there is a legitimate concern for our spiritual well-being insomuch as how we treat ourselves in the process.

You are a child of God, created in God’s image and likeness.

Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.  God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

When it comes to the things about yourself that you want to change, do you honor the image of God within?  Do you treat yourself with the love and respect that the image of God deserves?  

Healthy self-love appreciates the goodness that is.  It is from a place of love, not hate, that we are called to conversion – or metanoia.

In the reflection “Just Paint Over It,” I referenced the Greek word metanoia while discussing the transforming process of forgiveness.  Metanoia [pronounced meta-noy-ah] translates as “a change of heart.” Meaning a conversion where the person turns away from what is destructive, hurtful, hateful, and instead turns towards God.

Too often, however, we can be overly critical of ourselves in a way which is neither helpful nor loving.  There is a fine line between goals that motivate and the expectation of nothing less than perfection that can shut a person down.

The need for perfection.

There are two times that the word “perfect” appears in the gospels, both in the Gospel According to Matthew.  The first is in Matthew 5:48, which is the part of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus discusses Love of Enemies.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:43-48)

The Mount of Beatitudes and The Sea of Galilee

The second appears in Matthew 19:21 within the story of The Rich Young Man.

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”  He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)

If you wish to be perfect…

In reality, there is always room for improvement.   If we think we are all done with the personal/spiritual growth thing (as if to say: “I have arrived”), we are reminded that our work is never complete.It is then, that Jesus will say to us:

If you wish to be perfect…

It’s the all-or-nothing extremes that are useless.  Unhelpful.  Paralyzing.  In no way does Jesus insinuate that this rigid interpretation of perfection is what we are to aim for.

Growth—change—is a process.  Metanoia is a “turning” away from something (sinful) and towards God (who is wholeness, life, and truth).

Think about the self-improvement / growth things that you are working on in your life.  Do you treat yourself with love in the process of turning?  Or do you become overly critical and hateful about perceived failures?  Because that “hateful” thing is not what Jesus would do.

To move beyond my own struggle with perfectionism, I found it helpful to redefine “perfect” as functioning at my best, right now.  For me that implies being my best and doing my best in the present moment, while looking to take the next step to become better.

The “next step” is an important concept in overcoming paralyzing perfectionism, because it recognizes the space between the “reality of now” and the “ideal” or “goal.”  And in order for it to function, the “next step” should be realistic.  Small.  Doable.

And then celebrate the success.  And build upon it.  Because that is perfect.

You are not now what you were… You are not now what you will be when God has perfected you.                  – St. Vincent de Paul

Friends

I love my friends.

They know me through-and-through and love me all the more.  Their genuine care and concern for my well-being is as warm as their hugs.  I delight in their presence, savoring the moments of quality time, the great conversations, the honesty, the fun, and the laughing.  The laughing is the best.

Can you relate?

Friendship has lots of categories: good-friends, old-friends, Mom-friends, family-friends, work-friends, Facebook Friends… and they’re all good.

Let’s take a closer look at “Facebook Friends.”  Facebook has helped me reacquaint myself with a slew of old friends from different points in my life, especially since I’ve moved around quite a bit.  In addition to high school and college friends, I’ve even reconnected with my best friend from childhood.  Some “friends” from Facebook are just in the social network, more akin to friendly acquaintances.  Some offer a lot of “water-cooler-didja-hear-about” conversation, which as a work-from-home-mom, I totally appreciate and enjoy. Though, I think the thing I enjoy most about FB friends is the way in which we know about what’s going on in each other’s lives.  When someone shares joy, I smile with them.  When someone shares pain, I gather them in my thoughts and prayers.  And how about the birthday-love from FB friends?  It’s certainly a different version of friendship than my grandmother experienced, but it’s community all the same.  At least it has the potential to be…

Whether it’s online or in-person, friendship is about community.  It is a community with whom we have fun; it is a community who challenges us, comforts us, supports us, and cheers us on.

And within this community of friends, different people have different roles.

Beyond the “BFF” label (meaning “Best Friends Forever”and yes, Mom, that was for you), there are certain people in our lives that are part of our “inner circle.”  These are the close friends you appoint to a place of honor in your life.  I once knew a woman who called this group her “Personal Board of Directors.” (My husband refers to it as “The Brain Trust.”)  These are the folks who we tend to check in with regarding our life decisions and the ones with whom we cannot wait to share any “big” news.  We may not always agree with the counsel offered by members of our Board, nor do we always follow their advice.  However, we certainly listen to what they have to say – good or bad – because we value their input.

Who have you appointed to your own Personal Board of Directors?

The friendships filled with philia love can touch us so deeply that they may even bring the Divine Presence into our lives.  In Touching the Holy, Robert Wicks identifies four different kinds of friends that it is important to have in our lives.  (Though Wicks notes that it’s certainly possible for one friend to have multiple roles).

[Note: I also recommend The Work of Your Life: Sustaining the Spirit to Teach, Lead, and Serve, by Catherine Cronin Carotta (Harcourt 2003), which offers a summary of Wick’s four friends, presenting them in the context of discerning one’s calling.]

  • The Prophet  This is the friend who points out the truth.  “Prophets challenge us to look at how we are living our lives” (99).  Prophets prompt us to examine whether we are listening to God’s voice and following our values or if we are being swayed by “other” voices.  When the prophet-friend asks, “What’s that about?” it makes us think. This is the friend who will speak the difficult truth (with love), despite discomfort or pain.

Many friends have been the “prophetic voice” in my life, but Theresa and Stacey stand out as examples for me because of how and why they speak the truth.    

Who are the Prophetic Friends in your life?

  • The Cheerleader  We all need people in our lives who offer the cheerleader’s unabashed, enthusiastic, unconditional acceptance.  This is the person who helps us see the reflection of the loving face of God more readily in ourselves and others.  When we’ve had a difficult day, this is the person we turn to for loving support and encouragement because they say just the right thing to nurture our own self love.  The cheerleader is the friend who offers the presence of God’s mercy and love.  This is the friend “who gets joy out of seeing the footprints of God in our personality” (102).  “Warm friends represent the incarnational love of God in our lives” (106).

My Grandpop was perhaps the greatest cheerleader there ever was.  I’m proud to say that my Mom and my sister, Laurie continue Grandpop’s  legacy of enthusiasm and acceptance.  I can’t wait to share news with them because they triple my own excitement.  When I need affirmation, I call them.  In their love and support, they remind me of God’s goodness dwelling within me.   

Who are the Cheerleader Friends in your own life? 

  • The Harasser  This is the friend who helps keep us from taking ourselves too seriously.  The harasser makes us laugh – especially at ourselves.  Through friendship with the harasser, we avoid emotional burnout and/or unrealistic expectations of ourselves.  “This type of friend helps us regain and maintain perspective.”

My husband, Peter takes the cake on this one.   Probably because he enjoys mocking… Nevertheless, he helps me laugh at myself, especially when I’m being completely unreasonable or unrealistic.  April stands out as another great example of a good harasser friend, especially when she’d pull out the Yiddish.  

Who are the Harasser Friends in your own life? 

  • The Spiritual Guide  “We will never cease to need an array of spiritual guides to help us deal with our unrecognized and unnecessary fears, to help us appreciate the need for proper detachment, and to lead us to a sense of enthusiasm and perspective in a world strained by anxiety and confusion” (109).  This friend helps us identify our deepest fears, soulful longings, and treasured values.  This is the person who helps us process experiences in our quest to make meaning of our lives.

At different times in my life, different people have served in this role.  In high school, the adults and leaders in my youth group (Antioch) were my spiritual guides.  In college, it was Karl.  In grad school at Boston College,  I found spiritual guides in Theresa, Andrea, Kyle, and Jerry.  My friend Julie is a good spiritual companion.  Sometimes I looked to counselors and spiritual directors to fill this role.  I also turn to good books and special places to  nurture and challenge me spiritually.  I don’t necessarily talk with the friends whom I consider “spiritual guides” on a regular basis.  But when we do talk, we speak with ease and with depth.  

Who are the Spiritual Guide Friends in your own life? 

Wicks points out that these four friends help to balance each other out.  Too much cheerleader and not enough prophet might make a person a bit full of themselves… too much prophet and not enough cheerleader might make a person down on themselves… So we need all four kinds.

Which is good, because I have each of these friends.  Moreover, I want each of these friends in my life.  I am a better me because of these friends.  And I want to be this kind of friend to others.

This is what I mean when I say: I love my friends.  Can you relate?

Let’s Talk About Sex

If you have been following along in the series of posts I have offered on Love and Relationships, now is the time on Sprockets when we talk about sex.

As a Catholic high school teacher (and now as a contributing author and editor to a Catholic high school textbook series), I frequently have the opportunity to discuss sexual morality with teens.  I approach this opportunity as a privilege, and I am confident that I teach it well.  Part and parcel to my self-understanding here is that I refuse to discuss the topic without spending time on what love is and what love is not.  Moreover, I refuse to discuss the topic of Catholic sexual morality as a set of rules.

When I teach about sexual morality to teens, I emphasize the importance of understanding what the Church teaches and why.  Because it is only then that a person can decide whether or not they agree.  It is not my role to dictate behavior and dole out judgment, nor do I need everyone to agree with what I teach.  I ask only that they understand.

A Christian discussion of sex begins with human dignity.

As Christians, we have a vision of what it means to be human; the fancy theological name for this is Christian Anthropology.  We were created in the image and likeness of God, which gives us each a unique specialness.  In all we say and all we do, we are called to respect this inherent human dignity in ourselves and others.

In creating us and designing our way of being with each other, God has a vision for what is supposed to be expressed and experienced in sex, and God’s vision is phenomenal.

Christians believe that God intended for the sexual aspects of our bodies to be a way for two people to say: “We love each other enough to become one.”

The fact that they become one flesh is a powerful bond established by the Creator. Through it they discover their own humanity, both in its original unity, and in the duality of a mysterious mutual attraction.                                  – Pope John Paul II (Theology of the Body, 10:2)

You’ve heard the phrase from Genesis 2:4, “two become one.” We know that is what physically happens in sexual intercourse, but we’re selling ourselves short if we think that’s all that happens.

The Catholic Theology of the Body sees sexual intercourse as God’s way of letting two people signify that they have become one – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It is as if we are saying:

I love you so much that I give my whole self – body, mind, and soul – to you completely, without any reservation.

This complete union involves a total gift of self – mutually given and received in all four senses of love (agape, philia, storge, and eros).

This intense message is communicated with the body, in the body, through the body – it’s a bodily language.  The body was designed by God to be truthful.  Look at our bodily reactions, like sweating when we’re nervous.  Have you ever tried to suppress laughter when you find something hysterically funny?  Think about how lie detectors work.  When we lie and when we laugh, the body reacts!

In honestly and truthfulness, think about who you trust with your deepest, darkest secrets.  In fact, what would it take for you to open yourself up to someone and be totally vulnerable – like emotionally naked – with your whole life?  In God’s design and vision, through sex, the body communicates that two people become one physically, emotionally, and spiritually, with exactly that level of vulnerability and openness.  What does it take to get there?  It takes the reliability and trustworthiness of the solid commitment of marriage.

In reality, we know that there are multiple “levels of commitment.”  To facilitate this part of the conversation, I have identified what I like to call:

Ms. Dienno’s Levels of Commitment

  1. Just Friends – both people enjoy each other’s company, but there is no “relationship claims.” The idea of “Friends with Benefits” would fall in this category, because although physical activity is implied, there is no commitment
  2. Casually Dating indicates that a very low level of commitment exists.  Often referred to as seeing or talkin’ to each other, this sometimes reflects the initial stages of a potential relationship.  However, low-level of commitment means that the relationship is not necessarily exclusive.
  3. Exclusively Dating indicates official “couplehood,” where both can expect to be romantically involved only with each other.  Interestingly, this level requires both parties to have a (sometimes uncomfortable) relationship defining conversation.  Seeing (or talkin’ to) anyone else is clearly understood as cheating.
  4. Serious Relationship refers to couples who have “been together forever” to the extent that it would not be surprising for their families to find out that they are intending marriage; in fact, this level includes the period of engagement.
  5. Marriage is the deepest, most serious commitment.  A commitment which is to last a lifetime.

Now take the “Meaning of Sex” sentence and apply that to the “Levels of Commitment.”

Sex is a bodily gift of one’s very self, involving as much emotional nakedness as physical.  Tremendous openness and vulnerability are needed to be able to truthfully express the Meaning of Sex sentence (I love you so much that I give my whole self—body, mind, and soul—to you completely, without any reservation).  When both husband and wife give themselves to each other without reservation, it is a wonderful, beautiful, incredible act of intimacy, and it feels great.

Certainly, two people need to love each otherwith agape, philia, eros, and storgefor the complete gift of self in sex to be truthful.  However, without the reliability and permanence of the commitment of marriage, the body knows that it cannot completely, freely give itself.  In sex outside of marriage, the body does, in fact, have reservations – particularly when it comes to vulnerability.

Any Christian teaching on sexual morality would need to extend from this holistic vision of truthfulness and love, of respect for one’s own and another’s human dignity.

Whether it comes to the bodily experience of sex in your own marriage or teaching your children about sex, my greatest hope is that we honor this beautiful vision.

Feeling Loved

I love my husband.  And I know he loves me.  In the REAL LOVE way.  But sometimes I’m just not feeling it.  Why is that?

After 7 years of marriage (11 ½ years together), we’re definitely beyond “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling. But from the kitchen to the bedroom, we know we need to cultivate agape, eros, philia, and storge.

I have been trying to get him to read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages for quite some time.  He’s not just a guy; he’s a science guy.  An engineer.  And I know expressing “emotions” isn’t his thing.  But gosh darnit, I know we really, truly love each other, and I’d just like him to tell me in the way I’d like to hear… you know?

“We must be willing to learn our spouse’s primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love” (14).

Gary Chapman identifies five different ways that we express and experience love.  What makes one person feel loved emotionally isn’t necessarily what makes another person feel loved.

1.  Words of Affirmation – Verbal affirmations and compliments, expressions of gratitude and appreciation.  Spoken with encouraging words… kind words… humble words… genuine words.

2.   Quality Time – Giving the other your undivided attention, focus, time.  Doing things together.  Having quality conversations.

A central aspect of quality time is togetherness.  I do not mean proximity… Togetherness has to do with focused attention.” (59)

Offering someone Quality Time means offering your understanding and sympathy, as you give your attention to the person…not necessarily offering advice (unless that’s what the person is asking for).  We can do this by

  • maintaining eye contact
  • giving our undivided attention to the other
  • listening for the feelings being expressed
  • observing the other person’s body language
  • refusing to interrupt the other person – seeking to understand what they are saying and waiting to respond

Many of us… are trained to analyze problems and create solutions.  We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to be solved.” (62)

3. Receiving Gifts – This love language has less to do with the monetary value of the “gift” than it does with the thought behind it.  The gift symbolizes love.  It represents the fact that the person was thinking of the one they love (be it friend, family, or beloved).  These gifts of love may be purchased, found, or made.  They needn’t be extravagant nor expensive.

“A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say ‘Look, he was thinking of me,’ or ‘She remembered me.’ You must be thinking of someone to give him a gift.”  (74)

4.  Acts of Service – This love language is about doing things for the one you love… things you know they would like you to do.  Acts of service require forethought, planning, time, effort, and energy.

Jesus offered us an example of the way in which acts of service demonstrate love when he washed the feet of the disciples.

5.   Physical Touch – This love language includes all forms of affection: from hand holding to the supportive friendly hug, to kissing, to a marital embrace, to sexual intercourse.

In this, there is the recognition that all forms of touch (including the refusal to touch) express emotion – positive or negative.  The thing to remember is that while this love language includes sexual intercourse, that’s not what it’s all about.  Holding someone tenderly while they cry… squeezing a hand in excitement… patting a shoulder in encouragement… These are all forms of expressing love.

Chapman explains that we each have a “primary love language” in which we express and experience love.  We need to pay attention to what our beloved’s love language is so that we can express love in the way they primarily communicate love.

This explanation is so simple, yet so profound.  And it explains so very much.

In my case, my primary love language is quality time, with words of affirmation close behind.  My husband definitely enjoys quality time, but he primarily speaks acts of service.

Chapman challenges us to try to speak our beloved’s primary love language – so that they feel the love we have for them.

I’d go a step further and say that it’s also important that we hear the love our beloved is expressing to us in their primary love language.

If I hadn’t read this book, I may have missed appreciating some of the wonderful things he does for me as expressions of love – like something as simple as making me a cup of tea every morning with breakfast.  Or recognizing that making me breakfast (or dinner) is an act of love.  Without a doubt, I heard his expression of love when he built me a little shelf to hold all my jars of loose tea.

I know he loves me.  But sometimes I need to hear it in my love language (particularly in words of affirmation).  And this isn’t easy for him.

But he’s trying.  And that means the world to me.

And both of those—that he’s trying and that I know it—are important.

It’s important that we do this for all of the special people in our lives: spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc.

How do you express and experience love?  How do the important people in your life express and experience love?   Are you speaking their language?

The Truth About Love

Have you ever had one of those random moments in life—personal or professional—when someone asks you something, and when you open your mouth to respond, you’re amazed by the profound insight that comes out?  You know you said it, but the wisdom had to have come from God?

Well, years ago, while teaching in Austin, I took a group of students to work at an orphanage in Mexico.  In addition to showering the children with attention and affection, we did a bunch of home-improvement style projects – from cleaning to painting to repairs.  The poverty was staggering. While we helped both physically and financially, it was abundantly clear that our charity was not going to bring about a real and lasting change.

That evening, we did the Mission-Trip-Circle-Up conversation to discuss and process our day.  One student, Travis, was extremely conflicted: “I feel really good about myself, but I feel guilty for feeling that way.  We have so much, and they have so little.  It just doesn’t make any sense; I don’t like the fact that I feel so good about myself.”

I suggested to Travis that “feeling good” was not reflecting some kind of “superiority,” but rather he felt good because he was participating in true agapic love.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus called us to love one another as he loved us; to participate in agape.  This was not a “to-do-list” task, but an invitation.  The act of selfless giving in service (and in love) feels great because in it, we experience the divine.

And it doesn’t matter which kind of love we’re talking about: philia (friendship love), eros (passionate love), storge (family affection), or agape (unconditional giving of oneself for the good of another).

What a profound “God-is-love” truth.

The act of selfless giving in love feels great because in it,

we experience the divine.

For some reason, when talking about love, it’s a lot easier to get our heads around what love means when we take romance out of the equation.  But this same dynamic of selfless-giving-feeling-great applies to all four loves.

Allow me to explain:

Remember Erich Fromm’s definition of love (from Art of Loving 19)?  I concluded my post on dependency (I Need You to Need Me), with this:

 Mature Love “is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity” or individuality.

If we were to diagram that one, it would be two stick figures choosing to come together to hold hands, maintaining their integrity, freely capable of individuality.  This “pattern” can and should apply to all four kinds of love.

In all four types of love, one can and should be able to give of oneself without giving up one’s identity.

Going on, Fromm names four basic elements that are common to all types of love:  Care, Responsibility, Respect, and Knowledge.

  1. Care – When we care about someone or something, we are concerned for their well-being.  When we don’t care, we don’t love.

 Care “is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love (Art of Loving 24).

  1. Responsibility – Instead of limiting our understanding to some assigned “duty,” Fromm goes to the root of the word:

Responsibility, in its true sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being.  To be ‘responsible’ means to be able and ready to ‘respond’”  (25).

  1. Respect – Without the element of respect, the element of responsibility “could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness” (26).

Respect is the ability to see a person as they are, to be aware of their unique individuality (26).

It’s about respecting the person’s human dignity – in God’s image (not your image).  This means allowing the other person to grow and unfold as they are (not as you would have them become…even if you have the best of intentions).

If I love the other person, I feel one with them, but with them as they are, not as I need them to be (26).

Love means letting people be free to be who they are, right now.

  1. Knowledge – As we seek to become closer with people—friends and family as well as our beloved—we come to see how many layers there are to truly knowing someone.  Knowledge of a person is key to real, mature love.

We all have had “THAT conversation” with someone, and we recognize it as a turning point in a relationship – be it as friends or lovers.

Fromm points out that “Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent.”  They are all attitudes found in love, and they are each needed to balance one another.

“To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge. Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern” (26).

So then love is all these things:

  • Agape, Eros, Storge, Philia
  • The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth – M. Scott Peck
  • Union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity and individuality, practiced with care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge – Erich Fromm

Love is all of this and more.

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