One of the things that has, surprisingly (at least to me, anyway), made an impact on me recently is this whole idea of people having different "love languages." There are (supposedly) five of them, according to the book by Gary Chapman:
- verbal expression/gratitude
- undivided attention/time
- gifts/tangible expressions
- physical contact
The valuable thing is not only understanding (and helping those who love you to understand) what says "love" to you, but more importantly, understanding how you can effectively express yourself to those you love. If your wife is highest on service and lowest on gifts, and you are vice versa, and you give her an iPod for Christmas, then sit and watch TV while she does the dishes ... she's not hearing that you love her, when you think you've expressed it well. Right?
This also got me to thinking, recently, about what happens in our culture around Christmastime. I watched this really cool YouTube video to promote an organization called "The Advent Conspiracy." Basically the video says Americans spend $450 billion each year on gift-giving at Christmas time. It noted that it would take an estimated $10 billion to solve one of the world's worst and deadliest problems -- lack of access to safe drinking water. If we could redirect just 2 percent of what we spend on Christmas gifts, we could solve one of the world's most pressing problems!
The video makes some stark points. Despite all our gift-giving and receiving, we are not really as happy as we should be, are we? And how much time at Christmastime do we devote to serving? To encouraging and spending time with others? If we put a fraction of our energy into other expressions of love, it would go a long ways to create happiness in the world.
I assume Christmas gift-giving is how we at least attempt to express love in this very fallible society. But the interesting thing is that gift-giving is only one of the five love languages. Are we as focused at Christmastime on expressing love through the other four languages as well?
Verbally expressing gratitude and love? I guess Christmas cards sort of do that. But what about sitting down in a quiet corner, sharing a latte, and just sharing your heart to someone you love?
Undivided attention/time? That's probably the hardest one for us, especially at Christmastime, such a busy time of the year. This season has been unusual for us here in the Northwest. Right now we are in a deep freeze and no one can move anywhere. I haven't been to the office for three days. One of my colleagues made it in last night, but he didn't make it home again. He sat on the freeway near the office for three hours, then finally gave up, parked his car, and slogged through the snow to a nearby hotel to spend the night. He planned to turn the car back around and head back to work this morning when he got up.
So, for those of us who stayed home, it's been a great time to simply spend time with those we love. I've really enjoyed three days at home with my wife, even if I've had to spend a lot of time on the computer getting my shows done. It's just so nice to be near her, and to eat lunch sitting by the fire.
Serving others. I really like how our church has, in recent years, created a seasonal emphasis around service. We have been seeking out single moms and families of lesser means who we can help and serve. This expression of God's love has been life-changing for many, both the recipients and the givers. There's a reason Christ expressed his love by washing his disciples' feet.
Physical contact. Suffice it to say that for many, a touch goes a long way. We are a society too sparse on hugs, handshakes, and a warm, encouraging arm around the shoulders. It's no coincidence that this is our very first language of love ... that without being cuddled, babies languish.
What is God's language of love? We often assume it's giving. But we are in part a reflection of what God is in full. So, if there are five love languages for us, there are probably more for him ... and he is perfect in his expression of each one of them.
God is indeed the ultimate bestower of gifts ... Jesus said that in many ways and places, the Father loves to lavish gifts upon his children. And he himself is the ultimate example of that, according to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son ..."
But, what about words of encouragement and praise? John says that Christ is "the Word," the expression of God's character. And his word to us is not condemnation, but encouragement. To him we are worthy of saving, of the ultimate sacrifice, ultimately objects of his affection. Christ takes us, his church, as his bride, and says, "You are beautiful."
Moreover, for him it is impossible for him to divide his attention, and he has given us all the time in eternity. His focus is upon his children. Zechariah tells us that "whoever touches us, touches the apple of God's eye" -- the apple of someone's eye is that little reflection you see when you are looking into their eye and they are gazing fixedly at you. Moreover, God's greatest gift to us, His son, means that if we are willing we can spend all eternity in his presence. Talk about the gift of time!
And God is also the ultimate servant. Jesus washed his disciple's feet, as an expression of his love. He said, "The son of man came not to be served, but to serve." The idea of God serving them made his disciples very uncomfortable, and Peter protested. But it's in God's nature to serve, and he also wants to serve others through us. We are his hands and feet.
And finally, physical contact ... what more ultimate expression of that than the Incarnation? Christmastime is all about physical contact, God made flesh. Jesus laid aside the benefits of deity and became one of us, born a baby into a cradle in a manger, to make direct contact with a human race that was going to hell in a handbasket and to turn us aside from this destiny of despair.
So, which is God's love language? Giving? Encouragement? Time? Service? Contact?
I can't decide. I think it's all five.