The Languages of Love

21 December 2008

Bible Readings: See BibleGateway.com.

by Jill Robertson

A little earlier I asked the question “What are you looking forward to this Christmas?” I’m not going to ask for any answers but I am sure there were many and varied conversations that went on.

On the other hand, I could have asked you to talk about when Christmas has been a disappointment to you? Could you have talked for long about that? The fact is that Christmas sometimes doesn’t live up to our hopes and expectations. And I am not just talking about gifts. Sure, we may not get the presents we were hoping for, but things that disappoint us can be much wider than that.

I think that the thing we look forward to most at Christmas is to give and receive love and happiness. This can come to us in many forms, and we can give it out in many different ways. And it is only if we feel that we have been touched in a way that really speaks to us that we feel we have been loved.

If this all sounds a bit abstract – let me wrap it in a bit of psychology – that should make it clearer!

A few years ago a man called Gary Chapman wrote a book called “The Five Languages of Love”. I am sure some of you have read and digested it. He is mainly writing about the love between married couples, but the principles remain true, no matter who is involved.

His theory is that we all have different ways of recognising love and if we don’t get spoken to in the language we understand, then we will not feel loved. You can see what a trap that is in romantic relationships, but I want to suggest that it can also be a source of great family satisfaction or dissatisfaction at Christmas time too.

The question is – How well do you know how to love your family and friends and how well do they know what brings you happiness?

Using Gary Chapman’s ideas, let’s see if you can work out what is your own language of love and what is likely to be that of your family members and other people who are particularly special in your life. We need to know both sides of this to have a hope of getting it right. And of course there may be more than one language that is applicable to you.

Words of affirmation

The first language is one where people need to hear that they are appreciated and encouraged in order to feel love. To them, that makes what you put on the gift tag just as important as what is inside the wrapping paper. It means that sending a card that has a special message of how much they have appreciated you this year will give them a real lift and make them feel loved. The problem can be that these people presume that if something they have done or said or given is not responded to appreciatively, then it has been a failure. Tricky – eh?

Quality time

The way these people feel loved is when people take time to sit down with them and have a chat. They appreciate it when people show that they do have time for you and are happy to spend it with you. They might play a game, or build Lego with you. They might go for a walk with you, or kick a football, or go to the tip with you. Quality time has become a bit of a cliché lately, especially when we want to excuse our lack of quantity of time, but it remains true that for a certain proportion of people, it is the way they feel loved, and perhaps especially if it is given by people who would describe themselves as very busy.

Receiving Gifts

Now here is an easy one to satisfy at Christmas time. We are all inevitably put into the gift-giving mind-set at this time of year. There are people who find this to be the best evidence of love at any time of year, perhaps especially when it is not Christmas and is not their birthday. They recognise that you have bothered enough about them to actually go out and buy something for them, or perhaps you may have made something yourself. The little gifts that children make are more precious than some bought gifts simply because they have the gift of the person embedded in them. We will treasure a gift that a special person has given us.

But I am sure you also know of people who couldn’t really care about the gift they have been given, as it is not the way they recognise love. Giving presents is overdone, they will say. They run the danger of seeming ungrateful, when it is actually a matter of not hitting the right spot for them for love to be recognised. Similarly, if someone whose language of love is receiving gifts, then they just may not feel loved if you give them a Tear goat. It may be that you are exercising your language but not taking note of theirs. It get complicated doesn’t it??

Acts of Service

This is probably the language of some of the goat givers. They want to do all they can to help other people, and Tear gifts seem perfect for that. Another side of acts of service is within a family. Can you picture someone in your family who is always willing to do something for someone else? They find it no trouble to perform acts of helping others or going out of their way to meet their needs. This can be as simple as making a cup of tea, opening a door, going shopping for you, or as complex as being involved for many months to help a project to success. John is one of these people – he knows my eyes water dreadfully when I cut up onions, so he always tries to do that job himself to save my tears! These people abound in churches and we thank God for them. Churches would not survive without people who show love through acts of service. The danger is that these people run the risk of always being expected to do the service jobs. They have shown that they enjoy pleasing others by helping them, so we need to return their love by looking after them too.

Physical Touch

The last one of the love languages is physical touch. We are hard-wired from birth to need physical touch or we will die. There is delight in physical touch – warmth, security, relaxation. A good cuddle with a baby or toddler will surely satisfy the needs of both the baby and the one who is doing the cuddling.

However, with our bodies being our most personal and intimate part of our being, we also have to show great respect both for ourselves and also for other people. We can definitely see it as a violation of our person if someone gets too close or presumes it is OK to give us a kiss. They may be meeting their own need, but not yours. Our bodies are made so that they fit together in intimacy, where they can give us delight. They can also give us pain and warn us where things are not right. So, this one of the languages of love has to be dealt with very sensitively. In marriage, it is obviously one where a lot more time and effort needs to be spent to make sure the physical side of a relationship is giving satisfaction to both people. For others, it is a matter of knowing when it is OK to touch someone and when it is not OK. The loving thing can be to keep your distance, but at another time, it can show how much you are loved, and be a source of compassion which may be sorely needed by the other person.

So at Christmas time, we are going to need to think about how to give to a person in the language they will recognise. We also need to be able recognise when love is being given to us, because it is the language of the giver, whether they have detected our language or not. The danger is for us to give to others in the language we ourselves like receiving. The love is implicit in the language.

Having thought through these various sides of love I pondered on how we see these languages spoken by Jesus. It is all there both in his giving and receiving.

Think about how Jesus encouraged and affirmed people.

He told them their sins were forgiven.

He spoke to outcasts and even invited himself to have dinner with them to prove he meant it.

He commended those who understood him “I tell you, you are not far from the kingdom of heaven”.

He spent quality time with those he met.

he found the time to take children in his arms and bless them

he spoke to women, recognising their ability to understand his ministry

he took his disciples off to quiet places to debrief them

He received gifts when offered to him.

gold, frankincense and myrrh were accepted on his behalf when he was born

he graciously accepted hospitality in the way of accommodation, food and having his daily needs met

he accepted the gift of being anointed with expensive oil

gracious acceptance of a gift made the giver feel loved

Jesus performed acts of service so numerous that we would find it hard to name them all.

he healed men, women and children

he forgave

he taught

he stood up for the outcast

he washed feet

he blessed

he died

he rose again

he left us the gift of his Spirit

It was probably physical touch that got him noticed as he did the unthinkable.

he touched people who were considered untouchable

he healed people by making physical contact with them

he took children in his arms in a place and era where men rarely showed affection for children – even fathers. Children often died in infancy, so energy for them was reserved until they were older.

Jesus seemed at ease with himself and that would be evident in his ease with those around him.

Acts of service would seem to be Jesus most common form of showing love. He was demonstrating what God means by showing love. It means giving of ourselves for others, just like Jesus did.

Even at Christmas time, we need to remember that it is not always the gift that counts. As the wise women in our story showed, the giving of a gift, can result in a blessing to us in return. The telling of a story is giving quality time, and shows love that way. The gift of a smile and a kiss was seen as proof that in fact love is the most important gift of all. Wise women indeed!

You may think that I have forgotten about the psalm that is set down for our reading today! Well, almost – but it does have a place! To me the most important part of that reading is the reassurance over and over again that God’s steadfast and everlasting love will never, ever fail. We heard these words.

I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever!
      Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.
Your unfailing love will last forever.
      Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.

When talking about his love for David and his descendents, God said:

My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him,

I will love him and be kind to him forever;
      my covenant with him will never end.
I will preserve an heir for him;
      his throne will be as endless as the days of heaven.

When reading the words of this psalm and in fact reading these words all through the bible, we are assured that God’s love will always be there and will never, ever fail. It is steadfast, reliable, and rock solid. It is still there for you, and it is still there for me and always will be.

God’s greatest act of love, to show us that he really did know what we needed in life, was to send his son Jesus into the world. It is this act that we celebrate at Christmas and it is this understanding that we are encouraged to act out by the way that we follow Jesus’ teaching and example and show love to others.

May God help us all to find relevant languages of love to use in the giving and receiving of love this Christmas and may the Holy Spirit be our interpreter. Amen

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