True Love

It’s Valentine’s Day.  Or is it?

I finally screw up the nerve to talk to a bunch of high school students about, of all things, love.  Now that’s putting yourself out there.  A middle aged man.  Who, at this stage of the game, spends much more time thinking about puppy breath, puppy peeing on carpet, and puppy chewing up expensive ties, than he does about puppy love.  Talking to a group of high strung high schoolers about …. love.  Now, that’s tough.  But, I had good reason and I had a plan.  I was going to talk about love because it was, after all, Valentine’s Day.  And so I did.  I dove right in.  It was all love all the time.  And it went ok.  Until the end.  Until that fatal closing moment when I wished everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day.  And my star student looked up at me and said “Ben, you do know Valentine’s Day is next week, don’t you?”  Yea, whatever.  So I forgot the date.  Big deal.  Anyway, here’s a recap:

First, some questions for you to consider:

  • What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?  What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to someone else?
  • What is the best gift you’ve ever given someone?  What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
  • What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you?  What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone else?
  • Think of a meaningful time that you have spent with someone you really cared about?  What did you do?  How long were you together?  How did it make you feel?

Alright, don’t forget your answers.  Now, let me ask you some other questions.

  • How many of you have ever taken a foreign language?
  • Are you better at reading it?
  • Speaking it?
  • Or writing it?
  • If you were in a foreign country and met someone who knew your language only as well as you knew theirs, would you rather communicate in their language, your language, or some combination of the two?
  • If you got in an argument with someone, or you had to explain some important but complicated process to someone, how successful do you think you would be communicating this information in a foreign language?

I’m not real good with foreign languages.  I took three years of Latin in middle school.  It’s a pity, really, as I’ve yet to have a conversations with a real Roman.  In high school, I switched to Spanish.  Three years worth of Spanish and at graduation I could say “No, Susanna es in su casa.”  But little else.  So when I went off to Auburn, I started over.  Spanish 101.  201.  Finally 301.  And guess what?  Now I can say, “Susanna no in su casa.  Susanna es in la cocina.”  But nothing else.  Nothing.  Nada.  Wait, nada.  I can also say “Nada”.  Foreign languages just don’t come easy to me.

They come a bit easier to my sister.  My sister took French in high school and college.  And then with two semesters to go at Clemson, she learned that she had gotten a job working for a company that made fuel injectors … in Spain.  She had exactly two semesters to learn enough Spanish to become the marketing director of a company in St. Cougat, a small village outside of Barcelona.  That’s right.  Marketing director.  As in, director of external communications.  Spanish communications.  So my sister entered a Spanish immersion program for two semesters.  She got what she could and then headed overseas to begin her job.

Once in Spain, she settled in the little village of St. Cougat.  Barcelona was a big urban center.  Industrial.  Sophisticated.  Wordly.  And somewhat English speaking.  St. Cougat?  Not so much.  No one spoke a lick of English.  And so the immersion continued.  My sister struggled, I’m sure.  But foreign languages came fairly easy to her and so she did just fine.  Then one day she called home.  She was excited.  Very excited.  “It happened!  It happened!  I went on a run yesterday and daydreamed in Spanish!     And then last night, I had a crazy, crazy dream.  In Spanish!”  That’s when you know you’ve made it.  That’s when you know you speak the language.  That’s an experience I suspect I’ll never have, at least not in Spanish.

Now, let’s talk about Love.  As in I love my dog.  Or, I’m in love with my wife.  Or I sure do love pretty sunsets and lasagna.  Or maybe tacos.  Unfortunately, we have just one four letter word to describe all that love.

Unlike the Greeks.  When it comes to love, the Greeks have got it going on.   They’ve got no less than four different words for love.

Agape love.  A giving, self sacrificial love.  Like the love a parent has for a child.  The love a husband has for his wife or a wife has for her husband.  The love Jesus had for his disciples and for us.  The love Jesus used when he told us to “love our neighbors as ourselves” or to “love one another as I have loved you.”

And then there’s Philia.  You know, as in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.  A disspassionate love.  A virtuous love.  A brotherly love.  This kind of love describes the love between friends, the love one might have for their college, or maybe the love for a hometown.

Oh.  What about Eros?  Like, uh, erotic?  You know, that kind of love.  A passionate, sensual kind of love.  It might be sexual, but it doesn’t have to be.  But it’s certainly more than a friendship kind of love.

And lastly, there is Storge.  It’s the natural love.  The love that comes pretty easy.  Like Agape, the love that parents have for their children.  The love that describes relationships within a family.

No doubt, the Greeks had it on us when it comes to expressing love.  At least with words.  But, it turns out, that words are only one of the ways we express love.

Gary Chapman, in his book Love Languages, identified five ways people commonly communicate love.

The first he called “Words of Affirmation”.  These kind of people say things like “I love you.”  “You are important to me.”  I appreciate you.”

If you are the type who says things like that to a husband, or a wife, or your children, or even a close friend, then “Words of Affirmation” is probably your love language.  If you find it impossible to say these things, or if hearing these things said to you makes you uncomfortable, then “Words of Affirmation” is definitely not your love language.  In fact, it’s Greek to you.  Or Latin.  Or, in my case, maybe Spanish.

But what if “Words of Affirmation” is your love language, but it wasn’t a language spoken by your father?  Or your mother?  What if this is the language spoken by your wife who desperately wants to speak this language with you but you don’t understand it?  Or what if this is your love language and you immediately start speaking it to a new boyfriend or girlfriend who’s not comfortable with this language?  You get the picture.

Then there are those who communicate their love by giving gifts.  They give nice presents.  Thoughtful presents.  Lots of surprises.  When it comes to gifts, they think bigger is better, more expensive is better than less expensive.  They buy their sixteen year old a nice car for her birthday.  They make sure their family goes on great vacations.  And they make lots of sacrifices to send their kids to private schools.  Because gift givers love their families, and this is how they show it.

And then there’s the love language of “Quality Time”.  This person wants to be with you all the time.  He’s willing to do things with you even when he really doesn’t like what you’re doing.  This is the boyfriend that goes shopping with his girlfriend.  The mom who watches her son’s baseball practices day after day after day.  The Dad who misses the big game to attend a three hour ballet recital only to see his child flit across the stage in 7 seconds flat.

But what if your Dad’s love language is “gift giving” and but your’s is “quality time”.  It’s hard to buy your sixteen year old a new car for her birthday, send the family on awesome vacations and pay for the kid’s private school unless most of your “quality time” is spent at work away from the very children who don’t even recognize “private school” as a word found in any love language, let alone theirs.

Or maybe your love language is “acts of service”.  This is the person that’s constantly doing things for other people.  My wife, for instance.  This is the person that does the laundry, cooks the meals, takes the kids to their activities.  This person helps you with your homework or maybe a difficult work project.  This person never says no.  If you need help, this person is always there.  But this person may be completely incapable of saying “I love you”.  And if your language is “words of affirmation”, that’s a problem.

And then, says Gary Chapman, there are those who communicate their love with physical touch, with affection.  These are the kissers.  The hand holders.  The huggers.  Or maybe just the pat on the backers.  But, chances are, they’re not going to help you with your homework.  Or buy you that fancy watch you’ve always wanted.  Or go see “Notting Hill” for the fourth time.  And they may not ever say “I love you”.  But they do.  And they will swear to themselves that they’ve told you so.  Over and over.

So, what’s your love language?  What about your parents?  Or your friends?  If you are a parent, shouldn’t you know whether your children speak Spanish or Greek or Latin or French?  Shouldn’t you know whether your husband understands you when you cook his meal but rarely buy him what he wants for Christmas?  Shouldn’t you know whether your wife understands you when you spend all day at the mall with her yet still complains that you never tell her that you love her?  Gary Chapman thinks you should and he’s probably right.

When it comes to true love, look no further than I Corinthians Chapter 13.  It is there that we learn that true love is humble — it is patient, kind, doesn’t boast and is not proud.  We learn that true love wants what’s best for others — it is not rude, it’s not self serving and it’s not easily angered.  That true love forgives — it keeps no record of wrongs and holds no grudges.  That the true love that is God focuses on what is good — it does not delight in evil and it rejoices in the truth.  And lastly, we learn that true love is tough.  Real tough.  It always protects.  Always trusts.  Always hopes.  Always perseveres.  And it never fails.

This is one language we all should learn.  And maybe someday we will find ourselves daydreaming in the beautiful language of love.

Your Turn:  What’s your love language?  How do you know?  Does your partner speak your love language?  Do you speak your partner’s love language?  Let us know.

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