When Your Love Language Seems To Be All Four Letter Words

On days like today, I think back to about fifteen years ago when those Love Language books were all the rage for married couples and parents. I remember how we just ate those books up, all desperate to learn the unspoken cry of our loved ones heart, and unravel the mystery of why we all act the way we do, when all we really want is love. According to the author of the Love Language books, there are five love languages – words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts and acts of service – and each one of these is a conduit through which we “feel” the love of others, and prefer to give it in return. Learning our loved one’s love language is apparently a bit like turning the key of their heart, leading us toward closer and more fulfilling relationships.

Now, I’m a very pragmatic kind of person. I always had a bit of trouble remembering the five love languages in the first place, let alone applying them, especially under pressure – and when you have four kids and you are crazy enough to homeschool, you often find yourself under pressure. I always seemed to forget that I was supposed to spend quality time with this one, buy that one a sweet and thoughtful gift, and always mind that I said something kind and affirming to the other one.  I tended to forget, not because I was indifferent to my kids needs, but because my own love language was total and ultimate control of everything. Just give me your complete and unbending compliance, cried the unspoken voice of my heart, and everything around here will be just fine.

Problem is, kids will have their love languages whether we their parents heed them or not. And because I did remember from time to time my children actually owed me nothing – including their mindless obedience – over time, my love language lost quite a few phrases from its vocabulary. “Or else” was one. “Because I said so.” was another. “Would you like me to pull this car over and give you a spanking?” went away round about the time I realised being spanked didn’t fit into any of Mr. Chapmans real love languages, and wasn’t actually working for me or our kids anyway.

Anyway, days like today make me think about those five love languages, how sometimes the things we do don’t really fit into any of those categories, and how someone needs to tell that to the teenage person living here and make her get with the program. Otherwise I may have to bring back some of my lost vocabulary, especially the part about the spanking.

I’ve decided that when it comes to the mysterious ways of teenagers, five love languages aren’t nearly enough. Because the things they do can be just so incredibly baffling at times I think there definitely needs to be a few new ones, and I’ve had a stab – not a word I feel comfortable toying with today, after the morning I’ve had with my teen – at creating a few categories of my own.

  • What’s mine is mine – what’s yours is mine. This morning, as I prepared to drive my teen to work, I detected a familiar scent wafting through the car. It was my expensive perfume – a gift from my husband. I, however, wasn’t the one wearing it. “Have you run out of perfume?” I asked, puzzled, as last I looked this individual had two bottles of scent on her own dressing table. “No.” And that was the only explanation offered. Later, the same teen walked past my bedroom door announcing “I’m going for ride.” Interesting. She doesn’t own a bike. “A ride?” I asked? A head appeared in my doorway, wearing my bike helmet. “Yes.” This particular love language expressed once in a day? I could perhaps graciously relent. Twice in a twenty four hour period? Both grace and surrender are abandoned. Lucky she was wearing a helmet.
  • Don’t speak to me,  just take me where I need to go. Teens reserve the right to maintain objectionable silence whilst consecutively enjoying the benefit of being transported wherever they wish to go, often at a moments notice, and without the offer of contribution, financial or otherwise. But that’s okay, really. Because they didn’t ask to be born, and being alive and seventeen is so hard. No, really it is – I remember.
  • I am beautiful, I am hideous. I hate this one the most, because it is sheer torture for the darling individual who must endure it, and for the loving family who must witness it.
  • You don’t understand me, please listen to me. I know she thinks I don’t get it, and I know I think I do. I also know there’s nothing I want more in this world than the pure trust she gives me when she finally lets me in.

 

  • I abhor crass materialism in all its forms, so will you buy it for me instead? Teens cannot abide attempts by parents to buy their affections with things, and similarly, many have denounced consumer culture and commercialism outright. But that doesn’t apply to things they need, like mobile phones and festival tickets. In this case, spending a lot of money is perfectly okay. I have noticed that a teenagers income is theirs to spend as they please, and their parents income is theirs to spend as they please too. Forget about Occupy Wall Street – to hear them tell it, teenagers are the 99%. And sometimes, as a parent, it certainly feels that way.
Five love languages are not enough. Ten are not enough. How many ways can a family give and receive love between them? There are not enough words, gestures, sacrifices or actions that can adequately express the deep complexities of relationship. Five? Try a hundred and twenty five. And all those love languages will not always be civil, or even comprehensible.  Sometimes a love language can feel like it’s all four letter words. Sometimes a love language will be more a question than an answer, more a longing than a fulfilment, more a defining than a uniting. But that is the essence of relationship – not the answer or the conclusion that you come to about one another, but the process of discovery, discerning and of understanding traversed while coming to appreciate that they are not you, and nor would you have them be, no matter how much you want to keep them safe and close and happy.
And, for the record, I just want to say there was nothing about all this in the manual.
*****
Sometimes, I don’t understand you, but sweetheart, please know that I always, always love you.
🙂

 

Why Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Smooshy Love

There’s no doubt in most Christians minds that that Jesus was – and is – the kind of guy that just loves people to bits. After all, according to John 3:16, He did die on the cross for our redemption. A heck of a lot of people love Jesus right back too, and rightly so. After all, Jesus is not just the savior of mankind, He was pretty amazing as a human being, too. It’s fully appropriate that we regard, respect and admire Jesus, as we do all the amazing people we know of, especially ones who do great things for us personally, and for the collective good of mankind. But there’s something weird going on with Christians these days, particularly Christian women. It seems it’s no longer enough to love Jesus Christ as God, as a great person, as a savior, a brother, or a friend. People – men and women – are falling in love with Jesus. That’s falling in loveromantically – like they do in movies, like you do with your first crush, like you do with your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, like with Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom or Aragorn. Christians are falling in love with Jesus – and encouraging others to do the same –  just like teens at a Twilight movie. Like swooning fans of Justin Beiber and his ilk, they’re falling for Jesus in churches and gatherings everywhere, quickly, obsessively, and sometimes even with a great big mob of their screaming friends.

Am I the only person who isn’t totally comfortable with this?

This is actually a veeeeery sensitive topic for me to broach. Many of my dearest friends enjoy what seem to be deeply intimate and even romantic relationships with the person of Jesus Christ, and I have no wish to criticise or alienate them. But I don’t share their feelings, and the whole falling in love with Jesus thing just makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’ve tried to do it, and I’ve been strenuously encouraged  – by the usual methods; socialisation, sermon, and song – to push my relationship with Christ to it’s utmost emotional and spiritual limits, for as long as I can remember. But after all these years loving Christ and being loved back, I think I’ve found those limits, and they’ve stopped way before I could ever consider myself to be in love with Jesus. I consider Him my brother, my friend, my master and my Lord. But my lover?

Ew.

You see, I already have a lover. His name is Ben. I married him 23 years ago, and we have 4 children together. We’ve had our troubles, but at this time we are more in love than ever we have been. God gave us to each other, we believe, and we seek His help and guidance in our marriage every day. And we enjoy a level of physical intimacy with one another we don’t share with anyone else. This love we have is God-ordained, and absolutely appropriate. The Bible describes this love in Greek as eros – sexy love – and according to the Bible it’s for the enjoyment of people who are married to each other.

Ben is also my friend. We’ve been friends for a little longer than we’ve been married, and we are best friends. Literally, best friends. I don’t have a female best friend – I gave them up a few years ago. Female best friend making and keeping caused so many problems in my marriage, I stopped trying to keep Ben and the female best friends, and decided just to keep the one friend I promised to love forever in front of God and everyone. I have a lot of friends, people I love, admire, respect and have history with, and like my marriage, this is a God-ordained kind of love. The Greek word is philio – brotherly love. I love my husband as my friend and brother in Christ, and he does the same for me.  I also love my male and female friends that way, and this is entirely as it should be.

I have these other people in my life I love better than friends, but not in the same way I love Ben. My family – my parents, my children and my biological brothers. The Greek word for this is storge – familial love.

The other kind of love – one the Bible talks about in relation to God and us – is agape. Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional – and it’s the love God has for us. This is the most difficult kind of love to practice, because it cuts the strings of expectation and obligation and just gives itself to it’s object expecting nothing in return. I try to love people with agape – and we’re all encouraged as Christians and worshippers of God to love others as God loves us – but I’m not very good at it. Agape is God’s special kind of love, and it’s a miracle working kind of love. In fact, the only miracles I have ever seen or known of are the ones where agape love was practiced or experienced in its simplest and purest form.

In church, as far back as the eighties, congregations have been encouraged to fall in love with Jesus. I recall songs we sang, such as I Keep Falling In Love With Him, Jesus – Lover Of My Soul and Falling In Love With Jesus, and I know they made me squirm a little. We used to sing this song that went Jesus, you have stolen my heart, I’m captivated by you, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sing it. I tried, but to be honest, it just felt weird talking about Him this way. I used to sing, Jesus, you have all of my heart, but even that seemed off, and was actually quite untrue. Jesus didn’t have all of my heart, hadn’t stolen the part He did have, and I wondered why we needed to use these images to describe what was meant to be the most natural, healthy thing for me to do in the world – have a relationship with Christ, and love the people He gave me to.

Besides, I didn’t want to see Jesus as someone I could just fall in love with. I didn’t want my relationship with Christ to descend into the kind of emotional quagmire other romantic obsessions had in my past. And really, that’s what falling in love means, isn’t it? Romantic obsession. I don’t know about you, but all my romantic obsessions had the following features. 1) They were based on an unrealistic picture of the person I was obsessed by  2) They sprang and were perpetuated from a place of deep unmet needs in me that actually needed to remain unmet for the obsession to continue 3) They inevitably ended badly, but always ended, because that kind of heightened emotional lust is simply not able to be satisfied, isn’t in any way sustainable, and most certainly is not healthy.

There’s another thing. The biggest problem I have with imagining myself to be in love with Jesus is the imagining part. Falling in love as a rule relies very, very heavily not on the wisdom, the will or the character of either of the lover or the loved – but on boundary breaking, fantasy and false expectation.

Do you really think Jesus wants us to do this? For Him?

I believe Christ loves me with philio love – I am certainly His friend. I also believe He loves me with what the Greeks called storge love – I am His sister, too. I have no trouble believing He loves me with agape love – His sacrificial love for me is evidenced in His actions on the cross on my behalf. But do I believe Christ wants me to express, feel or encourage anything other than these kinds of love toward Him?

I think when it comes to worshipping Christ, contemporary Christianity has kind of lost the plot. Instead of teaching reverence and the art of relationship, because that’s all far too traditional and pedestrian and not very sexy, we’ve instead created a physical and spiritual celebrity of Jesus Christ and then made ourselves into His silly, screaming fans. We imagine Jesus as our doe-eyed boyfriend and cast Him in our imaginations as a youthful, chisel-featured and ever chaste lover. We then paint ourselves in the role of perky-breasted ingenue in some broody teen movie based on Song of Solomon. But despite the fact the Bible describes Christ returning for His bride – the Church – that bride isn’t literally us, as individuals, as lovers. Jesus doesn’t want to be our boyfriend. He doesn’t want to be our lover, in the sensual, sexual or erotic sense, at all. Call me old fashioned, but the more I get to know Him, the more I know He has no interest in sweeping me off my feet. Sorry, but that swoony Jesus movie you and He star in is all in your head. All the romantic notions of falling in love simply go against everything Jesus ever said or did when He was here, and everything that was said about Him before He came, and after He left.

I actually think the depiction of Jesus as a romantic object detracts from our relationships with real people, and teaches us to remain spiritually and emotionally immature. I don’t want the kind of relationship in my imagination I have with my real-life husband. It feels erky. God gave me a husband made of flesh for a reason. Because I am made of flesh. I don’t want to be chasing after an imaginary, pin-up Jesus when I have a real life Ben and a ring on my finger.

I know we’ve been told that loving our spouses and families and friends must come second to loving Jesus. For me, I find there’s just no competition between them. In order for a competition to exist, I would have to shift Jesus Christ away from the God/Deity department in my head, and move Him across to the other part with the beings who won’t clean the toilet after themselves and who look funny naked. Maybe your head doesn’t work like that, but I suspect it does, and I happen to think loving Jesus and James Patterson with the same part of you is going to mess you up big time.

Jesus is not your boyfriend, and – male or female – I don’t think you should try to fall in love with Him. If you don’t have a part of you that can feel loved without needing to be pashed, pined over or pursued, you need to do some work on that. We were made to worship God, but worship is not what the world has taught us it is. It’s not appropriate to love God like a celebrity, a pop star, or that unattainable sex-god you drooled over at high school. Gods love is pure, and unlike romantic love, wants nothing from you. It cannot disappoint you. Your brother, friend and saviour Jesus Christ has transcended all that gushy, pop-star stuff, and what He has to offer you is vastly more interesting than anything you can think up, even in the most vivid imagination.

The final word, from the best known scripture on love.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13

The Burning Bush Beside The Bed, And Other Things You Need To Know About Men

I have been observing a particular phenomenon for many years now, and, after careful study and observation, I am now ready to publish my findings.

Domestically, politically, religiously and socially, the gap continues to close between traditional male and female gender disparities (and rightly so). Even so, there still exists in this world some places where God meets men exclusively, under conditions such that women can neither conceive of, nor appreciate, the nature of their coalition. One place I’ve observed one such peculiar union occur is so unusual, it surpasses the burning bush of Moses and the speaking ass of Balaam. The sacred nature of this holy place is so bizarre as to be bathed in sublime mystery, yet so domestic as to be almost laughable.

If you’re a man, you have such a portal to heaven available to you right now, perhaps very close by, and maybe you’re not even aware of it. You might be utilising it as you read this without your realising. If you’re a woman, and you have a man about the place, I think you’d best read on, because if you dare to violate this place of which I speak, inadvertently or otherwise, you could be responsible for unbalancing not just your partners spiritual equilibrium, but the matrix of the whole, unseen, universe.

Where can this holy place, this seat where communion occurs between the sons of men and God, be found?

Walk into your bedroom. Step around to the side the man sleeps on. If you will fix your gaze upon the space measuring about one and a half feet square which occurs to the side directly in line with his pillow, that, my friend, is it. You have before you Holy Ground.

And what if this particular space is occupied by a piece of bedside furniture? Fear not. Portal will still occur at any point around the circumference of this obstacle, but never stray beyond a few feet from where the owners arm may reach from his side of the bed. But do not look on shelves, in a drawer, or behind a cabinet door for the sacred zone of which I speak. The attributes of this small cordon are so sacrosanct as to require constant access vertically to the heavens, or at least the eight or so feet above. This is because things placed in the area must have constant access to the holy atmosphere precisely above. Trust me, I’ve spent hours on this – and I can’t think of any other explanation as to why a man absolutely must put his special shit right there on the floor.

The little place a man has beside his bed is so seemingly so consecrated, it also functions as a kind of altar. It’s first utility is for sacrificing things on. When he buys something new from a shop, something that cost a lot or that he wanted for a really long time, it will go straight to this spot and stay there for a while, like a kind of tithe. It’s as if he places it there just to see if God (or if we get all Freudian, perhaps his mother) will take it away, and anything that God doesn’t vaporise in a week can finally come off the altar to be used, eaten, written on, screwed up and/or thrown in a drawer or perhaps hoiked into the dirty clothes basket. If someone special gives him a card for his birthday or other occasion, that too will go in the special holy spot for a while. It’s like a kind of testimonial, evidence of a mans ability to invoke sincere feeling in others. See? I simply can’t be an asshole all of the time – see what somebody gave me? I am liked and I am treasured.

The blessed little bit beside the bed is also the place to exhibit the works of one’s hands – a little gallery of validation – kind of like the fridge when he was in pre-school. When the man makes something at work that is particularly clever, he will bring it home and hurry it into the special spot, regardless of how greasy, dirty or ugly it is. He knows, like the tooth fairy checking for teeth, God checks the special spot every night for special things needing His attention or approval. This is why you may be making the bed one day and find a piece of a machine, or a manual with something complicated underlined, or a particularly ornate piece of timber joinery neatly arranged on the floor next to the pillow. It will be discreetly taken away in about a week, once it’s been blessed, to be replaced with another item ready for benediction.

The bedside altar is also where things go which are proving a bit tricky for your man. A troublesome carburettor, tangled piece of boating rope or book that’s a little bit beyond him will come to rest within the blessed cordon, until he receives a certain prompting that the grace needed for the job has been bestowed zen-like while he was doing something else important, like sleeping. Don’t solve the problem for him, or give your advice. Hard things put in the special space prove he is working on trusting A Being Higher Than Himself. This is a good thing.

He will make little offerings on his altar from time to time, in particular, he’ll be leaving half drunk tumblers of water like one might leave whiskey for Santa. You will have to remove these around the time dust starts to settle on the surface of the liquid because when this happens, both the water and the receptacle containing it become invisible to him. While you can clearly see the cup and the dusty water still sitting there next to last weeks cup, he sincerely believes that after three days God drank his offering and also supernaturally took the cup. This is, and will always remain, a deep mystery.

There are other objects which will come to be in the place beside his bed; artefacts from building sites and junkyards, bits of the natural world and other relics of human history. This is his private study of sociology and philosophy. He has built a little anthropological study table there, and if you watch, you will see his whole life pass across it. You’ll be tempted to remove the things, but do not give in to this. I would strongly suggest you observe carefully what he puts there, because everything that really matters to him will pass over this holiest of places at some time. Pieces of you, pieces of his family of origin, pieces of his children and his friends. He’ll bring the fruit of his hands, things he finds interesting and the proof of his cleverness, and if you love this person, you’ll take notice, and you’ll respect and acknowledge the unseen velvet rope he’s placed these things within as a necessary entity for him, and for the health of your relationship.

There are not many places in a man’s life where he can be honest about who he really is and what he really cares about. Violating a man’s bedside holy spot has worse implications than just making him annoyed, or forcing him to pocket things which will end up breaking your washing machine. If you impede his right to have public private space, mark my words, he will revert to private private space. And that will be much more upsetting than having a pile of nuts and bolts on the floor, I assure you.

My advice? Leave it alone. Thanks to Eve, I think we’re in enough trouble as it is already anyway. I’d rather have an untidy little spot of Holy Ground in my house, even if it isn’t mine, than a whole house clean and under control but without the kind of sublime chaos that makes bushes burst into flames and donkeys talk. How about you?