Hoppe: To really love someone, we have to learn their preferred love languages
September 16, 2017
When it comes to connecting with the important people in my life, I'm often a slow learner.
Well-armed with sincerity, I'm regularly frustrated by the lack of positive feedback I receive from my well-intentioned efforts.
One of the books that's helped me the most to get a handle on this is Gary Chapman's classic work "The Five Love Languages." In this insightful book, Chapman offers three ideas everybody should understand if they want to get better at loving and connecting with others, no matter who they are.
The first idea is this: There are basically five ways that love gets expressed and received:
1. Through words of affirmation: "I love you." "You did a great job." "I'm proud of you."
2. Through physical touch: a hug, a held hand, a cuddle on the couch or more.
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3. Through quality time: a lazy breakfast, an afternoon outing, an unplugged evening or vacation.
4. Through personal gifts: a piece of jewelry, sports equipment, an electronic gadget or something else of value.
5. Through acts of service: a base covered, a chore done, some practical relief given.
The second key idea is that each of us has one or two preferred love languages. In other words, most of us feel particularly loved when other people are using our preferred language. For instance, when someone I love simply spends time with me or does something kind for me, I'm a happy camper. They don't have to give me anything, or say something expressive to me. Simply hang out with me or do something nice for me, and I'll feel loved.
But here's Chapman's third lesson, and it's the most important one: when trying to love other people, we tend to speak our language instead of theirs. My wife Patty's preferred love language is words. So how truly loving is it when I'm simply around her or working my tail off on chores that are usually hers, but never let her know what she means to me, or how I value what she does for me and our family? Who's feeling the love there—her or me?
People can go years disconnected from each other on this score. Some husbands and wives can't understand why the other isn't more appreciative of how much they love them. Some parents are doing all these acts of service for their kids—driving them here and there, giving them all the latest toys—when what the child hungers for most is just some quality time. There are some bosses out there who have no idea that it isn't the money their employees primarily crave as much as being affirmed for how wonderfully they do their job. Of course, I don't think they'd turn down a gift card either.
The great call of God for each of us is to learn to live in an outward direction—like He does. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:4-5: "In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus."
Unless you're an unusual saint, it's going to take a lifetime to learn to fully live this way. Like me, you're going to be battling the fundamental nature of sin—which, as the Bible describes it, is the tendency to see the world primarily in terms of ourselves: to make our love language, our opinion, our comfort and our self-interest the focus. Even the very suggestion that we should live otherwise kicks up all kinds of rebellion inside of us. As St. Augustine observed, sin is the curving of everything back toward ourselves and away from God and others.
But life, as God designed it, is meant to curve outward, the way He does. It's only as we learn to highly value others and live in an others-oriented direction, therefore, that the whole interrelated system of humanity works as it should, and greater relational flourishing emerges. I know our nation is engaged in important discussions about what national policies should be changed to improve conditions in America. These discussions need to happen on many levels. But imagine the dramatic change we'd see in this world (and our local community) if more of us started to live, as Jesus does, in a way that's others-oriented, generous, hospitable, empathetic, resourceful and self-sacrificing. Would it be a better place to live or a worse one? I think we all know the answer.
So, here's my invitation to you as we move throughout the world this week: let's not just do what pleases us. Let's become more inquisitive about the people around us, and live in a way that truly connects with them, and reflects God's loving heart for them.
— Rev. Bruce Hoppe is on the pastoral team at Christ Community Church in Greeley (cccgreeley.org). Prior to moving to Colorado in 2004, he pastored congregations in Illinois and Massachusetts and was involved in inner-city ministry on the streets of New York City.