Love. According to God, Author and Creator of all things, love is pretty important. In fact, it’s actually number one on his list. It is the motivator behind all he does and says. And as we are called to imitate him, love must be in and through all our words and actions, too. Paul even goes as far as to say, “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.“(1 Cor. 13:2) Nothing? Really? That’s a bold statement right there.
If we’re really nothing without love (and I think that means both the giving and receiving of it), it follows then, that how well we love matters. If we seek to grow in our relationship with God, we must always be learning how to love, and how to love better. I don’t know about you, but my ability to give it and receive it needs work. Like every day. As I explained in my previous post, love can often be complicated, difficult, and sacrificial. But improving the ways we love–actually loving others better–isn’t that hard at all.
As a lifetime dreamer and hopeless romantic, I’ve always been a student of love. I like to take note of what works and what doesn’t quite cut it. I remember who is good at what and I try to learn from them. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few strategies of my own. I know I can’t (and certainly don’t) love perfectly every time or all the time, but I’m always up for doing it better. I think this should be everyone’s goal. If it was, can you imagine how we could change the world? We could start a revolution.
So with that in mind, here’s my short list of ways you can begin loving others better TODAY:
- With Your Time. Ah, yes–it’s that four letter word we grip so tightly in our rigid, sweaty fists. We all have the same fixed amount of it each day, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. In many ways, it’s our most precious commodity. We aim to guard and protect it at all costs, and spend it how we want. We tend to resent anyone who happens to interrupt that spending plan. But that kind of thinking is the way of our flesh, not the way of God. One of my favorite stories is in Mark 5, when Jesus heals the woman who touches his garment. What caught my attention one day was realizing that when this healing took place, Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter. Certainly this was urgent business to attend to–she was dying–and Jairus was an important person (he was a synagogue leader). But even so, Jesus takes the time to stop and address the woman and to heal her. That’s love in action; not just because he heals her, but because by stopping and turning his attention to her, he demonstrates that he values her. So many times, all people need is for us to drop what we’re doing and just show them that we love them.
- With Your Body Language.I think this is more important than most people realize. Body language communicates. Look people in the eyes when they speak, find their spirit, look for their hearts. Drop your shoulders and relax your posture–no one feels loved and valued if you look like they’re keeping you from doing something else. Even if you don’t have more than a moment, make that moment about them. I once had a friend named Bill who made others feel loved by treating them like they were the only person in the world just for the time they spent talking to him. It wasn’t always what he said, but his presence and his body language always communicated love. This is so easy to do and takes such little effort.
- With Your Touch. This is a scary one, and it does take a little wisdom and discernment, but it is important all the same. A warm handshake, a hug, or a light touch on the shoulder can communicate love and care to a new acquaintance. With a friend, it can be taking their hand or even touching their face. Especially in the USA, where I live, touching isn’t really a part of our culture, but that is not true in other cultures. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Uganda, and it always warmed my heart to see people with arms around one another, leaning together, holding hands, just as part of everyday communication. It speaks of interconnectedness, interdependence, tenderness…love. I think we can do that more.
- With Your Words. If you love someone, tell them! Use your words and be creative! There’s more than one way to say ‘I love you’ and you can also include why. Most of us don’t say it to those we love often enough or even explain why it is we love them. It can be a little awkward if you’re not used to saying it, but your own discomfort shouldn’t supersede someone else’s need to hear it. And listen–I know there are different ‘levels’ of love in relationships, and each requires different expressions of it according to what is appropriate. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know. Conditioned to end my husband’s phone calls with “I love you,” I once accidentally told the cable technical support guy I loved him before hanging up. That’s not recommended. But I think you know what I mean.
- With Your Actions. You can say “I love you” all you want, but if you don’t back it up with action it’s an empty phrase that actually hurts more than it helps. It isn’t really loving at all to say those words without the investment it requires to give it real meaning. I would caution Christians against throwing out those “I love yous” in ministry settings unless you actually have a relationship with that person or are willing to walk out a relationship with them. It is still ‘love in action’ to express care about their wellbeing, situation, or their value to God, as demonstrated by praying for them, giving them counsel, and offering a hug. Part of loving people better is learning to give it and act upon it authentically and honestly.
- With Your Laughter and Your Tears. I think this is such an overlooked facet of love. The Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Paul tells us it’s how we’re supposed to love. In all seasons. With empathy, sharing vulnerability with one another. There’s something about both laughing and crying that puts us completely in the moment and singularly focused. Both feel a bit like time-slowed-down. It’s in these moments of laughing and crying together that our hearts are in a kind of open exchange. Bonded, even if only for a few moments. It’s a beautiful thing, really. If you’re not regularly rejoicing and weeping along with others–and it really has to be both–you’re not fully loving…or living.
As believers, our love defines us. It’s how we show the world who Jesus is and it’s how we show Jesus (and ourselves) that we belong to him. It’s like our calling card, so it’s important we get this right. Otherwise our words will be empty, meaningless noise, and our great displays of faith will be hollow and void. There’s no purpose in them if love isn’t the motivation behind all we say or do.
But if it is…well, then, that’s another story. We could start a revolution. And we can begin TODAY.
Do you have your own strategy for how to love better? We can learn from one another!
A post-script: In my preparation for writing this post, I researched what other people think about how we can love better. I stumbled upon this article on HuffPost.com. What caught me is how, even in secular circles, the search for authentic love often leads back to the one true source. Something to keep in mind when we’re out there loving others.