Love in Action: Starting Small

I have felt a strong desire to love more deeply, as well as to love better. In the last year and a half, six people from my hometown and the surrounding area have passed away for one reason or another.  And now that tragedy has struck our country for the second time since the shooting in Connecticut, that urge has only become greater.

I once had this idea that showing gratitude and appreciation was about sappy cyber-messages and phone conversations, or the willingness to take on the weight of the world for another. And not that words or helping somebody carry a heavy burden is meaningless, they’re just not the only ways to go about it.

This is where technology can make a difference: every Monday I like to send out a text asking friends how I can pray for them during that particular week. I will gladly tell them good luck before an important exam or event, or let them know that I’m thinking of them if we haven’t crossed paths in a while.

There’s no doubt that words are powerful, especially when one is faced with their own mortality. But do they really mean anything, especially if there aren’t actions to support such declarations?

Am I personally doing enough to demonstrate love to other people? Sometimes I’m not so sure. More often than not I feel stuck between wanting to let them know how much I care about them, but not be so over the top that I come across as insincere.

That’s when I realized that if you’re not sure about something like that, you might just have to go back to the basics. You’d be surprised at how a simple “hello” or “good morning” can do wonders. I still become incredibly giddy when I see someone around campus or downtown that I know, especially if some amount of time has passed. Taking it a step further, it’s even better when we have the ability to give each other a hug and catch up for at least a couple of minutes. Things like that have so much potential to make someone’s day, and you never know what could follow.

But what about once you get to know a person? A relationship simply needs more than a greeting to survive. Back in high school, I heard about a book called The Five Love Languages; since it seemed geared toward committed or married couples, I didn’t read it until a couple of years later, and it turns out that this practice can apply to singles as well.
Basically, there are five primary ways to show someone that you care about them: it can be through physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, and gifts. I’m not going to launch into an explanation of each because the book is definitely worth reading. But once you figure out another person’s love language, caring becomes a lot less stressful.

I recently took the test over again, and discovered that my primary love language is physical touch, with quality time coming in close second. That explained so many things that I had once found confusing: why I get frustrated and/or anxious when I don’t see my closest friends for long periods of time, and I realized that I’d rather prefer to spend time with people and experience things with them over material gifts.  It also made a lot of sense as to why I loved being physically touched in some way, whether it is through a hug or leaning against someone when I’m tired. The hardest part is knowing how to communicate those things; depending on the person, sometimes I do still get a little intimidated.

But being a love person is not just about what someone can do for you, but what you can give to them as well. As I mentioned beforehand, there are plenty of universal ways to say that you care about someone. Yet as you get to know each other, it becomes more important to understand (and respect) what they like and what they don’t like. This is where I appreciate the fact that I’m so observant and have a rather obscure memory. It makes my Mom really happy when the house is clean and our chores get done, particularly when she doesn’t have to tell us to do it. As far as I know, my Dad has never gotten rid of any gift or card that we kids have ever given him. My sister is not a cuddlebug in any way whatsoever. And my brother will never admit it, but I see his eyes light up whenever anyone compliments him on something. There are my best friends as well, but that would take too long.

Then there’s the question, what do you do when two people don’t like giving or receiving the same things, especially if you’re dating or married? To be honest I don’t have the answer to that one at the moment, but I do think there is a happy medium somewhere.
The biggest challenge is not reading too much into what the person is going to think. I always try to remind myself that it’s not about getting a reaction out of them, but to simply do something out of the goodness of my own heart. I can only hope that it will make someone’s day a little bit brighter, and maybe even easier if they’re going through a difficult time.

Which is why big gestures are nice every once in a while, but not necessary in every- day life. It’s wonderful to be able to support and be there for someone in a time of crisis, but why wait until then to let them know that they mean something to you? If I’ve learned anything from the tragedies of the last ten years, it’s that we are only guaranteed today. Heck, we’re only guaranteed this moment.

After witnessing the heartbreaking news coverage, it’s easy to lament how messed up the world is. But just as well, there are a lot of wonderful people out there who dedicate themselves to loving and doing good, despite all that. But you don’t have to be anybody’s hero to make an impact. It’s all about taking the ordinary and transforming it into something extraordinary.

So am I doing enough? I can’t say if that’s true or not. All I can do is pray that God keeps presenting me with opportunities to love and serve other people, and hope that one day they’ll pass it on.

This is my second post in the series Love In Action. Next time I’ll be discussing vulnerability and how it’s not just about opening up to people, but what happens on the other side of it.
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