Today is Election Day, and since anyone who may be reading this right now is probably burnt out on political acrimony, I’ve decided not to come back from my long break from posting with a discussion of why I voted for Gary Johnson and why you should have also (I’ll save that for a later post). Instead I thought it might be a nice break to talk about something spiritual I have learned—it might be useful to you!
I mentioned in my previous post, which, I apologize, was six months ago, that my wife and I have been going through Blackaby’s Experiencing God study, and one thing that challenged me early on was the notion that God pursues a love relationship with me. From what I understand, since we always hear God referred to as “Father”, we subconsciously attribute our human father’s traits to God, myself included, so any time I’ve heard about “the Father’s love” or “God is love”, I’ve subconsciously assumed that God’s love relationship with me is identical to my dad’s.
Now, growing up (he seems better about it now), my dad’s love was very service oriented—Dr. Chapman would say that dad’s “love language” is “acts of service”1—and apparently conditional upon my cheerful obedience (normally to commands to serve him in some way). That is to say, dad tried to show me that he loved me by going to work in order to provide for my needs, rather than by giving me presents or spending lots of time with me, and he became very angry, and his words very unloving, whenever I didn’t reciprocate with my own acts of service, like voluntarily waking up early on a Saturday to mow the lawn with a smile on my face, but rather complained or looked dour when ordered to do so. I understand now that his negative reaction was because he felt unloved by me, but at the time it seemed like he only loved me when I was obediently sacrificing my time and energy to work for him. I still subconsciously feel like my value to others is wholly dependent upon the amount of service I do for them without asking—I have small panic attacks whenever I see my wife doing dishes that I haven’t had a chance to get to first, and less small panic attacks whenever she asks me to do something—when she has a need I haven’t anticipated.
I also subconsciously assume that I only have value to God insofar as I work for Him and obey His commands. No doubt there is a component of service and obedience to any healthy relationship with and love for God, but focusing only on this element has been very drudging and disheartening—it has seemed like God keeps demanding work and obedience but only occasionally reciprocates with an act of service for me, “Not that I deserve any,” says the guilt, “since He already committed the greatest possible act of service by sending His Son to die to save me from the eternal consequences of my sin.” During the course of Experiencing God, however, it occurred to me to ask, “What is God’s love language?” Is it really acts of service, or is it quality time (as I thought the study might have been suggesting at the time)?
After some prayer and time spent outside praising God for His good qualities (an exercise suggested by the study, one which I must confess was rather uncomfortable for me during the first several minutes), it occurred to me that if everyone is created in God’s image, then we are reflections of Him, and our attributes and emotions must also be derived from His attributes and emotions. Men are strong and functional because He is strong and functional; women are gentle and beautiful because He is gentle and beautiful. We can feel joy and pain because He can feel joy and pain. It occurred to me that, if God has attributes both “masculine” and “feminine”, if He possesses the fullness of all traits found in greater or lesser degreein each of His images, then this must be true of love languages also—God’s love language is all of them; there are five of them because God loves and feels loved in five different ways:
- Gifts – in the Old Testament, God ordained the “tithe”—the giving to Him of the best 10% of the fruits of one’s labor; in the New Testament, that has been expanded to the giving of one’s entire self to Him
- Quality Time – the Bible is full of exhortations to “meditate” on God’s words—to immerse oneself in prayer, reading the Bible (and other Christian books), learning about Him, etc.
- Words of Affirmation – the book of Psalms is filled to the brim with prayers of praise of God, His character, His works
- Acts of Service – God desires obedience to His commands, not just to live righteously, but to care for the poor, heal the sick, etc.
- Physical Touch – I had to think about this one for a minute, but I’m pretty sure it’s fellowship with the body of believers—any time we go to church or small group, we see, shake hands with, and even hug fellow images of God, other members of His “body”
These are not mutually exclusive and are often connected—the service act of healing the sick or comforting those who mourn could also be considered physical touch, and the latter could also be words of affirmation and quality time. I’d even go so far as to say that any time we express love to others, in whatever way we do it, we are expressing it to God, and He is expressing it to them through us. The point is, though, that though each one of us may only feel and show love in one or two of these ways and not care less about the others, God feels and shows love in all of them, and desires to be loved in all of them. Loving Him through acts of service may come most naturally to me, but He also wants me to love Him through spending quality time with Him. This is a challenge for me, but hopefully having a wife whose primary love language is quality time is helping me to learn that language better.
So that will be my challenge to you this Election Day: Figure out how you normally love and feel loved by God, and today try to love Him in a different way and think about the other ways He has shown you that He loves you which you might not have noticed. Maybe it will encourage you as much as it has me.
- For those who may be unfamiliar, the Five Love Languages Theory states that everyone has a primary mode in which they feel, and consequently also express, love. The five languages are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. I’ve never actually read Dr. Chapman’s book myself (it’s thoroughly explained and widely discussed in evangelical circles), so I’m sorry if he already came up with and explained what I’m talking about here.