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I've been hoarding
Imagine if you are starving, or at the very least, malnourished but you live with people in your daily who have an unending supply of food. Like they have a Star Trek style replicator, but they just won’t give you anything to eat. It isn’t because they want to torture you or because they hate you, in fact, they love you, they just don’t realize that you are in need of food. Now, imagine if you told them you were hungry, and they felt bad, and fed you a big meal, but in the following days, they slowly seemed to forget, and they get too busy to feed you, so you slowly find yourself starving again.
Does that seem possible? That someone would have vital nourishment for someone they love and not give it to them? It does if I’m talking about the nourishment of words of affirmation. Sorry, didn’t mean to trick you, but thinking about things by way of analogy really helps me to get ideas from my head to my heart, and this thought just occurred to me today. See, I live with a words of affirmation guy. It’s his love language; in other words, it’s the food that keeps him nourished, but words of affirmation are one of the hardest things for me to part with. It’s like I’m a hoarder, afraid to let go of all of my valuable verbal validation. Since I was taught not to share words of affirmation in my house growing up — “because the more you use them the less special they become”— I find them very uncomfortable. In fact, it took me the first year of marriage just to become kind of comfortable with saying, “I love you,” that’s how foreign this concept is to me.
But as of late, in my quest to find the next new thing (to me) in the area of loving others better, I have been pondering this idea. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of “The Five Love Languages,” who we recently had the pleasure of spending a few hours with this month, the love languages aren’t just about how you feel loved, but about using all five languages to love others. I’m super good at acts of service. I enjoy both getting and giving them. They seem to give me life. And, in my pursuit to learn other foreign love languages, I have found it easier, as my husband pointed out, to speak those foreign tongues when I am in the process of receiving my own love language. While it makes me sad that I have to get before I can give, it also gives me hope that I’m now becoming aware of my need for growth, and that’s a part of the process.
Now that I am thinking about it as starving someone of love, I’m finding it more important than I used to. I think it’s fair to say that a love unspoken is a love unknown. After a childhood of learning the opposite, I’m starting to realize that affirmations are where love finds its voice, in spite of the fact that my soul feels like love is expressed by actions alone, not words. How wrong I’ve been!
Love is louder when spoken.
Imagine being in love with someone who spoke a different language than you, and only telling them how much you cared in your own language, which they didn’t understand. How would they ever truly know the depth of your love? Well, that’s what I’ve been doing, out of self-preservation and a false idea of what love is. As Dr. Chapman would say, love means using all of the love languages, not just the ones that make you feel loved. How selfish it is to say, “I’ll only speak my language to you.” Or even, “I’ll speak your language if and only if you’ll speak mine first.” I don’t want to say or even imply that anymore. It just seems so unnatural to me to move beyond giving words of affirmation for getting the love I want, but it also seems like the very definition of love, to give regardless of return. After all, as Jesus made clear, even the most despicable people in the world can love the people who are loving them, but the truly selfless lover can love even those who give them nothing in return.
I’m still not super sure how to take the next step towards speaking this previously unknown love language other than to do the same things I do to learn any new language: start with vocabulary. In telling Michael that I was writing this really hard confession, I told him I wanted to learn more words of affirmation like “You were right.” He lost his breath for a second, and then said, “It feels really good just to hear that phrase even though it’s just hypothetical. I’m not used to those words coming from you.” Which looking from this new perspective seems impossible, since I think he’s more right than me multiple times a day!
What does love say?
So, in an attempt to start at the beginning, I’m going to learn the vocabulary of love that is spoken not just shown. I think what I wrote last week about things people who are growing say is good fodder for my words of affirmation practice. So, I’m going to take some of those and build on them in order to have a stable of love from which I can ride out in affirmation to those around me. Here is lesson one:
I always learn something from you. I love that.
You’re such a good problem solver.
I love the way you think.
You are a good listener.
You are looking good.
Your patience (or fill in the blank) inspires me.
I’m proud of you.
I appreciate your work on (blank).
Thanks for being so thoughtful.
I value your honesty.
Your presence makes things better.
Thank you for (fill in the blank). To be said after everything that he does for me, even if it’s something he should do for me.
You were right.
These might not seem like very big vocab words to someone who is fluent in words of affirmation, but it’s my attempt at learning the equivalent of greetings, colors, and numbers of a foreign language. I hope that the more I speak this foreign tongue, the quicker I’ll advance to harder expressions like:
You are so strong.
I love you just the way you are.
Being with you makes my day better.
I love how resilient you are.
You are my favorite.
I’d rather be with you than with anyone else.
I can't imagine a life without you, and I wouldn't want to.
I really do believe that our hearts thrive on the nourishment of affirming words. But right now, that vocabulary is beyond my current ability. It’s like verb conjugation level language skills, which gives me an idea. I learned how to conjugate my French verbs by writing them out over and over and practicing them by repetition, so I’ll commit to writing these things out and practicing them in the mirror or speaking them to my dogs, til’ I feel like I can say them to a native speaker without fear and trembling.
As my husband says, “God is all the love languages, and he uses them all with us.” I want to learn to be more like my Father, so I want to learn to speak all the languages of love. For now, it’s words of affirmation. Next, will be giving gifts! Stay tuned for that undertaking, for which I’m ill equipped for as well. But that’s what keeps me looking for the next new thing (to me). It’s my attempt to be more faithful, hopeful, and loving. Any words of affirmation people out there that can help me better understand your language?