I’m willing to bet that most of us aspire to be loving people. Whether it’s truly altruistic or we just don’t want to die alone, I like to think we care.
But, for some, working out how to express that is particularly tricky. I’m the person who wilts every time a charismatic church leader tells me to ‘make a new best friend’ during a sixty-second service break. Workplace team-building feels specifically designed to make me call in sick.
At heart, I’m a slow burner. I need ways of being loving that are authentic to who I am – “love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9 NIV). These are the things I’m learning.
Give out of the overflow
I used to love out of obligation – increasingly depleted, never saying no, worrying my unacknowledged sacrifices meant I wasn’t giving enough. I tried harder. I got sick and bitter.
Then I took notice of Jesus – Love personified. I realised that the catalyst for his life of public service was the Father’s affirmation and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment – a Trinitarian team effort, rooted in a secure identity, independent of other people’s praise. I noted that he left things undone, travelling a small radius and dealing with a handful of specific needs. I saw that he regularly withdrew to recharge.
Jesus invites me to do the same: “Walk with me and work with me… Learn the unforced rhythms of grace… live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG). “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19 NIV) – my giving can come from immense thankfulness and be sustained by God’s strength, not mine.
Think it through
But what does that mean? It means if I make four lunch dates in a week, someone is going to be short-changed. I need time alone with a book to feel whole again. I need room to think, write and pray. I also need to prioritise – the people who raised me, or I’ve known since forever; the person I promised to love for a lifetime, or the one I grew in my body. It’s controversial in our friend-laden social media age, or as polite Christians called to love everyone – but I’m finite. I need an inner circle.
It doesn’t mean I can’t imitate God by being widely and extravagantly loving.
Could I offer something at my own pace that still says ‘you matter’? A personal message, a card, a home-cooked meal? Maybe I can really pay attention to our small-talk in the office kitchen – actually hear that your Nan is unwell; genuinely listen to your promotion news. Remember. Follow up. How about a smile in our brief interaction in a shop or on the street?
It’s still sacrificial, thoughtful, committed – the hallmarks of real love. But it won’t tip me into the caustic resentment that inevitably follows when I’m exhausted by attempts to be all things to all people.
“Silence is golden”
The cliché came to life for me when I ran into a friend unexpectedly. She suggested a spontaneous coffee; I wanted to be alone. Instead of saying no, I told her the truth – I was feeling flat and didn’t want to talk, but wouldn’t mind company. So we sat together, in silence at first. It revived me. And it opened her up, initiating one of our most honest conversations and cementing a friendship that has since lasted years.
Silence – being alongside someone, giving the gift of quiet togetherness. It’s underrated.
I also think it’s God’s gift to us. We can be so preoccupied with trying to hear God, but maybe the silence doesn’t mean God isn’t there. Maybe He just wants to sit with us. To give us a chance to be still and know that our frenetic activity doesn’t keep the world turning. And we are valued in simply being, as well as doing.
I believe we are all well-made. These thoughts are not intended as extrovert-bashing.
Don’t we all just want to be seen and accepted – with all our issues and attributes? At the end of the day, if I can show each person I encounter that type of appreciation – in whatever way – I’m hopeful they’ll feel the love.