Many a Casserole Lady has cared for me. The Casserole Lady brings food to the hurting, nourishment to the weary, comfort to the downcast. She’s first on your doorstep with home-baked bread and brownies, with meatloaf and soup, and of course, with casseroles galore. She ensures you don’t need to plan and prepare meals when you’re grieving a loss, are freshly postpartum, or find yourself in any other time of need.
I love the Casserole Ladies, but I am not one of them.
Sometimes I think about people with the gift of hospitality and get this gnawing, guilty feeling. Why can’t I be more like them? I wish I could, for hospitality seems like the Real Spiritual Gift. Delivering meals to doorsteps, inviting large groups into your home for meals, hosting people long-term as part of your family — this all sounds so very first century Christian. I sigh and start to think I must not measure up.
But I think my accounting system is off when I calculate this way. Maybe I shouldn’t be tallying things up like this. It shouldn’t be about me, me, me. It shouldn’t be about how valuable or useful my gifts are. We shouldn’t have a “usefulness hierarchy” — that’s a joy-stealer if ever I heard one. Instead, I’ve come to believe that it’s about the love behind my actions. It’s about my offering of love to the Lord’s Beloved, for I speak a language of love to the Church that is no less than those gifted in hospitality.
This idea of speaking a language of love originated in Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages,” where he specifies these 5 love languages:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
I’ve mostly heard the idea of Love Languages applied to individual relationships, and to marriage in particular. It generally seems to be discussed in the context of getting your own needs met, explaining why you’re disappointed when they aren’t, and of course making sure you meet your spouse’s needs in return. [Note: I’m not saying that’s how it’s discussed in the book. I’m just saying that’s how I’ve usually heard it discussed amongst The People.]
That approach just doesn’t satisfy me anymore. I want to reframe the gifts discussion, and I want to reframe the love language discussion. I want to stop talking about the gifts we receive from God and start talking about the love we offer back to Him. I want to move beyond just determining how I prefer to receive love, and start embracing the way I most wholeheartedly give love.
Some people, like the Casserole Ladies, love through their Acts of Service. (And we’re all grateful for them!)
Some people love through monetary Gifts. (And building funds and charities everywhere are grateful for them, not to mention those of us in support-based ministry who rely on Gifts for our daily bread.)
Some people love through Physical Touch. (And we’re all grateful for the huggers and the greeters and, let’s not forget, the tireless nursery workers and stay-at-home moms.)
Some people love through Quality Time. (And we’re all grateful for the preachers, teachers, and small group leaders who painstakingly prepare lessons week after week, and for those who sit with people, whether sick or well, whether discouraged or not, giving their time to them.)
Obviously this is not an exhaustive treatise on all the ways members of the Body might speak these five different love languages! I just want to ask this question today: How do you speak love, out of an overflow of your own heart, to the Church? Not what you think you should be doing to serve. Not what you see someone else doing. Not what you’ve always done. But, how do you speak love in such a way that brings you joy?
For me, the way I most wholeheartedly give love to the Body of Christ is through Words of Affirmation. I use words with the hope of blessing people, not for my sake, but for theirs. I offer words, and not just in blog posts — though they’re here too. I also pour all my love into emails and private messages, just because I want to, and because it brings me joy. It is through words that I give gladly and love fully.
I take my counsel from Peter, who says “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you,” and from Paul, who says, “If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.” I hear their commission to speak and encourage not through the lens of gift or skill or talent, but through the lens of love.
I want the discussion of love languages to be about what we give, for the pure joy of it, and not what we need from others. I want to approach service from the vantage point of love, and not of giftings. Not from a focus on me and what God has given me, but from a focus on offering my love to others. Not in order to pigeonhole myself into speaking only one “language,” but to embrace the way I show love and to give my whole soul to it.
I want our love languages to be an outpouring of love, a breaking open of our alabaster boxes.
What is your offering of love to the Church? What Language do you speak to her?
Check out Julie Meyer’s song Alabaster Box, in which she talks about pouring out all her love for Jesus.
And we cannot end without a quote from Henri Nouwen who, in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, expresses my feelings and experiences so well:
“When I first saw Rembrandt’s painting, I was not as familiar with the home of God within me as I am now. Nevertheless, my intense response to the father’s embrace of his son told me that I was desperately searching for that inner place where I too could be held as safely as the young man in the painting. . . .
I have a new vocation now. It is the vocation to speak and write from that place back into the many places of my own and other people’s restless lives. I have to kneel before the Father, put my ear against his chest and listen, without interruption, to the heartbeat of God. Then, and only then, can I say carefully and very gently what I hear.
I know now that I have to speak from eternity into time, from the lasting joy into the passing realities of our short existence in this world, from the house of love into the houses of fear, from God’s abode into the dwellings of human beings. I am well aware of the enormity of this vocation. Still, I am confident that it is the only way for me.”
Other posts in The Church series: