Happily Even After
Love Is a Verb
by Stacey Noem
About a year ago I saw a student working out in a t-shirt that said, “Be Intentional. Love is a Verb.” As a Jesuit Volunteer nerd, anything exhorting me to living more intentionally makes me think twice. In this case the invitation to treat love as an active way of being, something to cultivate within myself instead of a gift to bestow upon others, was particularly compelling.
When I got to the office later that morning, I wrote the two sentences on a sticky note and posted it on my computer. Now, more than a year later (and 2,700 miles away) I still have the note on my desk. It has been a genuinely helpful reminder for me to love people and I thought I was doing a pretty good job being more intentional about it.
Over the last few months, however, I realize God has been giving me new lessons in what it means to intentionally love others.
The most striking example came a few weeks ago. I got to visit with a very dear friend I had not spent time with in a long while. It had been a very long day for me by the time I got to my friend’s house and I was exhausted but really eager to spend time together. When I got there I just spewed all about how my day had gone and was making tangential comments right and left about this, that and the other thing. In the midst of my spewing my friend called my attention to how I was acting and we had an incredibly awkward exchange in which I realized that I had been a bit insensitive with some of my comments.
It was one of those awful situations where you know you messed up and you want to fix it right away, but the situation is not immediately fixable. Very icky. And VERY humbling.
Although I left the apartment with the situation temporarily unresolved, a few days later that experience helped me come to my new realization. See, I thought I was being loving by sharing all about my day in an unfiltered honest way with my friend. But the way my friend feels love is different than what I was offering.
So this is what I realized about loving: It is not enough for me to love others the way I FEEL like loving them in a given moment. I need to love others the way that THEY feel love.
Now that I have learned this lesson, I see opportunities to put it into play constantly.
At work it can be as simple as greeting someone the way they are most comfortable greeting me. Having lived on the West Coast for so many years, I have become a bit of a “hugger.” My initial inclination when meeting a friend (personal or professional) is to greet them warmly with a hug.
In a new location with so many folks from different parts of the country and with whom I have varying levels acquaintance, I have a number of opportunities on any given day to try to step outside of myself and my preferences for showing love and defer to how others experience love and warmth in our interactions.
There are all kinds of examples of this in family life as well. Good gracious, opportunities abound to love folks the way they feel love, rather than how I feel like loving them!
For example, each night after her bath, I comb Lucy’s hair. She hates to have her hair combed but tries to tolerate it. I think that the best way to take care of her (to show her love) is to use a brush and get it done quickly and efficiently so she can just be finished.
Well, as it turns out, she prefers I use a comb and to have it done slowly. She gets less worked up when she feels like I am taking my time with her. So for her to feel loved when I am combing her hair, I need to go slowly, even though to me it doesn’t seem like the right choice.
Under my note “Be Intentional. Love is a Verb.” I have written, “Love others the way they experience love.” In any given moment it isn’t always easy to figure out how to do that, and I feel like I fail a lot. But I have realized that the act of simply TRYING — of making an effort — is treating love like a verb.
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