A few years back, my mother gave me The Five Languages of Love to read, a book by Gary Chapman. Chapman theorizes that there are five languages we use to communicate love to one another: Giving gifts, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. (All fairly self-explanatory, I think.) Chapman says that each of us has a primary way that we respond to love, a primary way that we understand that someone else is saying they love us. We also have a primary way we tend to communicate love to others, which is usually whatever way we most like to hear we are loved ourselves.
In my family, between my mother and three brothers, we figured that we had all five love languages covered. (Jockeystreet, he wants your quality time, if you were wondering. Todd, my actor brother, prefers words of affirmation. Tim craves physical touch - has loved having his back rubbed since he was very little. Mom - acts of service.) We run in to trouble when we try to communicate love, but aren't heard because the person we're telling it to hears better in a different love language. So, when he was younger, Todd could say to my mom that he loved her, but never do his chores, and my mom would have understood better if he'd done the dishes! In relationships that mean a lot to you, it's worth it to figure out what language you need to speak to communicate love.
My love-language is gift-giving. I like getting gifts! I like giving gifts! This is a good season for me! When I was little, celebrating Valentine's Day was a big deal - we'd have a family dinner with my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and exchange Valentine's. One year, I made probably a hundred Valentine's, enough for everybody at the gathering to get several. When we passed the Valentine's out, I had only a few, one from each of the other people - I had less than everyone else, since I had given most of them myself. I was devastated. I cried and cried. Finally, my uncle went in the other room and made up several Valentine's for me, and came back in and told me he had just forgotten them. I was young enough to be convinced.
I wonder why a certain way of communicating love becomes more meaningful to us? I'm not sure why gift-giving is my love-language. I certainly wouldn't describe myself as someone who loves having things, but I do love getting gifts. It doesn't have to be anything pricy - I love receiving Christmas cards or things like that - but I guess I love having the tangible thing. I guess to me, a gift represents a lasting proof of sorts that someone else was thinking of me. I can keep it, remember with it, show others. I'm a bit of a pack rat - I like to keep things and especially put them in my journal - I have notes that my mom used to (Ok, still) would sneak into my luggage when I was traveling somewhere, or programs from shows that friends picked up for me thinking I would like to see them, or things bought for me when other friends, parishioners, or youth I work with were off visiting someplace exciting. I have a beautiful collection of stoles, most of which were bought for me by friends and family, and they are very precious to me.
I've been thinking a lot about gift-giving this week. I am in the midst of sending out my Christmas cookie packages to friends, and I baked so many cookies this year, that I've also sent plates of cookies to work with my brother, to my mail carrier, directly to the post office, to Administrative Council, and on and on.... And it is so much fun to give, especially to the ones who weren't expecting the gift.
This year, in our family, we're trying to be a little better about buying Christmas gifts - buying less, buying different, buying more meaningfully. Given my love of gifts, I find it a bit difficult - I like buying things for people, especially those members of my family who don't get much for themselves. But I'm trying to think about what would be the most meaningful gift for my family - what would best communicate love to them? When you look in the stores and see massive piles of uniform, meaningless, mostly useless presents you can buy, when you see that even grocery stores carry huge amounts of gifts now that you can buy right when you're buying your milk and bread, you get the picture that gift giving has lost some of its good intentions. Do you give because you have to or are obligated to give?
In the Christian life, we celebrate Christmas because of a gift - the gift of God drawing close to us, close in a way that seemed impossible - as close as can be. The gift is meant to communicate love - not obligation. Not a gift without usefulness. Not a meaningless gesture. In fact, when i think about Jesus' ministry, I'm struck that he used all of the love-languages to communicate his message - he served, he touched, he spent time, he affirmed with his words, and he certainly gave gifts - maybe not gifts wrapped up with a bow, but gifts - the gift of himself fully and completely first among them.
I hope, this season, you try to invest in the gifts you give as much love as possible, and I hope you see the gifts you receive as expressions of love others have for you. And if gift-giving isn't your language, or if it isn't what others use to say they love you, search your life for those other love languages. Probably more people are trying to tell you something than you ever guessed.