It was a quiet moment, void of conflict and competition. Two of the brothers set up army men together as I slid a pan of zucchini muffins into the oven. It was then I heard the nine year old with a lisp ask, "Caleb, is wrestling your way of showing love?"
"What?" The question came fast but was met by silence. "Did you just ask me if I wrestle when I want to show you that I love you?"
"Yes? Do you?"
I held my breath and vowed not to disturb their conversation with my clanging of pots and pans or unwanted motherly insight. In the stillness I caught my first born's gentle answer, "Yeah, I guess I do. And I wrestle when I feel like we're having a happy moment together, it kind of bubbles out of me."
The younger brother then shrugged his understanding and said, "I like to be quiet with you. I feel love when I'm doing this kind of stuff with you."
All eleven years of Caleb smiled just then, and he looked up to find me teary-eyed, because we'd just been talking about his tendency to push his brothers to play the way he loves to play, and we talked of possible ways he could meet them in their happy places. His heart swelled, my heart tightened, and his little brother's heart overflowed with five simple words, "this is so much fun."
“Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself.”
- Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages
So often the differences between us all cause friction instead of tender dialogue. The boys who thrive on noise disturb my sensibilities and the man who is always going, forgets how much I like to simply sit with him. There have been long days I haven't experienced being loved at all. Likewise, the boy who wants me to play legos with him is waiting for love just the same.
It's only when we each stop our self-gratifying agenda to be loved, that we can truly give love. True Love. It's a sacrificial affair, this kind of loving each other. Especially when we're all so different, with different needs, and different personalities, and different ways we show and experience love. It's like we're all speaking different languages right here in the very same home.
This is family: A place where everyone speaks a different language.
There are many things about parenting that no one prepared me for. Teaching my children to maneuver lovingly through relationships is just one of them. Here in our house of three brothers, a mom and a dad, I'm learning that God gives us family to learn some of these skills. It's like He mixes us all up in our families of origin, sometimes in uncomfortable ways, in order to mold us into the people He wants us to be on the other side of these growing up years. The sensitive one gets to learn to cope with more aggressive personalities, and the strong-willed bull-dozer must learn to slow down and give in. Even mom and dad get to humble themselves to communicate our devotion and admiration to each of the uniquely diverse personalities we didn't expect to birth. It's all one big package of beautiful and difficult, intended to grow us into a loving and generous people.
When brothers have different love languages, and husband and wife have different ways they experience love, and mother and child find their communication stifled by different love needs too... we can either shut down and simply survive these years together, or we can dive into real love and learn to thrive together. A thriving love gives beyond one's own needs and comfort. A thriving love is based on sacrifice. The way Caleb stopped his rough-housing nature to meet his little brother in quiet and gentle play. The way I made a special dinner tonight for my husband, when scrambled eggs would have filled me up just fine. The way I close my lap-top to read a chapter of a book to the little one, and step over the piles of laundry to play on the floor with his brother.
"Greater love hath no man (woman, mother, father, husband, wife, grandpa, grandma, or child) than this, that he lay down his life for a friend (son, daughter, husband, wife, mother, brother, grandparent, or grandchild..." (John 15:13 - parenthesis added)
I know what it is like to misinterpret another's different personality as a personal attack. Even mothers of young can feel assaulted by their toddlers because their wants and needs and energy are counter-intuitive to who she has always been. They change up her system and the regular ways she once knew peace and security. But she must commit, then recommit each moment if necessary, to loving them in new ways, regardless of the sacrifice, over and over and over again.
“I would encourage you to make your own investigation of the one whom, as He died, prayed for those who killed Him: 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do.' That is love's ultimate expression.”
- Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages
The difference here is this... our loved ones aren't doing anything wrong, and in need of forgiveness, when they are simply asking us for love. They are just expressing who they are, speaking their language, asking for love, as we are being who we are, speaking out own mother-tongue, requesting the same. And all of us together (all three or four or five...) don't always fit together harmoniously. And that's okay. Like I said, we're learning real love here in our homes.
There is no safer place to learn it!
And so tonight I am contemplating the ways each of my beloveds experience my love. Physically, emotionally, playfully, quietly, with touching and gift-giving, laughter and one on one time. And I'm taking a lesson from my eldest, to not just talk about these things, but actually do it.
Blessings upon you and yours, as you grow in love together.
Here's a simple "Love Languages Quiz" to help you discover your children's primary language today!
The MOB Society put together this great series on showing love to our sons, one love language at a time.
And the children's story, A Perfect Pet for Peyton (also by Cary Chapman) helps children understand love languages too!
Take a moment to seek The Lord's deep understanding of who each family member is and jot down a few notes about each one. Then make a game plan. "Matt needs me to spend quality time with him, so today I am going to run errands with him. Caleb needs touch, so tonight I'll hold his hand when we watch a movie. Asher needs words of affirmation, so I will begin our day communicating the appreciation I have for him when he gets himself dressed and is the first one to the breakfast table. And Brody wants the same gentle play and quality time from me that he loved getting from his older brother. I will give him that today."
"Thank you Lord for putting our family together just the way You did. Though it threatens my equilibrium some days, You purposefully crafted us together, and I will worship you by loving them well today - By the powerful flow of your Holy Spirit, Amen."