“What comes to mind when you think of Valentine’s Day?”
This is the question I asked the middle school youth group on Sunday as a lead-in to a lesson about love–specifically love as an action word. I received many of the answers I’d anticipated: chocolate, flowers, hearts, etc.
One girl raised her hand and said, “A big bucket of fried chicken!” I laughed (who thinks of fried chicken when they think of Valentine’s Day?) and asked if that was a family tradition. She shook her head, no. Then I asked, “…or would that just be a good way for someone to show you they cared about you?” She nodded her head with a big grin and wide “I love fried chicken” eyes.
As a side note, this is a prime example of why I love middle school youth. You never know what they are going to say. You think you know, but you don’t.
I laughed to myself and mentally filed that gem away as Reason # 5723 why I love middle schoolers, but as I reflected on it later it occurred to me that what this girl said went deeper than the bottom of the bucket. In fact, she pointed to the very core of our lesson on love.
Dr. Gary Chapman is a world renowned expert on love and marriage. In his book The Five Love Languages he describes five general categories, or “languages,” in which we communicate love: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. The idea is that every person speaks one or two of these languages stronger than any of the others, and when that person is loved in that particular language, they feel especially loved.
For example, a person whose primary love language is words of affirmation might melt upon receiving a sappy love note for Valentine’s Day, whereas a person whose primary love language is receiving gifts might think, “Are you kidding me? Where are the roses? Where are the chocolates?” Someone whose love language is quality time might feel most loved by taking a walk together; a physical touch person would need to hold hands on that walk to feel really loved. Someone whose love language is acts of service might feel most loved if their spouse watches the kids so they can take a walk by themselves.
I have found this concept to be true, not only in marriage, but in non-romantic relationships as well. Regardless of a person’s love language, however, I think the underlying truth is this:
Love is a choice.
Love is an action word. In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” You see, Christ demonstrated the greatest love by dying on the cross for us. Love doesn’t get any more true than that.
There’s no question that when God commands us to love our neighbor and love our enemy, He is not suggesting we attempt to conjure up a warm fuzzy feeling toward them, but rather that we choose to love them in an active way. In the same way that Christ loved us by laying down His life for us, we must love others by choosing to lay down our lives and put them first.
I don’t scrub the toilets because I enjoy doing so; I do it because… oh, who am I kidding? I don’t scrub the toilets. Better example: Andrew doesn’t scrub the toilets because he enjoys doing so; he does it as an act of love, because doing so means that I don’t have to. And I hate scrubbing the toilets.
Loving someone could mean taking them on a picnic. It could mean giving them flowers. It could mean doing the dishes. Giving them a foot massage. Cooking dinner. Writing them a heartfelt note. Sitting on the couch and talking. Holding hands. Telling them you are proud of them. Buying them an unexpected gift. Taking out the trash. Answering the phone when they need to talk. Giving them a ride when their car is in the shop (even if it requires you to wake up 30 minutes early.)
Loving someone could simply mean putting a big bucket of fried chicken on the table for dinner because you know they’ll love it.
Today–and tomorrow, the next day, and so on–I challenge you to love the people around you. To lay down your life for theirs.
It’s easier said than done, I know, but what a beautiful example we have in the One who laid down His life for us.