SERMON: Granny is like God. Isaiah 49:14-16 & Luke 15:8-9
My Mother is the handy-woman of the family. Her father (my grandfather) was quite handy. He was a brick-layer by trade and so worked with his hands all the time. Around the house when he was fixing things, as a little girl, my mom would watch and learn from everything he was doing. She was the apprentice who passed all the tools when he needed them. And so when I was growing up, while my Dad was the academic of the family… a bit like a walking encyclopaedia, my Mom was the handy-women of the house. I have memories of her laying down tiles on the kitchen floor, taking the washing machine apart to replace gaskets and fan belts, completely re-upholstering the lounge and dining room furniture, fixing the flushing mechanism in the toilet if it was no longer working, along with other plumbing work, replacing blown fuses, changing electrical plugs and the list could go on and on. Whatever handyman skills I may have, I learned them from my Mom.
Even now into her seventies, her reputation still holds strong, even though back-pain may hinder her ability to do some of the things she would have done when she was younger. My mom’s grandson, my nephew Kristian, has come to believe that my Mom can fix anything. A year or so ago, one of his toys broke, and so my brother said to him, “Don’t worry, we’ll store it in the cupboard. When granny comes to visit again she will help fix it for you.” To which he replied: “Granny is like God, she can fix anything!”
It reminds me of that saying which goes something like this: “God could not be everywhere, so He created mothers”. After quoting this statement, Sabrina Premij writes the following:
“I could not agree more. Moms are truly one of a kind. They have arms that were made for holding, for cradling, for loving. In these past 24 years, my Mom has used those arms to tuck me in every night, to rub my injured back, to wax my legs for the first time, to make her infamous tacos when my friends came over, to comfort me after a bad date, to hold my hand before crossing security at the airport, to squeeze me tight when I needed TLC, to love me unconditionally. And though I have grown over these years (sadly, not by much), there was always more than enough space to fit in my Mom’s arms. She’s like a magician.”
Perhaps it is worth noting that not all people’s experience of their Mother’s has been as positive as Sabrina Premij’s experience. On Mother’s Day, while it is certainly an opportunity to highlight all the best qualities that can be found in a Mother and to celebrate all that our Mother’s have done for us in the past and all they do for us in the present, there is a danger of eulogizing mother’s too much, because ultimately all mother’s have their own struggles and difficulties. All mothers have their strengths as well as their weaknesses and failings. If we eulogise mother’s too much, it can put an enormous amount of pressure on women to feel that they now have to live up to an un-attainable ideal. It can also potentially alienate those whose relationships with their mother’s have not been wholesome or life-affirming.
But it is Mother’s Day and so not completely inappropriate for us to celebrate some of the wonderful qualities that Mother’s bring into the world. And in the context of Sunday worship, it is perhaps also not inappropriate for us to consider how motherhood as a whole does have the potential for revealing something of the character and nature of God.
Within Christianity, we are not accustomed to speaking of God using feminine language. Most Christian talk of God has been to refer to God almost exclusively in masculine language. The result is that many many Christians around the world live with an underlying view that God is actually a man, albeit a very big cosmic man.
But the opening chapter of the book of Genesis reminds us that both men and women were made in the image of God, and if this is the case, then it is ultimately not true to say that God is a male or masculine. If God is Infinite, then everything we say about God using finite human language needs to be regarded as provisional and metaphorical. Under certain circumstances it is therefore possible to say that God the great Mystery of Life is like a man, or like a father. But if God is truly Infinite, and if women too are made in God’s image, then it should be equally possible to say that under certain circumstances God is also like a women, and like a mother.
And the truth is that in the Bible, there are a number of passages where God is indeed described using feminine imagery.
The very first place that this is done is in fact in Genesis chapter 1 where God is described almost as though God is like a mother bird brooding over her eggs, waiting for them to crack open and for life to come forth. The first few verses of Genesis 1 read as follows:
1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The word that is translated as hovering is the Hebrew word rachaph (raw-khaf'). It is a word that can mean to flutter, to hover, to brood. In Deuteronomy 32:11 the same Hebrew word is used to describe God in the imagery of an eagle: God is ..."Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers/broods over its young.”
And so in both Genesis 1 and Deuteronomy 32 God is portrayed like a motherly bird, brooding… in Genesis 1, brooding over the act of creation, waiting for life to burst forth, and in Deuteronomy, brooding protectively over her chicks.
This image is used again in Psalm 91:1-4 Where the Psalmist speaks of hiding under the shadow of the Almighty, and then in verse 4 "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge...”
In the book of Job, God is again pictured as a women who gives birth to creation… In Job 10:18, God is described as bringing Job forth from the womb as though God himself (or perhaps one should say God herself) has given birth to Job. And later on in Job 38:29 when the voice of God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, the Divine voice asks: “From whose womb does ice come forth? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens.” What these verses do is remind us that in every act of birthing, women are participating in the Divine act of creation, and that all of creation is this Motherly God’s beloved off-spring and child. From an ecological perspective, if creation is seen as an act of birthing from the womb of God, and as an act of motherly love from God, then we as human beings should show the same respect for creation as we would to any child, as an object of a mother’s love and care.
The image of God as mother is used again by the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 49. The passage was written during the Exile in Babylon, after the Babylonian Empire had invaded the Kingdom of Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, taking many of the people of Judah into exile in Babylon. And there, in exile, to a people who had lost everything, and who were now living in a strange and a foreign land, a prophet speaks of God’s ongoing love and care for his people. Despite appearances, that it seemed God had abandoned them, God is described as a mother who can never abandon or forget her children.
“14But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
the Lord has forgotten me!”
15“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or lack compassion for the son of her womb?
Even if she could forget,
I will not forget you!
16Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands”
The passage speaks of God’s motherly love for her child whom she can never forget or abandon.
And then our last passage for today, in Luke 15, Jesus also describes God in feminine terms as he describes God as a women, perhaps even a mother, searching high and low for a lost coin. She sweeps the house and turns it upside down, looking for this valuable coin that is lost. It is an image that is meant to remind us that all lost and wayward human beings, and there are indeed many of them, are like a valuable coin to God, and God is like a diligent women caring for and managing her home and household searching out for that which is lost. That is quite an unusual image of God. Normally we are used to hearing God being described in the imagery of a great King, sometimes as a warrior. But in this parable, Jesus uses a down to earth, ordinary, homely image of God as a women, bustling around her home, making sure that everything is in order: God, the home executive, as house wives have been described in more recent decades.
On this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate the gift of Mothers, may we also know the Motherly love of God who has given birth to us in love, who has promised never to forsake or abandon us in our moments of exile, and who comes searching for her valuable lost treasure, when we find ourselves lost and do not know our truth worth. Amen.
SERMON TEXT - GIFTS OF LOVE
Gary Chapman related the following story: He was conducting a marriage seminar held at the NATO Air Base in in Germany. Most of the troops living at the base were there for a minimum of two years and so spouses and families also lived with them at the base.
During the afternoon he spotted a 13 year old Alex, sitting at a picnic table doing his homework. Wanting to connect with the community to whom he would be offering his family seminar, Gary Chapman went over to introduce himself and engage him in conversation.
After some small talk, Gary Chapman commented on the St Christopher medallion that was hanging on a chain around Alex’s neck. “My dad gave it to me on my 13th birthday” He went on to explain that his dad had given it to him so that when he was away on duty, it would be a reminder of him. Alex concluded by saying: “I wear it all the time”.
“Who was St Christopher?” inquired Gary Chapman.
“I'm not sure” said Alex, “Some saint in the Church who did a lot of good,” came the reply. Gary Chapman writes that he could tell that for Alex, the medallion had very little religious significance. But on an emotional level, it’s worth was priceless. It was a constant reminder of his father’s love. Gary Chapman writes that he has the sense that if he had to encounter Alex again 30 years from now, he would still be wearing that same St Christopher medal around his neck as a reminder of his father’s love.
What makes a gift a gift asks Gary Chapman?
He writes that gifts are visible and tangible evidence of emotional love. In a way, gifts are a kind of sacrament. In our Protestant tradition, we celebrate two the sacraments, the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, or Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as some people call it.
When I was growing up, I was taught that a sacrament was described as an outward sign of an inward and invisible grace. In Baptism, the outward sign is water and the inward grace is the immersing and the washing in God’s Loving Spirit made known in Jesus. In Communion, the outward symbols are bread and wine, and the inward grace is the Presence and the Gift of Christ’s welcoming, nourishing and forgiving love.
And so even an ordinary gift can also be thought of as a kind of a sacrament, and outward sign of an inner grace and emotional love. In Gary Chapman’s words, a gift is a visible and tangible evidence of emotional love.
Gary Chapman writes that the Greek word from which we get our English word gift is charis, which means grace, or an undeserved gift. And so, by it’s very nature, a gift is not something that is earned or deserved. A gift is given because a person desires to share unconditional love with someone else.
Gary Chapman writes that when something is given with the hope of something in return, it is no longer gift, but rather it is part of a bargain or a deal. And that is fine, he says. There is room in life for deals and bargains. Parents would be familiar with deals and bargains, that are a necessary part of life and living in any home. If you clean your bedroom, then I will buy you a dress, or a new pair of football boots, or a chocolate. There is a place for bargaining and deals in life. There is a place and a time for asking children and teenagers and even adults to earn rewards by their behaviour. But we must never confuse these with gifts.
Gift giving is different from and needs to be seen as separate from deal making, bargaining or earning something. Deal making, bargaining and earning something are all conditional. If conditions are met then a reward is given. But gift giving, because it is by definition is unconditional, cannot have conditions attached to it.
Gary Chapman gives the example of Beverly and her 15 year old daughter Amanda. Beverly told Amanda: “If you go and clean your room, as soon as dinner is over, we will go over the mall and I will buy you that dress that you want.” Gary Chapman continues: “In reality, she was either trying to manipulate Amanda, or bartering a deal with her. “If you will… then I will…”. Or perhaps she was sick and tired of Amanda’s harassment about the dress, and this was her way of caving into the harassment while trying to get a little work out of Amanda in the process. At any rate, the dress was not a gift. It was payment for a clean bedroom. Beverly set it up that way. She may have thought she was expressing love to Amanda by giving her a dress, but Amanda would accept the dress as something she deserves – not as a gift.
And so it is important to draw distinctions between gift giving and bargaining. If we give a gift and place conditions on it then it is no longer a gift. And if we continue to pretend that it is a gift, then it has become tainted with a hidden agenda. It would have been far better to have called it a deal rather than a gift.
Secondly, Gary Chapman believes that gift giving should be done with some measure of ceremony. He says, Think back on a significant gift you received in the past. What was the gift? Who gave it to you? How was it wrapped? How was it presented to you? Was the presentation of the gift accompanied by words, touches or other expressions of love? Gary Chapman writes that the chances are that the more effort the giver put into the packaging and presentation, the more love you felt. He says that the purpose of gift giving is not simply to give an object from one person to another. The purpose is to express emotional love and that the person should sense deeply that we care about them and think that they are important and that we love and cherish them. He says that these emotional messages are enhanced when attention is given to the ceremony accompanying the giving of the gift. He suggests that when we diminish the ceremony, we diminish the power of the gift.
He gives the example of a teenager requesting a pair of sneakers. Mom or Dad drives the teenager to the shop and buys the shoes. The teenager wears them as he or she leaves the shop, and that’s that. No ceremony at all. Gary Chapman suggests that many teenagers have become accustomed to his procedure. He suggests that it does little to communicate emotional love and that if all gifts are given in this manner it creates an entitlement mentality. I’m a teenager. My parents owe it to me to get me whatever I want.
Gary Chapman asks us to imagine a different scenario. Imagine if the shoes are taken home, wrapped creatively, presented in the presence of other family members as an expression of love and accompanied with some words of affirmation and a possibly a hug or a gentle touch. Then, the gift suddenly takes on greater significance and becomes a strong vehicle of emotional love.
When we consider the person of Jesus, there are not a lot of stories to suggest that he gave many physical material gifts to others. In fact as an adult, he appears to have largely adopted a life-style of voluntary poverty and material simplicity. When you are poor, you don’t have the means to give material gifts and so at a surface level, Jesus wasn’t in any obvious way a gift giver. But when you read the Gospel stories, one gets the distinct impression that Jesus was deeply aware of this love language of gift giving. In one of our earlier sermons I had referred to the story of the women anointing Jesus head with an expensive perfume. While in that interaction, Jesus speaks affirming words to her, her actions suggest that giving gifts was quite possibly her primary language of love. For her, the value and expensiveness of the perfume which she pours out on Jesus, becomes an outward sign of just how important Jesus is to her. To have given a gift that cost her little or nothing would not have been a true expression of her love for him. It is precisely because of the enormity of her love for him that she brings out her most expensive jar of perfume to pour over him.
It reminds me of the story of King David in 2 Samuel 24 where David wishes to make an offering to God. Araunah the Jebusite offers to give King David everything he needs to the offering to God. David refuses to accept the offer. In vs 24 we read “No,” replied the king, “I insist on paying a price, for I will not offer to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
The women who pours perfume out as a gift upon Jesus gives him the most valuable gift she has as an outwards sign of the depth of her love and appreciation for him. Jesus, seeing that this is her love language, the way she has chosen to express her love towards him, affirms what she has done for him, affirming the language of love that she has spoken to him in.
While Jesus is not recorded as giving many material gifts, all four of the Gospels recognise that Jesus, in his material poverty, speaks this language of love not in the giving of material gifts, but in the giving of the gift of his very life. John’s Gospel explicitly reveals that in the giving away of his very life for the sake of the healing of the world, Jesus, in the most profound way possible, speaks this 5th language of love: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And before he gives away his life in this way, he leaves them another gift by which his friends and disciples can remember him when at the last supper he takes bread and breaks and takes the cup and gives it to them saying: Do this in remembrance of me. This is a gift that will enable them to constantly remember him and to open themselves to his ongoing presence with them. I was very interested to read in learning more deeply about the Presbyterian tradition that John Calvin, one of the founding fathers of the Presbyterian tradition believed that communion should be celebrated every week, as did John Wesley of the Methodist tradition. It is one of those strange ironies of history that most Presbyterians only share in Jesus’ final gift of Communion twice a year, or at most once every quarter. But for today’s purpose we need only note, that communion, the breaking of bread as a way of remembering Jesus was indeed given as a gift as a means of remembering and celebrating that greatest gift of all, the giving of his life for the sake of the world.
I close again with a few brief questions: Who are the gift givers in your life, who bless you with gifts of love, sometimes material, and perhaps sometimes not. Even the gift of a lovely meal can be and expression of this love language. What perhaps is the most precious or cherished gift you have ever received from someone else? Who are those in your life whose primary language of love might be the giving of gifts? And what might it mean for you to learn to speak back to them in their primary language of love.
SERMON TEXT: Acts of Service (5 Languages of Love) - Rev. Brian Moodie
Gary Chapman relates the words of a young man called Mark who had just started his first full-time job and was contemplating getting married soon. He said the following: “I think the thing that made me feel most loved was the way my parents worked so hard to help me with everything”. As he remembered back to his younger years he recalled the specifics, “I remember all the meals Mom made even though she worked outside the home, and the time Dad helped me with the second hand car we had bought together when I was sixteen. The little things, the big things – they did so much to help me.”
Now at the age of 24, Mark continued to reminisce: “I realise it now, more than I did back then. But even at the time, I knew that they were working hard to help me and I always appreciated it. I hope I can do the same for my children one-day.”
Mark was describing his parents who throughout his life had adeptly spoken the love language of service.
Gary Chapman writes that parenting is a service oriented vocation. He says that the day you decide to have a child, you enrol for long term service. He says that by the time your child has become a teenager, you have been speaking this language of love for thirteen years, and if as a parent you really want to have a sense of the hours, days, months and years of service you have given, take a few minutes to calculate the number of nappy’s you changed, meals you prepared, clothes you washed, folded and ironed, the number of band-aids you applied, toys you repaired, sheets you tucked in, hair you washed and combed. He suggests that on days when parents may be feeling like a failure such a list will provide solid and irrefutable evidence that you have loved your children.
The same exercise can be done in reverse. It might be equally possible for us to make a list of all that we received from our parents in the earliest years of our lives, through our childhood years, into our teens as well as the ongoing support we may have received from them into our adult years: nappy’s changed, meals prepared, clothes washed, hair combed, assistance with homework… and the list could go on and on and on.
Gary Chapman goes on to say that all of this hard work takes on a dimension of nobility when you understand that such acts of service are powerful expressions of emotional love. History is full of examples of men and women who learned to speak the love language known as acts of service. The list includes people like Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Mohandas Gandhi and more recently, someone like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and last year here in the UK, Prince Philip. This year, in the UK, many people will be celebrating the years of public service that the Queen has given to the people of this country as well as the common-wealth. I was interested that in a letter written by the Queen that was shown on TV, she had signed the letter as ‘your servant’.
Indeed, one of the signs of true greatness is expressed in serving. When reading off a list of great names in history who have given their lives in service of others, it is easy to forget that millions of parents all around the world have lived equally noble and self-sacrificing lives for the sake of their children, lives of true greatness, unseen and unacknowledged, with no public accolades or medals of honour.
If true greatness is indeed expressed in serving, then many many parents have participated in this work of true greatness as their acts of service freely given have been true expressions of emotional love.
Gary Chapman gives a reminder though, that loving service of this kind is freely given. He writes that loving service is not slavery. Slavery is imposed from the outside and is done with reluctance. Instead, loving service is a gift, not a necessity, and is done freely and not under coercion. When service is done with a spirit of resentment and bitterness then the spirit of love is tainted, and it is no longer nourishing or helpful for those who are on the receiving end. It is important for all of us, when engaging in acts of service to be sure that our acts of service are truly communicating love or whether our actions have become tainted with toxic emotions that harm not just those who are recipients, but also ourselves as givers, poisoning ourselves and our relationships with negativity and darkness rather than being expressions of the purity of divine love.
Another reminder that Gary Chapman gives is that manipulation is not love. When acts of service are used as a means of manipulating another person, then the streams of love flowing between us become tainted and polluted. We are practising manipulation if our acts of service are always tied to somebody else doing something for us in return. As Gary Chapman writes: Manipulation is never an expression of love. Love cannot be earned, It is a gift freely expressed. True love is always given without conditions. That doesn’t mean that sometimes it is necessary to set boundaries in relationships and where other people should never be confronted or called to account, but if our acts of service are to be truly loving, then they need to be given without manipulation or hidden agenda. Manipulation as Gary Chapman writes has nothing to do with love and everything to do with control.
As Christians, the supreme example of a life of loving service is in fact Jesus. Many would agree that the simple act of washing his disciples feet in John 13 represents a profound summary and symbol of the way Jesus lived his whole life. He himself said that he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life for the sake of others. And he went on to teach his followers: “whoever wants to become great among you must become your servant”.
In the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet, we read of the actions Jesus took on that night:
Firstly, we read that Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God. Jesus act of service came from a positive place within him. It came from an inner knowing that he was already loved. Knowing himself to be loved, Jesus was able to freely share that love with others. He is not doing this act of service to try and win over the love of his disciples. Secure in the knowledge that he is already loved, he is able to freely share that love without any sense of manipulation.
Secondly, we read that got up from the meal. Acts of service require effort. It takes effort to get up from the table. It is much easier to just sit and wait for others to do things for us. Acts of service require some initiative on our part, and the effort to get up ready to act.
Thirdly, we read that Jesus took off his outer clothing. In a way this is symbolic of the fact that when we engage in acts of service, it requires that we take off our sense of self-importance. The Apostle Paul in Colossians uses the imagery of removing a garment as a symbol of taking off what he calls the old-self, the self that is filled with manipulative desires and greed, anger, rage and malice.
Fourthly, we read that Jesus then wrapped a towel around his waist. Again this might have symbolic value for us. Just as we need to take off our sense of self-importance and to take off the old-self, so Paul speaks of putting on the new self, that is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of its Creator. In Colossians 3 :12, he says, “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… and over all these virtues, put on love. Jesus wrapping a towel around his waste becomes a symbol that a true act of service needs to be clothed or wrapped in love.
And fifthly, we read that Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. Acts of service requires a kind of pouring ourselves out towards others. It is a reminder that unless we have some love in our love tanks, we will have nothing to pour out towards others.
If loving acts of service are to be protected from becoming acts of manipulation or acts tainted with resentment and bitterness, we need to make sure that our love tanks, or our basin’s have something in them that we can pour out. True acts of service do also require acts of self-care otherwise we will end up with nothing left to give.
As suggested in this sermon, all of us, if we are to become fully mature human beings, need to learn this language of love of loving and kind acts of service towards others. A life that is unwilling to give itself in service to others is ultimately an immature life of self-centredness. When Paul speaks in 1 Cor 13 about having put aside childish ways, he is not speaking about putting aside a sense of child-like joy and exuberance, but rather he is speaking of the need that each of us has to grow out of a self-centred preoccupation.
Psychology reminds us that babies and young children are naturally narcissistic. When we are born into the world, as babies we all have the sense that the world revolves around us. The terrible two’s represent that period in a child’s life when they begin to come to the dreadful realisation that the world does not in fact revolve around them, and that they can’t always simply get what they want.
Part of putting aside these narcissistic childish ways requires that all of us learn to speak this language of service. It is one of the dangers of growing up in too much wealth, one has a sense of entitlement, that the world is here to serve us, whereas Jesus shows us that the path to true maturity and true greatness lies in the opposite direction.
While we all need to learn this language of loving service, for some people, it is their primary language of love, the primary way in which they express love to others and to the world, doing acts of kindness towards others, going out of their way to help and be of service. The danger is that the rest of us take advantage of them, and forget that if this is their primary language of love, then we also need t learn to speak this language of love in return.
In closing, who are those in your life who have gone out of their way in loving service towards you and who have blessed you with this language of loving service and acts of kindness and given of themselves unconditionally to you, serving you without conditions or the hope of getting back anything in return? In what way might you, out of love and gratitude perhaps speak this love language back to them in return?
SERMON Test - Quality Time (5 Languages of Love)
Last week I spoke a little bit about our cats and how George has a love bucket that needs to be filled up 2-3 times a day. George’s language of love is definitely physical touch. He loves getting petted and scritched. He is like a little love sponge absorbing all the physical love we can give him. Annie sometimes likes physical touch, especially when she is eating although often she is like a typical cat… Don’t touch me. And she will arch her back to try and avoid being touched. The way to Annie’s heart is quality time spent either playing if she is in the mood, but more often spent sleeping on a lap. Give her a lap and she can be very happy for the next hour or so… its just a little difficult if one needs to get up to go to the loo, or If one is working away at the computer. It is not quite so easy typing away having to extend one’s arms over a sleeping kitty!
Gary Chapman writes that at 11:45pm he stepped into his teenage son’s room. He had spent the day counselling and felt both physically and emotionally drained. He was anticipating a brief “good night, I love you” experience, but instead his son said “Dad, I don’t understand girls”. At that point, Gary Chapman writes that he sat on the floor, leaned against the side of his sons bed and asked, “What brings you to that conclusion?”
He writes that that was the beginning of a two hour conversation. His teenage son Derek, was seventeen years old at the time. At the time of writing, his son was now over 40 years old. Gary Chapman writes that his son still doesn’t understand girls, and neither does he, but they have always been close enough to be able to talk, and that is what has been important in their relationship.
Gary Chapman writes that to give someone quality time is in fact to give a portion of your life to another person. Real quality time means giving your undivided attention. Nothing else matters in those moments. He writes that quality time is a powerful communicator of emotional love, but unfortunately the love language of quality time is much more difficult to speak than either words of affirmation or physical touch and the reason is simple: It takes more time.
Gary Chapman writes that a meaningful touch can be given in a second. Words of affirmation can be spoken in less than a minute. But quality time may require hours. And in today’s hurried world, people are finding it more and more difficult to speak this love language of quality time. Gary Chapman suggests that many children these days are growing up in houses with lots of material possessions, but very empty love tanks, feeling like they are simply a a part of their parents collection of things.
It is hard to believe that it is 25 years since I worked as a youth pastor. Together with another member of the congregation we ran a Friday night youth group that comprised about two thirds of teenagers whose parents did not come to Church. It came as quite a shock to me to realise that many of these parents treated their teenagers as a kind of inconvenience. I got the sense that for some of these teens, Marinda, the other leader, and myself were giving quality time to many of these teens that they were not getting at home from their parents.
Gary Chapman gives a wider explanation of what he means when he speaks of quality time.
Firstly, quality time means to really be there with someone else. Central to quality time is togetherness and this means more than simply being in the house together. When you are in the same room with someone else you might be in close proximity, but you are not necessarily together. It is about engaging together in quality conversation or being engaged together in a meaningful activity. Talking about things that are significant and important to the other person, or engaging in an activity that is meaningful or special to another person.
Gary Chapman writes that quality conversation is one of the most powerful ways to communicate this language of love. Asking questions that give space for another person to open up and to speak about things that really matter in their lives without constantly interrupting them so that they have space to really share what they need to. And also being willing to reciprocate by opening up and speaking about things that might also really matter in your life.
To spend quality time with someone requires:
Firstly being deliberate with your time. For someone whose primary language of love is quality time, this would mean giving dedicated and pre-planned time to another person, which shows that you are thinking of them and wish to give them their own special time.
Secondly, quality time means being mentally present, and not being with someone but spending most of your time on your phone or watching the TV out of the corner of your eye at the restaurant. Quality time means putting away the phone and other things that might distract, and making the other person your number one focus.
Thirdly, to be genuinely interested and engaged with them.
Clearly spending quality time with someone else is a key way in which friendships can grow, a key way in which family relationships can be nurtured and a key way in which marriages can be enriched. All of us need in some way to learn to be able to speak this language of love if we are to love those who around us, but for some people, this is their Primary Language of love. You may say nice things to them. You may be physically affectionate with them if that is appropriate to the relationship. You may give gifts to them, and you may do loving acts of service towards them, and they may appreciate all of these things. But for some people, until you have spent quality time with them, engaging in a meaningful activity with them or in a meaningful conversation with them, you may not yet have truly begun to communicate to them in their language of love.
In the New Testament, one has the sense that Jesus was fluent in speaking this language of love with other people, showing people that they were valuable to him by spending quality time with them, sometimes as individuals or sometimes in groups.
The story of the Woman at the well is the first that comes to mind. While sitting at a well, waiting for his disciples to return with food Jesus engages with a her in a deep and meaningful conversation that touches the depths of circumstances. In John’s Gospel, we get just a short potted version of the conversation, but it clearly must lasted quite sometime and seems to have touched some of the deepest struggles and most significant parts of her life, because when she goes back to the village to tell others about Jesus, she says to them: Come and see the man who told be everything about myself. In his presence, it seems that this woman felt heard and known and understood probably in a way that she had never felt heard or understood before. This has been a quality conversation with Jesus, and quality conversations don’t often happen quickly. It takes time for a meaningful and deep conversation to unfold as a person is given space to really open up and express themselves fully.
Jesus also spends quality time with Nicodemus in John 2. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. He is a Pharisee who wants to know more. He is interested to understand more fully what it is that Jesus is actually teaching and what that might mean for him on a personal level. As they say, no question is a silly question. Even though Nicodemus seems to struggle to understand the depth of what Jesus is saying, Jesus sticks with him, engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation with him and not simply dismissing him as a simpleton or as a waste of his time.
I think also of the story of Jesus inviting his disciples to draw aside with him. Come let us rest a while says Jesus. Although it is clear that Jesus sees himself engaged in really important and significant work, the work is not so important that he cannot set aside and dedicate quality time to be with his friends and disciples away from the crowds. In this instance, his disciples have just returned to Jesus after having been sent by Jesus to proclaim the good news of God’s Realm to the surrounding villages. When they return, Jesus response is to invite them to draw aside privately with him to spend quality time together with him: Come, let us rest a while he says to them. When last did you stop what you were doing and said to someone important in your life, perhaps a friend or a family member, come, let us rest a while, lets spend some quality time together.
Lastly, I think of the story of Zacchaeus. A man despised by many, because he had used and abused his role as a tax-collector to enrich himself at other people’s expenses. Although he was rich, with all the wealth in the world, he was probably a very lonely man, and probably quite conscious of how hated and despised he had become. It takes a person with a very thick skin not to be bothered by such hatred. How remarkable that it is with this defrauder, and a person despised and hated by so many that Jesus goes out of his way to spend quality time with him. With crowds following Jesus and so many other people wanting to get a slice of Jesus’ time that day, it must have made an enormous impact on Zacchaeus that Jesus chose to spend the rest of the day with him, eating a meal with him in his home. This great act of love on Jesus’ part of spending quality time with Zacchaeus clearly made an enormous impact on him. Perhaps it was the first time in his life that he had truly felt valuable in someone else's eyes? The impact upon him was so great that day that it caused an unblocking of his own heart so that love began to flow from him. Beneath the heart of stone that he had presented to the world was revealed a heart of flesh, a heart of softness and generosity that wished to become a blessing to others and to restore to them what he had taken from them.
Who are those in your life who have blessed you by spending quality time with you, showing that they felt you were valuable by taking time out to be with you, perhaps engaging in deep and meaningful conversation with you giving you space to share what you were carrying in your heart? Or perhaps taking time to engage in an activity with you that was meaningful to you?
Lastly, is there someone in your life whose primary language of love is quality time? What might it mean for you to communicate with them in their primary language of love?
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