Sharing and Showing Love

5 Mar

Her text message said, “Arrived safe. I love you.” At first I was taken aback and wasn’t sure how to respond. These aren’t words I say to my students and don’t expect them to say to me, even if our goal is to create is a loving community.  I decided not to write back and then realized it wasn’t meant for me. I’d been texting throughout the day with one of my students as we shared ideas for our campus ministry. She was heading to a babysitting gig on a drizzly night and intended the text for her boyfriend. A few hours later she realized what she had done and was embarrassed and apologetic. It gave me the opportunity to tell her that indeed I also love her, and care for her deeply, but wouldn’t ever say it that way. We typically express love much differently in ministry than with those three little words.

Sharing and showing love is both so fundamental in Christian community and so complicated in actual practice it is worth taking time to decide together what guidelines and standards we will follow when we express love. This is the foundation of every well-written “Safe Sanctuary” policy. Expressing love is an essential part of a faith community, but there are better and worse ways to do it. As we know too well, some ways of expressing love are even harmful. I realized one day that at our Wesley Fellowship we rarely touch each other at all. We didn’t have a tradition or ethos of touch so no one knew what was appropriate, expected or wanted. At worship we decided to include a few minutes to “pass the peace” and greet each other with signs of Christian love. We decided it was okay to offer a hug (which could be refused) or extend a hand (which might get redirected). Relief swept through the group and connecting physically has been an important part of our community ever since.

Safe touch is an obvious way to express love, but there are many other ways to show someone you care for them. Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” reminds us that many find love in spending quality time together, buying meaningful gifts, speaking words of affirmation, and performing acts of service for someone. I’m learning that this current group is a bunch of “lovers.” They don’t typically get excited by big ideas or theological arguments. But introduce them to someone who needs understanding and a little help and their brains and hearts flow forth love. And since time is a precious commodity on campus, a few moments together in the middle of a rough week is often received as the best gift ever given. This is how we are learning to show and share love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God” is the NRSV translation of 1 John 4:7. Will they know we are Christians by our love? Will “they” even care?

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Greg Lawton was hired as Director of the Wesley Fellowship at Grand Valley State University in July 2011 after serving as the interim campus minister at the Michigan State University Wesley Foundation for a semester. He has served churches in the West Michigan Conference in youth and adult discipleship since 1997 and has degrees in Applied Science (A.A.S., Ferris State University), Hydrogeology (B.S., Western Michigan University) and Christian Education (M.A., Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). He is also trained in Restorative Justice, Mediation, and other peacemaking techniques. He lives in nearby Wyoming, MI with his cat, Bob. Greg is an ordained Deacon in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church, loves to travel either on mission or for fun, and enjoys church camp and folk music.

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2 Responses to “Sharing and Showing Love”

  1. The Rev. Debbie Graham March 6, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    I really appreciate this thoughtful post. You raise an important issue for those involved with ministry ( i.e. every Christian and person of faith). I am glad you included “speaking words of affirmation,” as one of the ways to express love. Affirmation is very powerful in forming fully alive human people and much needed in our very polarized society. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

  2. Sherri Martin March 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    I enjoyed this post. We share the peace with each other as well at our Church and I used to hate it. I am very self-conscious and very aware when others invade my personal space so this part of it was very uncomfortable for me. Today, it is still not my favorite part of our service but I do not hate it, I know it is important and I can feel the changes it has made in me regarding my body consciousness and strangers. Who knows….maybe in the future I will actually come to love it. Stranger things have happened..(like the fact that I am in Church at all )

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