I don’t think I will ever make another friend in the same way I met Cindy Brandt: she and I were the two people whose posts on marriage were featured on mammoth-blog Momastery’s Messy Beautiful Summer series last year (Cindy’s awesome post was on How Captain America Did Not Save My Day, mine is here.) Both of us were newish to writing, and both of us were bowled over by the honor of being on Glennon’s blog. So of course, we became Facebook friends. Cindy and I have since traded hundreds of messages and read thousands of one another’s words. I am both a friend and a fan of this across-the-world writer. If we ever get to meet face to face, it will be EPIC. For today, though, I’m thrilled to introduce Cindy to you as she’s just released a new book, Outside In, which you can get for FREE here.
Many habits of the West seem strange to me. Football, watching and cheering men on for crushing each other? I don’t get it. Eating cold foods like salads or sandwiches? Here, unless we have steam rising from our food, it’s not considered a real meal. But probably the steepest cultural learning curve for me has been the casual usage of the word “love.” Westerners say “love you,” to indicate anything from a deeply heart felt expression to conversation fillers to an everyday farewell quip. In English, you can love everything from ice cream to celebrities to your husband. Love covers a multitude of meanings, it’s quite incredible.
In Chinese culture, we are generally much more reserved with our affection. For better or worse, controlling our emotions is considered a virtue, and a lavish show of “love” can come across as reckless. By no means does this indicate Chinese people are incapable of love, we just communicate it in much different ways. For example, it cannot be understated just how much food is a love language in our culture. The act of feeding people, whether it’s a mother for a child, or a friend to another, is a deeply significant gesture of generosity. When someone gifts me with a food item, it floods me with a profound sense of gratitude. I appreciate this in many ways: the beauty of love captured within something as ordinary and necessary as nutritional sustenance—an embodied love communicated through a primal, physical act of ingesting food.
Because I see love expressed in such divergent ways, I don’t make the easy assumption that we mean the same thing when we talk about love.
When Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages” was published in 1995, it began an important conversation on how we give and receive love. The premise of the book is that just because our intentions are to show love to another, does not mean they will automatically receive it as such, because we are wired to feel love differently. Although Chapman’s ideas provide a good framework, I would push it much farther than just the five love languages. The variety of ways humans of all different cultures can express and receive love is truly a testament to the breadth of God’s love reflected in us.
As heartless as this may sound, it doesn’t matter how much you feel like you are loving someone, if they don’t perceive it as love, it will mean very little. And if you don’t at least try to communicate it in a way that is meaningful to the recipient, your love remains weak and inauthentic.
As a mother I know deep in my bones how much I love my children. From the moment they were born, my heart beats outside of my body with my two growing littles. But even at birth they needed to be loved differently. My baby girl liked to be held and rocked, while my son was content with stroller runs around the neighborhood. Today, she’s a blossoming pre-teen requiring my sensitivity to her changing moods and he still likes my hugs and snuggles, but “not-so-long, mom.” I’m not perfect, sometimes I have needed to apologize and trust that my children believes I love them despite how I’ve made them feel. But those are stressful demands on tender young spirits. I want them to feel effortlessly loved. This requires that I do the hard work of paying attention to what lights up their eyes, and how to anchor them in the assurance of our unconditional love.
“They shall know us by our love,” says our sacred Word. The command is crystal clear: as Christians we are called to love generously and lavishly and universally. What is unclear is how to share this love in a way that is genuinely felt by the wild diversity of individuals we encounter. Love is so much more than warm fuzzies; it is laborious and costly and not for the faint of heart. It asks us to carve out space for someone who may look differently, think differently, and love differently than ourselves. It is counterintuitive and uncomfortable. But this space we create to listen hard and be attentive to other’s needs, it never infringes upon our own space. On the contrary, it expands our capacity to love in more ways than one. When you stretch the limits of the ways you can love, you become a bigger person, capable of so much more than you thought possible.
My book, Outside In, takes us to those boundaries and asks how we can stretch them by creating space for those who find a disconnect between the love that is preached and the love that is received. My conviction is that the doors to our churches can always extend a little bit farther out to include one more unique story, one more individual perspective, one more way to love.