From my teenage years until recent times, I firmly believed that all people had their needs for love fulfilled in five different ways, as outlined in the best seller by Dr. Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages.
Now that I have been exposed to Orthodox theology and have come to know my own heart more deeply, I feel that Dr. Chapman’s book needs a critique.
As outlined by Dr. Chapman, there are five ways in which people give and receive love. When someone in a relationship feels unloved, it may be because their significant other is not “speaking” their “love language.” The five are:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Receiving Gifts
3. Acts of Service
4. Quality Time
5. Physical Touch
Very little of my blog will make sense for a person who has not begun the long and difficult journey into their heart, which is at the center of Orthodox spirituality. A desire or need to receive any of these “love languages” ultimately reveals hidden pride, egotism, and attachment to the world, as harsh as that sounds.
In their purest form, these five languages are innocent and are common practices between healthy individuals. However, these things reveal our unhealed nature if we feel a “need” for others to give them to us, or if we become upset because others do not recognize that we are making an effort to offer this type of “love.” I have seen people manipulate others into providing their “needed love language.”
WHY IT IS INSUFFICIENT
I began writing a detailed rebuttal for each of the individual “love languages,” but then I realized a theme was appearing in each response: we should practice the expression of affection for others, but we should never hope for, desire, or expect to receive absolutely anything in return, not even a smile or a “thank you.”
For example, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving, in fact, there is something wrong with someone who does not give. However, when we feel a need or desire to receive some kind of gift, then our souls have material attachments to the world that are hindering us from entering into a deeper place of true love in Christ. Additionally, if we give to someone who does not appear to be pleased or thankful and, consequently, that evokes an emotional response of hurt or anger, then that is a sign of egotism and giving with an impure heart.
All of this is about dying to this world and resurrecting to life exclusively in Christ. Dying and resurrecting in Christ is a process that will take us our entire lives, but it is the place where we humans were designed to be. When we begin to receive true love directly from God within our hearts by dwelling in Christ, we will no longer feel a need to receive any of the five “love languages.”
GIVE WITHOUT RECEIVING
So rather than tediously addressing each language, I think the best summary is to say that we should show meaningful affection to others as often as is appropriate, but we should never expect anything in return. When we expect anything in return (gifts, kind words, an act of service, time, or even a hug), then we have given with an impure heart.
If we feel an aching need within our hearts to receive “love” in any of those five ways, then it reveals that we have work to do within our souls. Nearly all of us are in that place (myself included), so I don’t say that to condemn anyone. I simply want to emphasize that we should be striving to find our fulfillment through a life in Christ.
When we spend our time looking to be fulfilled in any one of these five ways of affection, then we cannot simultaneously commune deeply with the angels, the saints, and God Himself. The two modes of living are incompatible, as can be clearly seen from the lives of innumerable saints who cast off the world entirely to embrace a deep relationship with God.
We have already received the ultimate expression of love from God through Christ’s incarnation, His death on the cross, His resurrection, and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If we are not perpetually abiding in the joy, hope, and presence of this Giver, then we (myself included) have not fully opened our hearts to God and no amount of human love can compensate for that.
When we fail to look toward God for fulfillment, then we begin to demand it from others. But these demands cannot be fulfilled to our complete satisfaction, which in turn can make us and others around us feel miserable. God is the only perfect lover, nobody else comes close. We should therefore spend time daily attempting to draw closer to this Perfect Lover.
As the Christmas season approaches, let us give to others, let us edify them with words of truth and love, let us perform acts of kindness, let us spend time with the lonely, and give a warm, pure touch to those who are discouraged. But may we not expect anything in return; in fact, let us try to be like the saints who performed their acts of love as secretly as possible so that only our Heavenly Father knows. By doing so, we crucify our ego and material attachments and can begin even now to live in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Update (May 2017):
I received a letter from someone regarding this essay and I felt that an update was in order. So, I updated a bit of the text here and also posted my reply to the reader here.
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. – Luke 14:12-14
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matt. 6:3-4
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 2 Cor. 5:17
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. – 1 Peter 5:10
Next blog will discuss what it means to live in Christ, and how to find perfect fulfillment in Him.
Photo credit: http://jpdean.deviantart.com/art/Love-50316085