On the Language of Love
(Gen.2:18-24; Heb.2:9-11; Mk.10:2-16)
There’s nothing quite like falling in love, is there? It feels so exhilarating, so exciting, so extraordinary.
When two people fall in love, not only do their hearts light up. Scientists say their hormones fire up, too, as a neurochemical cocktail of adrenaline and dopamine rushes from their brains. The effect is like cocaine, they say, and the lovers feel euphoric. [i] It’s as if nothing can possibly go wrong.
Falling in love feels like the most wonderful thing in the world. But those feelings don’t last, do they?
The author Gary Chapman says that the average romantic obsession lasts for just two years. After that, he says, the hormones start settling down and the lovers find themselves gradually returning to earth and normal life.
When lovers start seeing things as they really are, their differences become more obvious and they tend to drift apart. That’s when they find themselves in danger of falling out of love and they either withdraw from each other (and maybe split up), or they start the hard work of learning how to love each other in new ways.
Over the years I’ve sometimes been surprised to see couples who love each other break up, and I’ve wondered why. In his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman provides one good answer. He says there are five main ways to express our love for someone, and he calls these ‘love languages’. Everyone enjoys them all to some degree, but each of us has a primary love language, a preferred way in which we tend to give and receive love.
The first of these is Words of Affirmation. For some people, words are the most powerful way of communicating their love and affection. They do this through thoughtful statements of appreciation, encouragement and kindness.
For others, Quality Time is more important. This love language is all about giving your partner your undivided time and attention. It’s not just ‘hanging around’; it means being actively and genuinely present to them in meaningful ways.
The third love language is Gifts. For some people, gifts are the very best way to express love, and receiving gifts is their preferred way to be loved.
The fourth love language is Acts of Service. Some people believe that actions speak louder than words, and they like to express their love and affection by doing things for others. They might do a chore, solve a problem or cook a meal for them, and they simply love it when they receive a kind service in return.
And finally, the fifth love language is Physical Touch. For some people, nothing speaks more deeply or beautifully of love than a warm, gentle touch. They like to express their affection by giving a hug or holding hands or sitting close by.
But of course, we need to be careful. Not everyone likes to be touched. Not everyone appreciates a gift or a well-crafted word.
For a relationship to be successful, we need to know our partner’s primary love language. If I emphasise romantic words when my wife prefers gifts, I could be wasting my time. I might think I’m being loving while she’s feeling neglected. This is why relationships sometimes break up; the partners haven’t learnt how to express their love in the most meaningful and effective way.
So how do we discover someone’s love language? One way is to ask them. But Chapman also says that we should observe the way they express their love to others. And we should analyse what they often complain about and what they ask for. [ii]
But here’s the point: genuine love requires serious thought and effort.
In our first reading today from the Book of Genesis, God is presented as a potter using his hands to create wild beasts and birds from clay. He also creates man in his own image and likeness, and he fills man’s heart with the fire of his love.
This reading reminds us that we were all made to love and to be loved, because God is love itself (1Jn.4:8; 16). And Jesus affirms this fact in Mark’s gospel today, where he talks about the importance of marriage.
But our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that loving others makes us vulnerable to suffering. That’s exactly what happens to Jesus when he opens up his heart to us. He exposes himself to suffering, and he finds himself nailed to the Cross. However, it’s through his unshakeable commitment to love, and the inevitable suffering, that he is made perfect.
And so it is with us. Loving someone else takes courage and commitment, and it makes us vulnerable.
But it’s only through love that we grow to full maturity.
And it’s only through
love that we’ll ever get to heaven.
[ii] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages. Northfield Publishing, Chicago. 2010.