While in most American families, it’s not easy to gather the troops as they scatter to the wind of various activities, sports, and occupations during the day, dinnertime is usually the best shot we’ve got to do it.
Last night, like most nights, we had two activities: Boy Scouts for our son and basketball for one of our two daughters. I had talked to Jill earlier in the day and we planned our strategy. I would arrive home by 5:30 and we’d eat together and be off to Boy Scouts in one direction and the game in the other by 6:30.
When we eat leftovers, which is about half of the time (and these are homemade good leftovers from something Jill had cooked earlier, so we all like them), we tend to sit down at the bar, stand around and eat, instead of gathering at the table. So we have to be intentional on nights like this to sit down together.
The girls had been tussling over something earlier in the afternoon, so they needed to reconnect and be prayed over, so I called the children off the barstools and into the chairs around the table and when we’d nuked all our food we sat down and prayed about the argument the girls had had, thanked God for the opportunity to enjoy the activities we were heading to . . .
This wasn’t a long sit down dinner. We were at the table all of fifteen minutes max, but that’s a lot of time when the conversation is direct and intentional. We talked about our day and then chatted about what Valentine’s Day’s all about and got to talking about Love Languages.
Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, has been perhaps the most influencial book on relationships Jill and I have read, and it is also very helpful in navigating the way we love and discipline and talked to and give gifts to our children. It’s also helpful, on nights like this, in teaching our children that we both have a language of love ourselves and ought to learn the different love languages of others so we can truly love them with what good friend Terry Smith calls the Platinum Rule: love your neighbor as she wants to be loved. I think this is the intent of Jesus, that we truly love as the other person wants to be loved, not simply loving with a superficial glancing notion of how we think someone wants to be loved based on our own preferences of how we’re loved.
I learned a big lesson about this years ago when I again bought flowers for Valentines for Jill and she asked how much they cost. She really doesn’t like flowers as the stereotypical woman does. When they arrive, she’s concerned about the expense because 1) she keeps the checkbook, 2) it really doesn’t turn her crank. What does? When I wash the dishes or vaccum or clean the bathrooms–these are acts of service and one of the five love languages.
What are the five love languages Chapman describes in his books (he has several, including one for children and one about God’s Love Languages)?
1. Acts of Service
2. Word of Affirmation
3. Meaningful Touch
4. Giving Gifts
5. Quality Time
So around the table last night we asked the children, “Would you rather I serve you by helping you organize your room or hear me say “good job and I’m glad you’re my son or daughter”? When they answered one of those, we took that and pitted that one against another until a winning language emerged.
While they like all the expressions of love, our two bookend children grabbed on to quality time together and our middle child ended up with meaningful words. We also noted that the two girls are different when receiving words of discipline and honesty about their actions. Our middle daughter does not like to hear that she has done wrong, but our oldest can hear those words and let them roll down her back like water on a duck.
So this morning when Jill gave the children a few tokens of love in the form of Valentine’s candy and a T-shirt, they didn’t balk. They like gifts, but we also included a love letter for each of them, and both the gifts and letter put smiles on their faces.
Sharing faith with our children comes back over and over again to learning how to love one another and speak one another’s love languages. We really speak them all in different situations but we realize that we all primarily enjoy receiving one or two of the languages. Finding and continuing to speak that language uniquely to each individual is very important.
Do you know your own love language, your spouse’s, your children’s, your co-worker’s, your neighbor’s?
I just found your blog and I wanted to say hello. I met you and your wife at Harding, but I got to know y’all when we were counselors together at Camp Hunt in 1988. Your family looks great! Tell Jill hello for me.
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