When we think of love in our human form, we start with that of loving our parents
and siblings. Early on, it’s a love that is based on dependency, since as little children, we are likely to love our parents in part because of our need for them. As we grow, that relationship is strained and strengthened through adolescence and adulthood. We also have the love of our friends, which in many ways can be more forgiving than what we extend to our family or spouses, as those relationships aren’t nearly as complicated with shared checking accounts, mortgages, and family trips to plan – they’re hopefully just fun and easy. And then we have romantic love, which hopefully accompanies the blessed sacrament of marriage, a sacrament we get to bestow on one another at our wedding. This love is tested by our own failings, by the world, by time. It’s the hardest form of human love, the one that often aches the most, and that we yearn for in a way that explains the volumes of poetry composed through time to attaining it.
But what about this love we have and want to show for God. And what if love doesn’t flow from us quite as easily as we’d like. Maybe the love we sought from our parents was harmful, and so there’s a reluctance to love a Heavenly Father because an earthly parent put some fear in us about being so vulnerable to our need for them. Or what if our love for our friends is really not something we think or talk about – it’s just affirmed by a head nod, a pat on the back, a funny text message every few months, or an annual trip where it feels like when we get together, we were never apart. Or what if the best love we know is that which we have for our spouse, but sometimes even that is complicated, and we don’t really know how to transmute that to our Savior.
We all show love differently, and you might be feeling like there are aspects of the way you are showing love to God currently isn’t really getting it right. A great book I’ve turned to in my own marital relationship is called The 5 Love Languages, and I think the five ways – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch and Receiving Gifts – can inspire us to show our love, and strengthen our relationship, with God.
Quality Time – Start with attending Mass regularly. People come up with plenty of excuses for why they can’t attend Mass, and I’m guessing many sound similar to how they’ve attempted to get out of going to something with their spouse or avoided being volunteered for an activity at their kids’ school. But I urge you that as you show up to spend Quality Time with God, it is also the time when He gets to show you His love back in myriad ways that will hopefully fill your heart and spirit for the week ahead. He does this with His words of affirmation in the Gospel, His quality time with you in prayer, the Physical Touch of the Eucharist and His gift of forgiveness, love and blessings.
And if you are indeed someone that also happens to love Quality Time with your loved ones, you can also add attending adoration or a bible study, setting aside Sundays as a day of rest, spending more time with your family and discussing the life of Jesus or doing activities to help them learn about the liturgical calendar, Saints and feast days, watching movies with good moral lessons with your children, taking a break from things that typically distract you – TV, internet, sports, etc – and directing your attention to the liturgy or theological study. Additionally, spending time with people from church and growing the connections within your own community is incredibly powerful, and something sorely needed today.
Acts of Service – Look to serve others through organizations at the Parish like the Knights of Columbus or other volunteer opportunities. Additionally, be someone that others can call on when they need help. Some career advice I’ve given to some of my younger colleagues has been to find what you think matters in the world, and then go use your talents to help that cause. As a Christian, this is also my advice to you.
Giving Gifts - You have innate talents, blessings and gifts that God wants you to share in the world, to do His work, and to grow in your relationship with Him. When you serve others, in His name, others see the goodness of God in you. Additionally, Church history is filled with stories of those who gave up their worldly possessions to follow God. You may find that being able to be generous to others feels better, and has a much longer feeling of joy, than that fleeting feeling when you acquire something that you thought you wanted. This is another gift of God that many of us don’t really practice enough. Additionally, apprentice and mentor others who need guidance from someone who follows Christ. If you’ve ever seen some of the beautiful churches that were built hundreds of years ago, and often took hundreds of years to complete, you can imagine the skilled artisans working at the peak of their craft to create such a beautiful structure to honor God, and perhaps they had to train future generations to carry on their work, work they may not get to see completed. Take that inheritance of past generations and help others to continue bringing the love of God to the world.
Physical Touch – Crack open the bible, do a rosary and feel the beads move through your fingers, help someone at church who maybe needs your arm to feel a bit more steady as they walk to their pew, clean the Church, hugs your friend and loved ones, light a candle, kneel down and pray.
Words of Affirmation – When I envision this when thinking of God, I see this as evangelization, prayer, and song. It’s also speaking well of those you encounter and refraining from gossip and criticism. If you are encountering those who God made in His image, you should then offer them a kind word, showing appreciation for God’s creation.