Learning to Love
Before getting married, I had never heard of Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages. Marriage does not come with a manual, but if it did, the concepts within the book could cover off a few chapters.
For those not familiar with it, the premise of the book is that there are five primary ways in which we ‘speak’ and receive love. They are: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Physical Touch, and Words of Affirmation.
For me, Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation are the main ways that I receive and speak love. For my wife, Katie, Quality Time is her dominant language. Looking back on scenes of our life together, I remember being very confused at times (not unusual). An example would be if I jumped straight into a chore like cleaning the kitchen after putting the kids to bed.
Expecting this would be seen as a loving act of service, I found that Katie’s reaction could sometimes be underwhelming. (As a side note, this may also be because I have a bad habit of expecting a trophy for remembering to put the toilet seat down.) But I noticed that she would often ask me to sit with her for a few minutes. If I sat down and talked before moving onto my nightly tasks, things between us seemed better.
Once the concepts of The 5 Love Languages were introduced to me and I learned what our dominant languages were, I felt more equipped to love my wife. Choosing to love her is to understand what makes her feel most loved and then doing that.
About two and a half years ago I went on a retreat. Without any expectations, the weekend changed a lot for me in my life. If I had to summarize my retreat in one sentence, it would be this: I learned and experienced God as a loving father. He is not the angry, grey-bearded man in the clouds I had spent much of my life envisioning.
When I resumed ‘normal’ life after this experience, I started to notice some things.
Sitting at my desk in the late afternoon one day shortly following the retreat, I was working on my computer. I happened to look up and notice that my silhouette was taking up the whole wall, which was rich with an orange and red colour. My office window at the time faced south and across the street was a river. I paused and turned around to see the sun about to drop behind the horizon. It was brilliant. I wanted to go and call people into my office to check it out, but I also did not want to be the weirdo calling co-workers into his office to marvel at the sunset. I made a note and carried on.
This started to happen more and more. The sun would break at certain ways during the day, and I would catch it, pause, and make a note of how beautiful it was.
I started to say thank you for those moments. In catching them, I felt a deep sense of gratitude, like I was being let in on a secret that was just for me. I started to share these experiences with a few people – I’d refer to the moments as ‘winks’ from the Father.
It is ridiculous to suggest that anything with the sun changed in October 2018 because I went on a retreat. It was me that had changed. It started with the sun, but more and more I felt God pulling me outside and into nature. Going outside helped me experience more of the personality of God.
As my heart opened to relationship with God, it was as if God was speaking directly to me through nature.
At times it could be overwhelming.
I went for a run recently – I was at a track and there were a lot of people around me. As I ran, the sun was setting, the sky turning into a spectacular patchwork of pink and blue. As it descended behind the buildings, the beauty of the sun practically lifted me off my feet. I looked at the strangers around me, desperate to somehow share the explosion of joy I was experiencing.
Over the last couple of years, I have come to realize that sunlight is one of God’s love languages for me. He relates to each of us in different ways. Because I experience something profound in seeing the sunset does not mean it is the same for everyone.
God is infinite; so are His ways of relating to us. He knows each of our unique love languages and uses them in pursuit of our hearts.
During this time of my life, God has used the sun and the beauty of nature to draw me closer to Him. Through it, I feel known to Him.
Not Every Day is Sunny
We know that life brings challenges, often unexpectedly. In a marriage, adversity comes in many different forms. The couple that understands each other and how best to love one another will fare better.
In our marriages and relationships, we all desire to feel known. It is no different in how we relate to God.
A faithful Father, God wants to draw closer to us and for us to feel known by Him. When we experience the sublime, whether in nature, art, or in any other medium, it is an invitation. I have experienced this in a sunset or in a hug from one of my children – the Father beckons us closer.
What I had before thought of as ‘winks’ from the Father have evolved into powerful embraces. These moments are like deposits in our hearts. If we recognize them, they help us build trust in relationship with Him. In difficult moments, this relationship is the only one guaranteed not to fail.
Each moment of transcendence that we experience offers a promise of hope. That even in the bad times, we have a good Father to see us through. These moments are available to all. All it requires is an open heart – and open eyes.
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Night Sky Photo by Luca Baggio on Unsplash