Spiritual Love Languages

What’s your love language?

Love-languages are the ways in which we express and receive love. If you don’t yet know yours, I can recommend taking this fun quiz to find out! There are five love-languages, according to Gary Chapman:

  • quality time,
  • words of affirmation,
  • gift-giving,
  • physical touch and
  • acts of service.

These are all ways in which we can express love for others, but we will have a preference for one or two of these ‘languages’ over the others. ย The language that we most naturally express love for others is usually the language that we also receive love from others.

When my husband and I first discovered this concept, we had a real ‘aha!’ moment. In my family, we had always expressed love for each other through quality time and words of affirmation. In Jon’s family, they expressed love for each other not through words but acts of service – anticipating the other’s need and meeting it.

Suddenly we understood why I was always wanting to go to restaurants and talk about feelings, and Jon was always asking me to do the ironing and make cups of tea for him. I started making cups of tea for him gladly, and Jon took me out to restaurants. All was happy: we were communicating love to one another in the language that the other person could receive it.

But then I got ill, and we had to learn to adapt. In the worst stages of the illness, I can’t really talk or think at all, or even understand what someone else is saying to me and I have to spend much of my time sleeping or resting. I am now rarely well enough to go out to a restaurant and chat. (Au revoir to the way we did quality time.)

Acts of service are now very tricky as well – I can’t even make cups of tea for Jon, and he has to do everything around the house for me. So bang goes ‘acts of service’ as a way of me communicating love to Jon.

Over the past few years, as we have slowly adapted to my illness, we have both had to learn new love languages. They are not our native tongue, but there is pleasure as well as hard work in learning new ways to love.

Sometimes we mourn for the loss of the long walks together, sharing our heart as we enjoyed the countryside, but now we talk art and photography and discuss the different ways we see the world. I have surrendered some of my feisty independence and learned to lean on Jon and love him for the ways in which he selflessly and silently serves. I have been helpless: I have needed him to carry me upstairs each day, to cook and clean, to wake the baby in the morning. I see the washing up done and I now listen in and hear his lovesong, sweet and clear.

I can no longer communicate with Jon in his preferred love-language of acts of service, but I can sit with him as he washes up and I can offer him these shy words of tribute; and that quality time, these words of affirmation can become a lovesong too.

And this makes me wonder, too, about my relationship with God. I have written here and here about my recent frustration in my relationship with God.
I know that my life is hidden with Christ in God, that my salvation is sure because of His death, that I am declared righteous and forgiven in His sight because og what He has done. I know this. But sometimes you can know that your husband loves you and still need to feel it. I am still married to Jesus, but I have not taken the trouble to adapt my love languages along with my illness.
The ways that I am accustomed to expressing and receiving love from God:

  • in-depth Bible study and theological lectures,
  • Christian conferences with engaging talks,
  • worshipping with modern songs with many other Christians,
  • playing the piano and singing worship songs at home,
  • thrashing out theological issues with like-minded believers –

all these extrovert, intellectual and musical ways that I connected with God as easily as my mother tongue have now been largely taken away.

I am wondering, with a little trepidation, whether I will need to let go of these ways of communicating with God and start looking at new ones. I don’t like silence and contemplation, and reading Julian of Norwich or looking at a candle for hours just makes my evangelical hackles rise. It would be the equivalent of attempting to learn Arabic or Cantonese. I’m just too cynical to be a mystic.

I need something that is a little more like Spanish or German – still strange to me, but with enough familiarity that I could begin to understand God’s love in that lexicon.

I am not sure yet what that is. Perhaps you could help?

Over to you:

  • What is your ‘love language’?
  • What are your ‘spiritual love languages’ – the ways that you express and receive love from God?

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63 Responses to Spiritual Love Languages

  1. Janice 7th November, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    (Sorry if you get two of these comments, for some reason no comments I’m leaving are showing up today on any blog. So I’m trying again…)

    What a perfectly amazing idea! I have NEVER thought of love languages with respect to God (although I have found the idea revolutionary in other relationships). Brilliant. Because in the last five years my relationship to the church and God and theology has been shifting all pell-mell and I’m just this moment, as I read your post, wondering if some of the loneliness for meaning I feel in my relationship with God is because of a lack of the things I formerly connected with him in.

    The one that immediately comes to mind is prayer. My prayer life has changed drastically and been almost paralyzed with all sorts of doubts about it’s purpose and how it should be done. So with that lack of something that was so common in my life, I think I’m missing a language I used to speak to God in and hear him talk back or at least believe he was listening. And my new prayers seem less natural. Like you were saying, not my native tongue.

    So much to think about. Thank you so much for this post!

    (I for one am blessed by the amount of time you get to pour yourself out into the computer instead of going to a restaurant and telling all this to just one person. I know that does’t come close to compensating for your weakness, but I am blessed by you and it is partly because of your ME.)

    • Janice 8th November, 2012 at 4:50 am #

      Hey, and will you email me? I wanted to email you but I can’t find an address for you. No rush! Nothing urgent, just wanted to chat a little.

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Oh lovely Janice – thank you for your encouragement!

      I’m really interested to hear how your theology and relationship with God has been shifting recently, and your prayer life too. It sounds most unsettling, like being a little seasick… I hope that it all starts to flow a little more easily. Thinking of you. Xx

  2. kelli 7th November, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    This is exactly the lesson that I learned when God put me flat on my back with thyroid problems during my last pregnancy. I had to learn that He is not only God when I am ABLE too express my love for Him and when I feel near to Him, but He is still God and He is still good, even when I am UNABLE. Although my physical trial has passed for now, I hope to never recover from that time.
    With fingers too weak to grasp Him, I finally realized I was held all the time.
    Your post stirs up these memories and my heart goes out to you, friend. Grace and peace to you as you share so honestly.

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

      “With fingers too weak to grasp Him, I finally realized I was held all the time”
      – this is beautiful, and I hope this will be true for me. Thank you so much for sharing something of your story – I really appreciate it.

  3. Diana Trautwein 7th November, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Such a journey, Tanya! HARD, but also beautiful. And I think you’re onto something important in trying to discern God’s love language and your own back to God. Although I would not describe myself as a full-on mystic, I have found that the more contemplative prayer practices have opened doors inside that allow me to both experience God’s love at a deeper level and express it more fully, too. The Jesus Prayer has been hugely helpful to me in this process. I, too, come from a thoroughly evangelical background and so using words has been helpful for me. But using the same words over and over was a new experience and has proven to be deeply meaningful, especially in times of high anxiety or loss. Just breathing in deeply, eyes closed and saying the first phrase (silently or aloud) – “Lord Jesus Christ” – then breathing out with the 2nd phrase – “Son of God” – and doing the breathing in and out with the last two phrases – “Have mercy on me” and “a sinner” – this simple, repetitive prayer has been a way ‘in’ for me. Perhaps it will help you, too.

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Thank you so much, Diana – I am really appreciating your words of wisdom. I am remembering that a dear friend of mine, a theology professor, also talked about the beauty of the Jesus prayer, and how she prayed it when she had no resources or words left. I think there is a discipline in slowing down. I don’t like to do it! But it might well be good for me…

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your encouragement – I really appreciate it.

  4. Joy Lenton 7th November, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    This is such a beautiful depiction of sacrificial, Christ-like love between you and your husband as you adjust to finding new ways and expressions of your individual love languages together. It is lovely to note the increased harmony as you make a conscientious choice to live with, yet rise above, the limitations of your illness.
    Sadly, my own situation has only led to greater frustration for both of us as the limitations of chronic sickness and pain make it nearly impossible to meet my husband’s particular love language needs – no matter how much I may want to. We often feel stuck in the mourning stage and are slowly learning how to do life differently.
    I am so pleased to hear how well things are working out for you and Jon and pray you may soon find new ways to express yourself in your walk with God as well. Blessings ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Thank you so much for your beautiful words of encouragement – Jon really does model Christ to me in so many ways.

      I’m sorry to hear that your illness has made life so tough for your marriage, though. This is really rough. The mourning stage is important too – it’s right that you should both feel fried, I think…

      Sending you love and prayers today. Xx

  5. Beth 7th November, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear that you are bound by your illness in this way. But I’m blessed to hear that your husband is adapting and loving you all throughout it. That’s a beautiful expression of Christ’s love for all of us to see and inspires me to do more for my spouse. I’ll be praying for you, Tanya, that you receive the answers and provision you need!

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Thanks so much for your prayers! Much appreciated, Beth.

  6. HopefulLeigh 7th November, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Tanya, this is fascinating to me. I’ve not previously considered the ways our love languages could change or need to be adapted. What a conscientious choice you and your husband have made- what love! I’ve also never considered the ways I feel loved by God. I’ll have to think on this.

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Thanks so much, Leigh! I don’t think I would have thought about the need to adapt love languages either, had I not been in this situation… I’m so glad you stopped by – thank you for your encouragement, as ever!

  7. Alice 7th November, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Woah. Double woah. Feeling teary as you share how you and Jon love and care for one another – your words of affirmation for him here are strong and beautiful to read, I hope they strengthen and encourage him.

    I am enormously struck by considering love languages for my relationship with God. I am a words girl with touch+time coming joint second – not sure how touch works with God (!!), but I so rarely use my words or time to invest in my love for him. I am going to dwell on this – I can’t thank you enough for it. xxx

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

      I’M feeling teary just reading your comment! Thank you for getting me, for echoing my heart so well – I really appreciate it. Your words communicate love to me!

  8. Mia 7th November, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Oh Tanya, I looooove this. I understand your dilemma for my husband and I also learned to adapt to the challenges of this illness. I am so happy to be able to say that this illness brought us closer together. Hubbie used to be very work orientated, but our Pappa used it to draw us into a much deeper relationship. You have been on my mind a lot today, so I prayed for you.
    Blessings and peace to you, dear friend.

    • Tanya 8th November, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

      I’m so glad to hear that you and your husband grew closer through the illness – it can so often go the other way. And thank you! for your prayers. ๐Ÿ™‚

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