Love: Giving Away What We Long For
Gary Roe, Hospice Brazos Valley Chaplain and Author on 02/16/2018
Roses, cards, candies, and chocolate. Ah, February. The month of love.
Of course, with Valentine's Day in the mix, most of us think of romance. For some, this is wonderful and inspiring. Others might sigh and roll their eyes. In this article, let's dodge romance and talk about love in the broader sense - the care and kindness that crosses all boundaries, sees the other person, and acts for their ultimate good.
Last weekend, my wife Jen and I were grocery shopping. As we approached the deli, we were greeted warmly by an employee eager to serve us. We smiled back, talked a bit, and then ordered our usual. When she brought us our turkey, she paused and said, "Would you do me a favor? Please keep smiling. Keep that wonderful attitude. I'm grateful for your kindness."
A bit stunned, I asked, "I’m guessing you run into some grumpy customers from time to time?" She bit her lip and smiled. "A few," she said.
As we headed for the produce section, Jen and I talked about how sad it was that we should be affirmed for simply being considerate. Apparently, respect has gone out of style. Our fast-paced, demanding world has us chasing our trails, frustrated, and perhaps angry. Unable to shoulder all the expectations and burdens, we spew our angst out onto convenient targets - like deli workers.
As humans, we're wired for relationship. We come out of the womb screaming for someone to meet our needs. We hunger for touch and connection. We long for love from our first breath and search earnestly for it our entire lives.
We want and need to be seen and heard. We want and need to be known and accepted for who we are, as we are. We grow up searching for this, consciously and subconsciously. Along the way, we get disappointed. Expectations go unmet. We get offended and hurt. Things are said and not said, done and not done, that wound us. Sometimes the cut is deep, and the damage is lasting.
The world speaks of love quite a bit, but can't seem to deliver. We all know it can be a cold and unfriendly place. Wounds can become scars - hard places in our hearts. If we're not careful, we can go into hiding. We begin to shut parts of ourselves away and live defensively. Rather than freely engaging and living with purpose, we instead default to protecting who and what we have. Unaware that our lives are getting smaller, we grow frustrated, angry, anxious, and depressed.
Yet, we continue to look for love. That original hunger will not be stilled. Some seek to please others and become approval junkies. Others perform, hoping to win respect and affection. Still others work insane hours because something inside them says they must. Deep down, we know this isn't working. The frustration mounts. Perhaps we attempt to deaden the pain with alcohol, drugs, entertainment, possessions, or unwise relationships. Naturally, our depression deepens, and our anxiety increases.
Certainly, the world isn't perfect, and neither are we. Yet, we still seem to expect others to perform as expected and meet our need of the moment. Of course, this is unrealistic, and our everyday expectations become disappointments waiting to happen.
So, what can we do?
We can love. We can set our sights on giving away what we need most.
We make expressing love our life mission. In the process of loving others, something happens. It's almost miraculous (perhaps it is!). We end up receiving what we're giving away. By loving the person in front of us, we get back a little of what we ourselves have been longing for all our lives.
How do we do this? Here are three suggestions:
Notice them. Cashiers, restaurant servers, and bank tellers. Construction workers, grocery stockers, and drivers in other vehicles. Other shoppers, dog-walkers, and gas-pumpers. And yes, deli workers.
What if we decided to get out of our own heads, switch off our personal auto-pilot, and noticed each other? All of us are real people with real burdens. Everyone we see has experienced loss and been wounded. Every heart is longing to be seen.
Listen to their words, but attempt to hear their hearts. Many are hurting or grieving. Many struggle with fear, worry, depression, or anxiety. All have needs. Every person can use a kind look, a smile, and a listening ear, even if only for a moment.
Sadly, most of us have simply learned to fake it. We have developed mask-wearing into an art form. We're skilled chameleons, to whom acting is almost as natural as breathing. The world needs more good listeners, even if the interaction is brief and fleeting.
In the moment they are in front of us, let things be about them. How can we express kindness and encourage them? A smile or kind word with genuine concern behind our eyes can have extraordinary results. In a world starving for love, simple gestures like treating the deli worker with respect can make a big difference.
Life is tough. Times are hard for many. There seems to be more uncertainty and fear in the air. It's easy to take out our frustrations on those in front of us. Our angst spills over into their lives. Perhaps unknowingly, we end up fueling a cycle of disrespect, anger, and unkindness.
It's up to us - each one of us. What we practice usually becomes permanent in our lives. Perhaps it's time to practice giving away what we long for. As we extend simple kindness and respect to others, it boomerangs back to us. Our hearts heal a little.
See. Listen. Be kind. Sounds easy enough. Kindness is contagious. Maybe we can get a new cycle going – one of love.