There is an episode of Friends where Phoebe tries to do a selfless good deed after Joey proclaims that there is no “unselfish good deed”. Ah yes, Friends, the show we all turn to when grappling with life’s most complex matters. Perhaps not. Still, I have to commend this particular segment for wrestling with what it means to serve others and how that translates in our own lives. Phoebe just wanted to love well— sans guilt of the benefits she’d also receive. I think we can all relate to that. When you look at it, the snapshot of our reality today is comprised of a “self care” craze, where it’s trendy to say no, and tending to our own needs first is hailed as the way it should be. As it becomes increasingly insignificant to get outside of ourselves, I’m proposing that’s precisely what we should be called to do. Here are a few ways how.
- Love as an action.
There is a wonderful book that I love called Love Does by Bob Goff. Bob’s life is a culmination of putting love into action, showing us that there is always a way to move past the shallows of pretty words. He asks, “Do we want to be known for our opinions, or remembered for our love?” This is challenging. It’s easy to send a text; it’s commonplace to say something nice. His stories range from the extravagance of saying yes to being the Ugandan consul to something as simple as playing catch with his wife during conversation so keep his attention focused. The common denominator is always to be both inspired and taught that all of us are made to do the same. When we move past language and into action, I believe that kind of love will take us places the words never could.
- Love from a distance.
A dear friend of mine had been struggling, at a loss for the way out of her dilemma. I decided to pray. As an outsider to her trouble, I found the words naturally. I knew just what to ask for her. Then I thought about all the times I attempt to pray for my own concerns. And how often the words do not come. I can become consumed with pleading for what I want that I fail to ask for what I need. That’s what’s inspiring about loving from a distance. Prayer for others can be just as worthy, sometimes going beyond the limitations of their own prayer. Our prayer is not hindered by blindness or begging. We can ask God for what they may not be able or willing to mutter. When we are so close to a problem or heartache, it’s easy to miss what is being revealed to us. Just as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we do not have the words, so we can also lift up those around us in their helplessness.
I think it’s also important to note this type of loving well for relationships that have ended or changed. People come and go from our lives, whether an expired romance, faded friendships, a strained relationship we are unable to resolve, people for whatever reason we don’t directly interact with anymore. This doesn’t mean the love stops- loving from a distance can be the perfect way, sometimes the only way, to keep loving well. Forgiveness and prayer are great places to start.
- Get uncomfortable.
Vulnerability is a cool thing. Showing off our highlight reel is so surface level. But with vulnerability, we say here I am, taking off the veil the world sees, and showing you my mess. No one is exempt from some type of mess, and yet we try to conceal it. Vulnerability goes a step further and often leads to reciprocity. Once we see another’s mess, we are liberated to finally reveal our own. Think about that person you know who isn’t afraid to talk about their failures. These are often the people you feel the most at ease with. The people you just get a good feeling around. This kind of warm acceptance starts with vulnerability. It allows us to love unapologetically and truthfully. And that is loving well.
Ashton Kutcher said it best. “Vulnerability is the essence of romance. It’s the art of being uncalculated, the willingness to look foolish, the courage to say, ‘This is me, and I’m interested in you enough to show you my flaws with the hope that you may embrace me for all that I am but, more important, all that I am not”.
- Consistency is key.
Be loyal to a fault. When you keep coming back, I believe this is where the real magic begins.
To expand on number one, loving as an action, Bob reminds us that time is all of our most precious resource. In our world of free refills, instant gratification and Amazon Prime auto orders ensuring you never run out, none of us reign superior to time. It’s the thing we cannot replenish. There is no argument against the value of giving away our own time in loving others. It is what all of us want more of, yet none of us, not the richest nor the most powerful, have more than the next person. When we choose consistency in love and loyalty, we allocate the sacred resource of time and there’s not a more sincere, genuine gift.
- Their needs first.
Contrary to popular opinion, I’m a huge fan of first dates. I know. But just hear me out. There are few things more exhilarating to me than getting to know someone from scratch. I’m fascinated by the human story. I sit there, hands on the sides of my cheeks saying “tell me more”. Every single person has experiences and opinions and wisdom that can teach us and I find myself hungry to learn. But how does this translate to loving well? A simple answer would be that we all love talking about ourselves. We do. And those willing to listen are the ones we know care.
But if we think in the terms that everyone is amazingly interesting, we are opened up to endless possibility. We take ourselves out of the frame but end up stockpiling wisdom. We allow them to share and become a sounding board for their thoughts. The simplicity of removing ourselves serves as a great form of love. Almost always, their needs will rise to the surface and the opportunity to react to those needs is revealed. And just like our mothers taught us, the giver is more blessed than the receiver. So it turns out Joey may have been right all along. In attuning ourselves to their needs first, we are blessed just as much. Guaranteed.
The gift that people need the most is the same gift that we all come equipped with. Surely that isn’t a mistake. Go out and love well my friends.