This isn’t my first attempt to write this blog piece. Twice already, I’ve started the process only to end up chucking the whole thing. I guess I am still not ready to admit defeat, so I’m taking another shot at it. I’ve decided that, if I can’t produce something this time, I’m giving up. Three strikes and I’m out.
My intended premise of this blog post, as Valentine’s Day looms before us, was to talk about how not everyone is lovely, but everyone can be love-er-ly. The trouble is, I always seem to fall down a woeful rabbit hole where I just keep bemoaning the sad truth that I have never been lovely. Truth be told, I have absolutely nothing to recommend me in the looks department. I have never been beautiful. I have never been sexy. I have never been graceful. I have never been lovely. All of these are very un-Valentiney confessions.
As I cogitated over this sad state of affairs and the impact it was having on my ability to craft a blog post about love-er-li-ness, I remembered a conversation I recently had with a friend at church. My friend is kind and faithful and devoted to doing good in her life. However, she often runs herself down, dismisses her worth, and undermines her own contributions. Her words about herself seem harsh and punishing. One day, I asked her to do me a favor. I asked her to be kinder to herself. She is working on it.
It strikes me that I have been doing the same thing each time I try to write this blog. I don’t want to be so hard on myself. Instead of sinking into the ooze of my unloveliness, I really want to embrace my love-er-li-ness. You see, I may not be lovely, but I think I am love-er-ly.
Long ago, I decided that I probably was not destined to do great things, but I did want to do anything I did with great love. Although I do not always succeed, the nurturing of love is my main life goal. I sometimes consider building love-er-li-ness to be like becoming an elite athlete. I started at a young age. I am intentional in my approach. I hone my love-building skills by subjecting myself to different conditions. I train by practicing and experimenting with different techniques. I seek out coaches and role models who will show me ways I can be more loving. I try to be single-minded in the pursuit of excellence. I sometimes have “off days.” Let’s face it, even Tom Brady isn’t TOM BRADY every day. For the most part, though, I think I see growth and enrichment in my love-er-li-ness performance. I may not be at the “elite” level yet, but I’m trying to at least be an “up and comer.”
I am no saint. I am aware that all this talk of love and self-denial can come across as a little too Goody-Two-Shoes. Honestly, though, my motivation for building my love-er-li-ness skills is more selfish. It just feels good to love.
I think everyone can hone their love-er-li-ness skills. It doesn’t have to be difficult. I think, sometimes, we want to build love but get stuck on what to do. It can also be intimidating to stick one’s neck out too far, especially if we feel shy about getting into someone else’s emotional personal space. Here are a few suggestions that might help get you started.
It can be something as simple as sending a “thinking of you” card or picking up the phone to check in with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
You don’t have to offer any profound words or even acknowledge anything you think the other person could be feeling. Because people so rarely get anything in their snail mail other than bills and advertising, sometimes a card or note feels more significant to recipients. However, you don’t have to get caught up in how you touch base- phone, card, email, text, whatever. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
It can be something like offering a specific service, like going to the grocery store or providing airport transportation, to someone who is hurting.
The person who is hurting may not take you up on your offer, but they will appreciate the effort. They will also appreciate that you have not put the burden of having to think of something you can do on top of whatever load they are already carrying. People often say, “please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” It might be more comforting to add, “like go to the grocery store or pick up your daughter at the airport or anything else you might need.”
Spread a little bit of serendipity.
Let someone else ahead of you online in a department store or post office.
People often do this in grocery stores when the person behind them only has a few items. It is more striking when it happens other places. Occasionally, leave all the change in the tip jar when your ice cream cone costs $4.01 and you give the cashier a $5. If you can afford it, generously over tip a server, especially if you can hear that another diner is giving him or her a hard time. Let workers and managers know what it meant to you when a service worker does a wonderful job.
In most hurtful situations, there is fault on both sides. It may not be equal. It rarely is. The other person could truly bear 95% of the blame, but there is almost always something you could have done differently to make the situation less painful. Don’t worry so much about the other person’s blame. You can’t control that. You can own your share of the issue and apologize for it. That doesn’t mean you should put up with poor behavior from other people. You can choose to love people from a distance without subjecting yourself to their brokenness if that brokenness continues to cause them to abuse you.
Let someone else take the wheel, even if they are tearing up your highway.
Do you want to win, or do you want to love? I often go into projects or situations with something of an agenda. I know what I want to have happen and I know how I want them to happen. I’m sure I sometimes seem committed to “my way or the highway.” Honestly, in most situations, it really doesn’t make that much difference how a denouement plays out. In the love building department, very little is about the outcome and much more is about the benefits involved in the getting there. For instance, when I have a conversation with someone, I may have a goal about what I want the outcome of that conversation to be, but I also have some goals about how I want both of us to feel at the end of that conversation. Those goals about how I want us to feel are usually more important than the content of the conversation.
Smile from your heart.
I am a very shy person. It is even hard for me to catch someone’s eye without dissolving into a pile of goo. It feels like I am imposing on their privacy by my mere existence. I made a discovery, though, that has helped me “let my love shine” and reduce my shyness. I make it a point to purposely look at people around me and to smile. I let that smile generate from the part of my soul that is busily building all that love. I let it rise to my heart, mouth, and eyes. I let it be personal, because it is. It must be genuine for it to work. You must feel the smile, not just do it. There is a scene from a movie about the life of St. Therese of Lisieux where she is trying to befriend one of her rather fractious sisters in the convent. The other nun says to her, “why are you always smiling at me like that?” St. Therese responds, “If I am smiling at you, Sister, it is because I am happy to see you.” For this heart smile to do its best work, you must be happy to see the person. Sometimes, you must search a little for the part of you that is happy to see that person, but it is worth it.
If there is anything that is the quickest, most sure-fire tool to build love for me, it is prayer. God is Love, so why not go to the source of it all to multiply and replenish when you are hard at work building love-er-li-ness?
This Valentine’s Day try to embrace your pursuit of love-er-li-ness. You can do it in whatever way works for you. You can try some of my suggestions or go your own way. All I am really advocating is that we all try to increase our love of God, people in general, people who we might find challenging, and the people who matter to us the most. I’d also encourage one other technique. Be kind to yourself. Being love-er-ly to yourself is important, too!
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! If you could leave a love-er-ly valentine message for someone, what would it be? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
Have a love-er-ly day!