If you are part of the same Christian-small-world that I am, then undoubtedly someone has asked you over the last year, “What’s your love language?” And the answer they are expecting is not, “French?” They want to know which of five ways you prefer people to express their love to you:
- Physical Touch
- Receiving Gifts
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
The typology, developed by Gary Chapman, is meant to help you better understand and love your spouse, children, and friends. If Jeff’s love language is Acts of Service, all the back rubs, mushy cards, and shiny, new bike parts in the world are not going to make him feel as loved as if I stay up late to help him finish a big project for work. Sounds reasonable, right?
I have to admit, though, that I always found the list a tad distasteful. I mean, isn’t the desire for gifts – for more stuff that you most certainly don’t need – isn’t that just sin? And what about words of affirmation? ”Tell me how great I am. Notice me and how talented and special and virtuous I am.” What is that if not sin?
So naturally, God gives me a kid whose love language is gifts. I first noticed it during family prayer time. We use a Thank You-Sorry-Please format, and beginning when he was a toddler, Ezra’s prayers always took this form: “Dear God. Thank you for (at this point, he would scan the living room, looking for something to be thankful for), thank you for this lamp. And please give us hundreds of lamps. And I’m sorry for…. What am I sorry for, Mom?”
Over the course of a year, he asked for thousands of lamps – and trains and couches and toys and rugs and houses. He never asked for his brother’s cold to get better or for a great time at his birthday party. His requests were all in service of a singular pursuit: more stuff.
Over the years, I tried to guilt him into praying for something else. I tried to woo him with the beauty of praying for healing and love and sunshine. I tried introducing him to the Psalms, to the Lord’s Prayer, to anything that might show him something worthy of praying for. His prayers did change over time, but he never let go of his desire for God to give him more, of everything.
My friend Jean tried to convince me that I should surprise him with a new train the day after he prayed for more Thomas trains. She thought it was a mistake not to recognize Ezra for who he was and to bless him as such. But I couldn’t do it. I was afraid of turning God into Santa Claus. And I was afraid that giving in to his stuff-lust would only stoke its fires. Instead, I just kept praying that Ezra would develop a grateful heart.
Fast forward several years to last Thursday, the tenth day of Christmas, and our family devotion night. The three kids save up money all year to give away at Christmas as a gift to Jesus, and this was the night they would decide where to give it. They give an offering at church all year, and decided to divide the rest of their money so that 1/3 went to a local charity (the Salvation Army shelter down the street), 1/3 to worldwide mission (buying solar powered audio players for a community in New Guinea), and 1/3 to development (Heiffer project).
Nafisa and Ezra spent forty-five minutes on the Heiffer site using their $200 to buy ducks and bees and llamas and piglets. Ezra could not stay in his seat. ”This is AWESOME! We can get so much stuff and then those families can get money and can give so much stuff away. And we can buy chickens, and when the chickens have babies they can give some of the babies to another family!”
With each purchase they added to their cart, Ezra squealed and jumped up and hugged Nafisa. He danced around the kitchen and said, “What else can we buy? How much money do we have left? Mom, PLEASE can’t you give us some of your money so we can buy more animals?! This is so much fun. I LOVE Christmas!!!!”
And then I got it. Ezra loves giving gifts as much as he likes getting them, and he understands that generosity can become a cycle of giving. It’s not sin; it’s his heart. And his heart is a gift.