Before the start of each new year, I think carefully and choose a word to represent a personal quality or trait I want to focus on for the coming year. This isn’t something I thought up myself. The first person I heard talk about this was Debbie Macomber, a wonderful author who is also a wonderful friend. Debbie is someone who has mastered the art of living intentionally, and that quality shines through in her character and her life.
Since then, I’ve met many others who also choose a word of the year. If this is a new concept for you, I recommend you give it a try in 2019; it’s a practice that can help focus your intention and even change your life, in large ways and small.
My word of the year for 2017 was love, and it was one of the most challenging words I’ve ever chosen. However, searching for ways to live out that word, intentionally showing love to someone every day taught me a lot. It also changed me, in some some good ways.
Translating Love Languages
Probably you have heard of “love languages,” the ways in which people feel most comfortable in expressing love. Love languages aren’t the same for everyone.
For example, my strongest love language is gifts. I give gifts often and take great joy in finding the perfect gift for a particular person. A well-chosen gift is my way of saying that I care enough to pay attention to someone’s likes, dislikes, and secret desires, and find the ideal gift to compliment them.
For me, the best gifts are usually handmade rather than purchased because, in a sense, they are more “expensive.” You can always get more money (at least in theory) but the amount of time you have is a fixed amount. I never seem to have enough and so, if I invest my too-limited time in making a gift for you, then you know I really care.
My husband’s love language is words of encouragement. He is very, very good at telling people he loves them and speaking affirming words. So much so that our three boys have been known to laugh and say, “Yeah. Yeah. We KNOW, Dad!” And they do know, as do I, which is a wonderful thing, especially in a man. A while back, one of our sons complimented his dad by saying he’d never met a man who worked so diligently to be intentional in his relationships. High praise indeed, especially coming from a son to a father.
Learn a New (Love) Language
Now, you might think that “words of encouragement” would be my strong suit. After all, I’m a writer. Words are my business. But it is one thing to write about imaginary people and quite another to talk to real, skin-on, human beings. Speaking encouraging words just doesn’t come to me naturally. I have to work at it.
During my “love” year of 2017, I made an important discovery: It’s good to tell someone you love them but it’s better to tell them why.
Though our aim should be love for love’s own sake, there is something in human beings that makes it hard for us to believe that somebody could love us just…because. We tend to distrust that kind of love, or to discount it. There are some good reasons for that. How often do we use the words, “Love you!” as a means of bidding someone farewell rather than an expression of a real emotion?
Why ‘Why’ Matters
During 2017, I made a focused effort not only to tell family and friends that I love them, but to follow it up with some good reasons.
For example, after telling one of my sons I love him, I might also say, “You are such a good husband and father. It’s wonderful that you take time to play with your girls and give your wife a break.” or “You’re really considerate. It means so much that you take time to call me on the weekends because I know how busy you are.” To my husband I might say, “You are so much fun to be around. The sound of your laughter just makes my heart sing!”
I found that being as specific as possible in explaining why you love someone is important. Doing so tells your loved one that you notice them and know them intimately. As human beings, I really think that is our greatest longing, simply to be noticed and appreciated for what we are.
If words of encouragement aren’t your natural love language, speaking out in this way can feel really uncomfortable at first. It did for me. But I urge you to give it a try. It’ll get easier, I promise. And it’s so worth the effort. Before long, you might find a few words of encouragement coming back at you.
And, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be rewarded with the best kind of gift – a great big smile, and perhaps a hug, from someone you love.