I’ve mentioned several times here that I struggle with my own selfishness and with not being more loving (not thinking of romantic love necessarily, but generally loving others) . Recently I was discussing with a friend that overcoming selfishness is not a once-and-done effort. It requires an every day yielding to God instead of ourselves.
So when Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved by John Townsend came through on a Kindle sale, I got it. I had heard of Townsend but never read him before.
Early in the book, Townsend says:
You may have noticed that the title of this book has a double meaning. Loving can be both a verb (the action of demonstrating love) and an adjective (the description of someone who demonstrates love). The intent here is to bring attention to the reality that both meanings are necessary for each other to exist. If you want to be a loving person, you must actively show love to people. And if you want to love people, you are to be a person characterized by loving.
A few more of his introductory comments about love:
Care and love aren’t the same thing. Almost any of us could say that we truly care about some people. We can freely admit that, and we are glad these people are in our lives. We want what’s best for them. But the reality is often that we don’t know how to treat those we care about in the most loving way. We want to be the best for those people, but we don’t know how to love them in the way that is best. That is, we would like to be close to them, to be a positive influence for them, and to bring them to intimacy and a better life. But there is a disconnect between our care for those we love and how we address or approach them.
Love is much more than good feelings or intentions. It has direction, movement, and purpose. But while we may feel love, we may not be doing love. Most of us don’t know how to experience and become competent in the art form of love.
We cannot force ourselves to feel anything. Feelings are the result of changes inside us. They aren’t a cause; they are an effect. Trying to will ourselves to feel love doesn’t work. Yet when we say that love is only a feeling, we reduce it to something less than what it truly is. As I said earlier, love encompasses and experiences feelings, but love is not limited to feelings. It is much more—genuine love involves the heart, soul, and mind.
In this book, I define love simply as “seeking and doing the best for another.” When we love someone, we bend our heart, mind, and energies toward the betterment of someone else. That is what loving people do. It involves the whole person. It is ongoing and intentional.
As the architect of love, God lives out this definition. He is constantly seeking and doing what is for our best, things that help us connect, grow, and heal. He is actively doing whatever it takes for us to be the people he designed us to be. The ultimate example of his love is, and always will be, in the sacrifice of Jesus for an alienated and broken creation: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
He proposes that love is made up of the following components:
- Connecting—making an emotional bond
- Truth-Telling—honesty that serves the other person
- Healing—repairing brokenness
- Letting Go—giving up what should be surrendered
- Romancing—the unique love of being a couple
He spends more than a fourth of the book on connecting, which he defines as “a heart-to-heart attachment that goes beyond knowing about someone to actually knowing that person.” He gives multiple examples: one involved a wife who shared problems and frustrations about her day, and her husband, thinking he was being helpful, suggested possible solutions. But she didn’t want solutions, at least, not yet. She wanted the connection: she wanted to know she was truly heard and understood. By contrast, disconnection isn’t just missing someone who is away for a few days, but rather “the inability to feel and experience the warmth of connection over time. It is the absence of the security of being attached. It is the lack of bonding inside.”
I thought truth-telling was an odd inclusion, because of course you don’t lie to people you love. But Townsend means truth-telling as more than just not lying: it means confronting the other person in a kind and loving way when they need to be confronted. “If your loved one’s life is going down the drain, someone needs to say something. Be that person.” “People who are truly loving will confront, limit, and quarantine people who consistently make wrong choices. So keep that distinction in mind: love seeks the best, but it does not enable bad behavior.”
Under healing, he says: “Loving people are the primary agents of restoration.”
About letting go: “Sometimes love means knowing when it is time to let someone go or to let him do something he is going to do. When you accept reality and give up efforts to control someone’s life or change who he is, you are being loving . . . Letting go is the ability to surrender and to allow what is real to exist. By letting go, I mean giving up efforts to control, manipulate, or force someone to do something different.”
About romance: “Romance is a wonderful aspect of love, but it is not as broad or as deep as love itself. Romance must fit into and serve love. Love can never serve romance.”
He discusses the components of each of these aspects and gives numerous examples, illustrations, and balancing considerations.
This book is not a Bible study, so it reads differently from one. Surprisingly absent from a book by a Christian about love was any discussion about the classic biblical passage on love, 1 Corinthians 13 (except for verses 1 and 13). But Townsend provides a biblical basis for most of his points. In the chapter on connection, for instance, I thought, “This is all well and good, but where do you get this from the Bible?” Well, from the One who made the greatest effort to connect with people who were not only uninterested in Him, but opposed to Him. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18).
The last chapter, “Putting It All Together,” didn’t really put it all together for me. I had hoped it would recap the main points. Instead, it contained instructions to “assemble your team” and “measure and evaluate your process of growth.”
I got a lot of helpful points and thoughts from the book, but I can’t say, “Aha! Now I’ve got it!” Townsend brought up aspects of love that I had not heard or read in other pieces on this subject, but he also did not address other aspects that are usually considered.
While Townsend had a lot of good things to say, his style just didn’t gel with me. Not to say there is anything wrong with his style: he is a best-selling author, after all. But many of the conversations he described in the book are just not the kind I can imagine anyone I know having. Real people did have them, but I guess they were very different personalities from mine and my family and friends.
The best advice I’ve heard about love came from a book I have not been able to recall or find again. But the writer said that for years she berated herself for not being more loving. She was a missionary in a difficult area, and she found herself too often irritated with unloving thoughts towards others. The more she tried to become more loving, the more frustrated she became. But then she started to think about God’s love for her, gracious and undeserved. And without even being aware of it at first, resting in His love overflowed into her own heart and actions.
That’s not to say we can’t learn from books like this. I was particularly convicted about connecting, truly listening and empathizing instead of just offering my two cents to fix the other person’s problems.
I’ve heard similar definitions of love before, that’s it’s a self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the loved person. And I’ve heard that it’s not just a feeling. Yet I struggle with doing the right thing, but with resentment. That’s part of having a sin nature, I guess, and we’ll never have it down perfectly while here on earth. Maybe in some ways love is doing your best for another despite resentment. But that’s not how God loves. And I want to love more like Him.
What helps you to be a more loving person?