In this season of giving, I find myself asking, “How can I give love well?”
A few years ago, I asked my wife what she wanted for Christmas. She responded, “I want you to know me well enough to know what I would like.” I realized that is was not things that were important but the relationship, the knowing and being known.
As I consider the various opportunities to give to those in need during this season, I am reminded of the lesson from the book When Helping Hurts that the wrong type of giving makes the poor feel like nobodies and the rich feel like gods.
In both cases, I realize that it is far easier to engage in transactional giving rather than the relational commitment which love requires.
Recently, a very wise friend shared this definition of love. “Love is freely choosing to give my attention and energy to what is life giving in my relationship with God, with others, and with myself.” From this we see that love must first be freely chosen without obligation or manipulation. In the same way, love must be given and never demanded. Love is also costly. It is more than extras, leftovers, or surplus. It is a gift of precious time, energy, and attention. Often, love requires a giving up of something in order to give to someone.
I am able to understand these ways of love even if they are difficult to enact. The requirement that love be life giving is more difficult. What is life giving love for the person mired in addiction? What is life giving to the person on the street? What is life giving to the person consumed by their job? What is life giving to the person living in shame and fear?
I do not claim to know the answer. I do know that the answer is not things or money.The answer is likely a costly gift of time, attention, and energy. The kind of gift that can only come from a life giving attention to my own relationship with God. The kind of gift that comes from knowing and receiving what is life giving for me within that relationship and within the community within which God has placed me. The kind of love that I learn when I hear, “This is my Body given for you.”