When you say or hear the words "I love you" it can change your life forever. Love is one of God's most important gifts to anyone, yet there are many misunderstandings about how to make love work in our families, friendships, marriages and dating relationships. In Loving People, best-selling author Dr. John Townsend shows you that love can actually be learned, and gives you the steps and tools to become skilled in love.
Using his trademark stories and illustrations to flesh out the important principles, Dr. Townsend covers:
Through his teaching, readers will discover - and start enjoying - the words, actions, and experiences of authentic love.
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Read an Excerpt
By JOHN TOWNSEND
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Dr. John Townsend
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLearning to Love
"I love you."
These three words can change your life. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of these words, they reach deeply into us and transform us. They remind us that love is one of the most important aspects of our lives, guiding our steps from our early years to our last days.
Let me introduce this subject with a couple of examples of the impact of love, one from the perspective of youth and another from that of old age. First, I recently took my wife and kids on a ski vacation during a school break. When it was time to return home, one of our sons wanted to stay longer to snowboard with friends. Austin, one of his best friends, was among them. We made arrangements for other parents to drive him home later that day, and my wife and I left with our other son.
That evening, our son called us and said that everything was a big mess. He misjudged his time and took off for one more ride down the mountain when it would have been better to meet the others who were driving him home. On top of that, he accidentally fell into a deep snowbank and had difficulty getting himself out. It was a frightening experience for him.
By the time he got back to the pickup spot, he had made the entire party late starting on the long ride home. Naturally, the others were frustrated and angry with him. It was an unpleasant experience for everyone in the car.
When our son got home, we talked about what happened. He said, "Dad, I know I was wrong about taking the extra ride. It was my fault that we were all so late. I shouldn't have done it. Everyone was right to be mad at me."
Then he added, "But what I remember most is what Austin said. While everyone was yelling at me, all Austin said was, 'Are you all right?' He was worried about me in that snowbank."
Certainly there is no question that my son needed to learn a lesson about responsibility and judgment, and I think he did. But what mattered even more was Austin's concern for him. That is because love comes first.
Then, in a fast-forward to the other end of the life span, I also recently attended the funeral of Howard, a friend of mine who died in his eighties. Howard's memorial service was a time of grief, but it was also a celebration because it was all about love, for that was a large part of Howard's life. People were invited to say something about Howard and their relationship with him. Here are a few things that were shared:
"He cared about me."
"He loved people without judgment."
"You knew Howard really was there for you."
"He drew people to him."
"He changed my life for the better."
Over and over again, Howard's friends and family spoke about how he made them feel, how he connected with them, and how he brought life to them through his words and his actions.
How we operate as loving people, and who we love, will make a great difference in the courses of our lives. You can probably remember right now an experience in which someone affected you a great deal by either how much, how helpfully, or even how poorly he or she loved you. These events and people stay with us, for good or for bad, forever. They get inside-and they stay inside. Love matters to us.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF LIFE
Love is our highest endeavor. Our lives are evaluated by how much-or how little-we love. Our quality of life and even the number of our days are affected by love. In fact, it is only to the extent that we love well and deeply that we are truly alive.
Can you recall a time that you experienced genuine love? Chances are, you have at least one experience of love seared deeply into your memory. That's because we assign landmark status to the times we have experienced love. We vividly remember these people and events forever. We use them as reference points and standards by which we compare our present relationships. The converse is also true: we never forget the pain of love lost, love gone bad, or the absence of love.
Certainly there are many things that give meaning and significance to our lives, such as our work, activities, and passions. And all of these are highly important and valuable. But without love motivating, driving, guiding them, they are empty. As the apostle Paul points out, "If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
PEOPLE WHO LOVE OTHERS, AND WHAT THEY RECEIVE
How does all this relate to you today? You are probably reading this book because you are interested in becoming a more loving person, and my intent is to help you do that. In this book, I will share principles and skills to enable you to become a person who truly cares for others. Learning to love others authentically, and in ways that matter to them, is one of the best things anyone can do. Loving people will not only be beneficial to others, but your life will also change for the better.
No matter what the results, most people don't regret the time and effort they spent in loving, if only for what they have learned and with whom they have connected. However, many people do regret the time they avoided learning to love. You don't want to look back on your life and realize you missed out on love. You need to be busy today in loving people so you can be able to reflect on how meaningful and good your life has been because of your willingness and commitment to love.
Now, the rightness and helpfulness of love does not mean pain is not involved. In fact, sometimes when we do something caring, we can get hurt. For example, have you ever opened up to someone emotionally and then had things go wrong for you? Most of us have. Even so, in the long run, love is very much worth the pain. As C. S. Lewis notes in his book The Four Loves, "The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
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.
People want to learn to love for different reasons. Some want to improve a specific relationship, such as with a spouse, child, or friend. Others would like to see love affect other aspects of life. And others want to have improved connections in general.
Here are some of the benefits of becoming the loving person you were designed to become:
Better relationships. The more you learn to love, the more improvement you experience in relationships that matter to you. You will have healthier relationships, and you will become better connected to your friends and loved ones.
The experience of love. Love can involve a truly wonderful experience that makes hard times and suffering worthwhile. In and of itself, love fills us up and makes us glad to be alive, even when it hurts.
The capacity for intimacy. Intimacy is an important aspect of love. As you become more loving, you are able to open yourself up to people in a deep way and to be connected to the hearts of others.
Freedom. People who learn to love are out of jail-that is, they are free from the prisons of fear, guilt, and pretending to be someone they are not. They make their own choices and decisions. They tell the truth without being afraid. They can be vulnerable with the right people.
Joy and happiness. Love brings a positive outlook and contentment to life. When you are a loving person, you end up receiving much more than you give.
Success in goals and dreams. Loving people create for themselves a foundation of safety and encouragement that helps launch them into achieving their dreams, vision, and goals.
Personal growth and healing. People who love can get the resources they need from others so they can make the changes and transformations that will help them grow. Love is essential to any personal growth efforts.
Leadership abilities. The best leaders are those who can connect in positive ways to people in their organizations-inspiring, motivating, and guiding them to excellence.
Good effects on others. When you love, others are helped. Loving people encourage, support, empathize with, and confront those in their lives, and the result is that they are the better for it. You can see transformation in the lives of others in whom you have invested love. Nobody changes permanently without love; therefore loving people provides the foundation for others to grow.
Quality of life. People who love and are loved tend to have a better life experience all around. Some researchers believe that loving people have better physical and emotional health, and even longer lives because of the positive effects of love.
Spiritual growth. Love was created and designed by God, and it is his greatest gift to us. Love is the deepest part of God's nature. As we learn the principles of love, we also become closer to God, who teaches and models the experience for us to have with one another: "Just as I have loved you, you should love each other." A life filled with loving people, and loving the One who made people, is a worthwhile life.
WE ARE LOOKING FOR LOVE
At the end of the day-more accurately, at the end of our lives-we all want to experience and give love more than anything else. Success, pleasurable activities, material possessions, even a noble purpose in life all pale beside our longing for love. The pages of history are filled with people who have gladly given up treasures and opportunities for the understanding and experience of love.
We want to know the mystery and power of love, to receive it inside our hearts, and ultimately to give it to others. The people whom we most admire and want to emulate are often those who are most familiar with and the best bestowers of love. Those who are the most loving are also those who have received, and made good use of, the love they have experienced.
Most of us can recall a time we have experienced true love. Maybe a special time in our marriage or a memorable romance. Or a late-night conversation with a friend. Or a warm family experience. Or a grandmother's smile. But the point is, for most of us, the spark of love still exists somewhere within us; it has not gone out. It may be undeveloped and frail, and we may not know how to fan the flames of love again, but it is there.
Love is not always foremost on our minds. We may forget about it for a while or avoid it for some reason. We may get involved in our work, our activities, our childrearing, or some mission in life to the extent that it temporarily leaves our awareness. Or, if love has gone bad for us, we may simply deny that love is important. This helps keep the pain away for a while.
Sooner or later, however, we find ourselves in a situation in which we feel safe and know it's OK to be honest. It may be when we are alone in a quiet place. Or with a companion who helps us look into ourselves. Or in prayer. Or after one of life's various failures or losses, when we can no longer pretend about our feelings. It is during these times that we regain contact with the reality that we want, desire, and need love-real love-in some form. And we also want to give love to those we care about. Experiencing and giving love are signs of life to us-that we are here, that God is real, and that our lives matter.
CARING ISN'T ENOUGH
I have become increasingly aware of a significant problem in the area of love and relationships-caring isn't enough. 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. Let me illustrate this point with several examples.
The Husband Who Can't Be Close
Christine and Jeff are a married couple who are friends of mine. One day Christine called me and wanted some pointers for her relationship with Jeff. She said, "I know he loves me and the kids; I have no questions about that. Jeff would do anything for us. But when he and I are together, I don't feel it inside. Nothing really happens between us.
"We'll talk about the day and the kids, and then it gets quiet. I'll ask him all sorts of questions about his reactions to his work and his stresses, and he'll tell me a little and stop. If I don't ask more, he'll look at the TV or get on the Web. Then we go to sleep."
I said, "So even though you know he loves you, you don't experience it."
"Yes," Christine said. "Sometimes I get upset and tell him that the relationship is lonely, and I want more from him. But this doesn't help. In fact, it seems to distance him further. He'll say, 'I'm sorry,' or 'I'll be praying for you,' but I think he is just afraid and doesn't know what to do. He is just trying to say anything to keep me from being mad at him. And then he shuts down even more. He's not mad or mean to me. He's just ... in the room."
Now think about this scenario from Jeff's point of view. He most likely felt terrible that the love he had for Christine was not getting to her where she needed it. The caring wasn't enough.
The Woman Who Can't Confront Her Mom
Susan is a working single mom whose own mother, Marilyn, drives her crazy. Marilyn is a nice person and genuinely cares about Susan, but she can be quite dependent and self-centered without being aware of it. She needs a lot from her daughter, which can be pretty draining for Susan.
Susan told me, "Most of our conversations end up being about how difficult Dad is, and her life and stresses. I listen a lot because I know she needs a friend. But when I try to bring up how things are going for me, she'll somehow turn things back to herself. Like last week when I told her that my son was misbehaving at school and how hard that is with me working full-time, she said, 'At least you have your youth and energy going for you. Think how it is at my age, having to deal with your father's problems.' I had no idea what to say to that, so I gave up. I feel bad, because she doesn't have a lot of friends, and that's probably why. But I have no idea how to say whatever will help. So I listen."
Susan loves her mom, but the listening isn't enough. Marilyn has a problem with relating that affects her life, her connection with her daughter, and most likely her own marriage. Susan needs a way to truly and effectively love her mom in a way that would provide answers and make a difference. That help would be in the form of some sort of a confrontive conversation. But Susan has no idea where to start. Not only that, but she doesn't want to hurt or injure her mom.
The Man Who Doesn't Know How To Help His Depressed Friend
Miguel, a businessman I know, has a friend at work named Phil. Their families have done some social things, and Miguel and Phil have gone to some games together. They have a pretty good relationship. However, during a watercooler conversation, Phil told Miguel that he was dealing with depression and that it was affecting his job and his marriage. Miguel didn't know what to do to help and called me for advice.
Excerpted from LOVING PEOPLE by JOHN TOWNSEND Copyright © 2007 by Dr. John Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
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