If you were to peek inside my copy of The Five Love Languages, you might assume I’d read only one of the sections: the one about words of affirmation. That part is extravagantly highlighted and filled with marginalia, while the rest remains virtually pristine. The premise of the book, in case you’re one of the six people in the Western Hemisphere who hasn’t heard of it, is that most of us receive love in one of five ways — through acts of service, physical affection, gifts, quality time, or words of affirmation.
The truth is, I could go the rest of my life without a birthday present, and I’d be just fine. If you came to my house, I’d want to sit down and talk to you after dinner instead of having you do the dishes. I’m happy to give you a hug before you leave, but it wouldn’t faze me if you gave me a friendly wave instead. But if I don’t get words, I will probably shrivel up into a little raisin of a person and remain in my bed until Jesus comes back.
And so, during all those years when February rolled around and I was, once again, dateless, the thing that got to me wasn’t so much the lack of red roses or jewelry or teddy bears or those ubiquitous heart-shaped chocolate boxes. It was the lack of words.
I longed for a good man to tell me there was something special about me, to let me know I was beautiful, to make me feel chosen and known and loved. I yearned for words scrawled on a card or a scrap of paper (or even a napkin) that I could read over and over again until the ink became worn under my fingers.
But with a flopped blind date as the only recent entry onto my dating résumé, what was I to do? I was too cheap to join ChristianCafe.com (not to mention intimidated by all the personality profile questions) and too chicken to sign up for It’s Just Lunch. Besides, even if I did meet someone online, there was no guarantee I’d get what I was looking for. Maybe one of the guys out there in cyberspace would exchange words with me, but how could I know they’d be words of affirmation? I wasn’t sure I was ready to set myself up for that level of potential rejection.
I didn’t know what to do with this longing, so I did what I usually did: I shoved it into a musty corner of my heart and tried to pretend it wasn’t there. Then I went about my everyday life — work, church, grocery shopping, coffee with friends. I had a full life and much to be thankful for, but still the yearning simmered under the surface of my soul.
Maybe you can relate — whatever your love language is. Maybe you long for someone to sit and talk with at the end of a long day. Maybe you wish you had someone to go on adventures with or someone who would remember your birthday with just the right gift. Or maybe whenever you see couples walking hand in hand, it shreds your heart a little.
Message in a Bottle
One blustery February day, as I found myself careening toward another lonely Valentine’s Day, I was given an unexpected visual that helped me. And I found it in the unlikeliest of places.
I was hiking in the woods with my parents and sister. My dad and sister, ever the treasure hunters, were nosing around in a dried-up creek, where trash had collected over the decades. Suddenly my dad let out a triumphant cry. “Look at this!”
I glanced over warily, my eyebrows cocked. But sure enough, what Dad was holding did seem to be a treasure, if a dirty one. Beneath the grime of silt and years was a medicine bottle made of sky-blue glass. It was hard to tell for sure, but it looked like Depression glass from the 1920s.
Though the bottle was empty, and we were almost a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, I couldn’t help but think it would have made the perfect container to put a message in and toss into the sea. What would it be like to get words of love in a bottle like this? I wondered. (I do realize that technology has enabled us to communicate in much more sophisticated ways these days, but what can I say? Clearly I’ve watched too many Nicholas Sparks movies.)
Tsunami of Love
On my way home after the visit at Mom and Dad’s, I happened upon these lyrics by John Mark McMillan:
He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy
The words were jarring when I really let them sink in. Did I really believe God’s love wasn’t just a generic sentiment? Did I believe that He loved me, specifically? Would He pick me out of a crowd and speak words of love to me? Was He jealous for me, the way someone is jealous for his or her beloved?
If he were to send me a message in a bottle, what would it say?
When I got home, I started digging through my Bible, looking for all the verses I could find about God’s love. Then I took the liberty of filling in my name when it seemed like a legitimate application. (I’m no Bible scholar, but I don’t think I skated into too much heresy with these paraphrases.) Here’s what I found:
- I will satisfy Stephanie each morning with my unfailing love, so she may sing for joy to the end of her life. (Psalm 90:14)
- I have loved Stephanie with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn her to myself. (Jeremiah 31:3)
- I will take delight in Stephanie with gladness. With my love, I will calm all her fears. I will rejoice over her with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3:17)
- With my unfailing love I will lead Stephanie. She is the one I have redeemed, and in my might, I will guide her. (Exodus 15:13)
- This is how I loved Stephanie: I gave my one and only Son, so that she will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
I wrote the personalized verses onto slips of paper and put them in a glass bottle. Each day during the month of February, I pulled out a verse and read it. As the month went on, something extraordinary happened. The month that usually smacked of disappointment and loneliness was instead marked by a tsunami of love.
I realize this may sound a bit sentimental, but there is nothing superficial or sappy about the kind of love described in Scripture. God didn’t just dole out His love with nice-sounding words; He backed up every sentiment with action . . . to the point of giving up His very life for the ones he loves.
That February my relationship status didn’t change, but one thing did: I knew, without a doubt, that I was loved. And I had the messages in a bottle to prove it.
Copyright Stephanie Rische 2016. All rights reserved.