When my children were teenagers, I read Gary Chapman’s insightful book, “The Five Love Languages of Children.” This companion book to “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts,” applies to parenting Chapman’s theory that love is expressed and received in one of five ways: Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Gifts, or Words of Affirmation. Chapman contends that we all have one dominant love language that helps us to feel loved, or, as he puts it, “fill our love tank.”
Chapman’s book was an exercise in retrospect, and offered helpful insight into how to better love on my children. Michael, witty, reflective, and prone to fits of bear hugging, attunes to Physical Touch. Claire, whimsical, effervescent, and prone to fits of passion, is filled to the brim by Quality Time. Even Jacqueline, our newly adopted nine-year-old, was quickly revealed to be a Quality Timer like her sister.
The goal and focus of all of Chapman’s Love Languages books is to help us to love others better by choosing to offer the language that speaks to their particular way of feeling loved. Understanding how those close to us feel love is meant to foster in us a desire to “fill their love tank” by speaking their love language, helping them to feel secure. Reading this book in light of my parenting did just that. But I’d like to offer a word of caution for those adopting this theory in light of their marriage.
I was speaking to a young friend of mine who has been married for less than a year. She had just finished Chapman’s book, and came to the same introspective conclusion that I had. The desired outcome of Love Languages is that we become more aware of what our spouse needs, and work to fill his or her tank. However, what my young friend observed, and what I experienced, was that rather than fostering a spouse-centric desire to please, what resulted was an ego-centric focus on her own love language, and a doleful gazing into her own empty tank. My friend and I both agreed that, left unchecked, focus on our own tank had the potential to lead us down a road to resentment.
Chapman observes in his book that we are inclined to offer to others the love language that makes us feel most loved. More often than not, though, our spouse does not share the same love language we do. So we are left feeling like our efforts are in vain or unappreciated. If we do not pair this theory with Christ-centered thinking, we run the risk of falling into a pit of self-focus and bitterness, two deft destroyers of marriage.
Burk Parsons said, “The love language of all marriages is self-denial.” Though most of us know this, we can still become frustrated because the road from our head to our heart to our feet is tortuous and, without a guide, impassible. So we look to Christ to be our guide, and, for the road to self-denial, Philippians 2:5-8 is a good place to find him.
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Of anyone who ever lived, Christ should have been able to claim the right to be utterly full of himself. Instead, he emptied himself so that we could be full of him! He did not concern himself with filling his own tank. His only concern was his Father’s will, which he carried out, even to his death. He knew the only source of “filling” was God, himself.
Here we find our model for marriage. The filling of our own love tank must be left to Christ, as we empty ourselves for the sake of loving our spouse. Philippians 2:1-4 provides the remedy for self-focus:
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
For marriage, that means serving our spouse with the selfless love that can be offered only through the strength Christ provides. This requires daily-sometimes hourly-prayer for the single-minded determination to seek Christ and him alone. Only he is sufficient to truly fill our love tank. In fact, the sufficiency of Christ fills us with a love that is “pressed down, shaken together, (and) running over” (Luke 6:38). Not even the best spouse on the planet can do that!
In Christ, ours is the fulfillment of our deep desire for love, as we please him by selflessly seeking to satisfy that same desire in our spouse. That is the love language of Christ.