Sometimes love is easy; other times… not so easy. When love is easy it bubbles to the surface of our skin, comes out in words, touch, and little notes. We don’t have to think about it. When love does not come easily it can still be given consciously and with effort. This, is gift love.
This post has been in my drafts folder since A was small enough to nap on her dad’s body.￼ The picture is out of date but I kept it anyway because I like the palpable familial love so visible in it. I like to see M’s eyes sparkle; and baby A in that purple dress with her one-year-old mowhawk before the sides of her hair had grown in.￼ I love the moment when this picture was taken.
Gift love started as my way of thinking about how to reconcile daily grievances, make-up when the unthinkable just happened, and forgive when apologies have not necessarily been given. Anyone with a spouse will relate, but also anyone with any valued long-term relationship; be it with a parent, sibling, lover, child, or friend.
The first few years of parenting are hard on a marriage, and I’m not sure it gets any easier. Why are relationships so hard? Why is it that the people we love most have this endless potential to cause harm; to take the most tender parts of ourselves, twist them into something ugly, and fling it back into our faces?
Gift love, put simply, is empathy. It is meeting a person where they are and saying,”I see you.” In loving a person at their worst we invest in the parts of them that are soft, vulnerable, fragile, and help those parts to grow. To love a child is somehow easier than loving an adult, but it is the same. Each of us was once a child. Each of us started out as precious.
Gift love is the love we give even when we don’t feel like it. It is courage mustered in small moments when we want to roll away and offer our back, but instead roll to and bravely talk about how we feel. It is a love given humbly, in remembrance of the big picture, and to the people without whom we would be lost. When it all falls apart, someone has to start somewhere.
I wish there existed some rote method of reconciliation that everyone was trained in: Then we could just move through the process and get on with it. You speak, and I will listen. I speak, and you listen. We each apologize and take responsibility for harms caused. Forgiveness is complete. Once again, we feel safe and loved in each other’s presence and the relationship is whole. We part ways feeling right with the world.
What holds us back? Part of gift love for me is that I will only take your words 100% seriously when you are clear-headed, centered, and speaking from the most authentic core of your being. I picture a circle of emotions that each of us works with. All of the places we reach for in difficult moments are along the edge: ego, pride, anger, control, defense, greed. The center is where the heart is; the authentic place we speak from when we are feeling vulnerable but brave and can be proud of our words and actions. When we speak from this place it is easy to love ourselves and each other; and when the conversation is over we rest in the knowledge that we did our best.
What do we do with nasty things said in a heated moment? The things we can’t rescind or un-hear hold kernels of truth. Take them seriously and reflect; but at the end if the day, understand that my harsh words are more a reflection of how I am doing on this difficult journey than of how you are doing. Know that I will want a chance to make things right.
Relational stress is the worst for me; it hurts for years. On the receiving end of an ear-full I take your words pretty hard. Maybe I should see that you aren’t centered in your emotional circle and try not to take you so literally. Maybe, if I stay centered, I can resolve some piece of your suffering rather than adding to it.
I am trying out this idea of asking people to apologize. It’s awkward but if you need something, ask for it. If I didn’t believe in you, if I didn’t value our relationship and want it to continue, I wouldn’t bother. I would write you off as a lousy human and move on. ￼Revealing my hurt, is me loving you. This too, is gift love.
As a person who messes up frequently, I have had lots of practice apologizing. I have no shame in righting my past wrongs. If I caused you harm then I was oblivious to your needs in that moment or not centered in my circle. I don’t feel a need to justify my past poor behaviors; so please, just ask. I will hear your words as a gift.
I want to be a refuge for my people; a place where you can come to be heard and understood. I look at myself and my husband in this picture and I see how our lives have become more stressful than they used to be. I see how needs now go unmet; his and mine. Still, on a good day, we make each other lunch. We hold hands and kiss before dinner every night. We prioritize time together on weekends during nap time. I see how these small efforts, made with great love, accumulative into the days of our life. Love given freely always comes back in some form.