Serving is Not My Love Language

“Five more minutes, everyone.  Will that be good enough to wrap up your work?”

General agreement murmured across the classroom by way of a visual cue from approximately twenty percent of my graduate students. Looking up from their group work, they made eye contact with me and affirmatively nodded.

I had been asked by a friend to teach “Family and Developmental Theories” because at the last minute the instructor had to resign.  And when she asked, it was the last-last minute.  Four days before the class began I was running from building to building across campus: checking out room keys from security, filling out a stack of paper for human resources, and furiously absorbing the previous instructor’s syllabus because there was no time to build my own.

So there we were, two weeks into the class and the stranger’s syllabus had scheduled a “Movie Night” wherein my students were to take all their previous knowledge and analyze the movie we watched in class…

All their previous knowledge?  Wait, what?  For some students this was their first graduate course.  Others had graduated in business or other bachelor’s degree areas having nothing to do with the social sciences.  Their brows were furrowed and they were searching through the introductory section of Chapter 1 trying to take any concept they had absorbed and apply it to an interaction they’d just witnessed.

When the final call came, chairs turned toward the class, the group re-settled, and a quiet came over the class.  Once again, I assured them that ‘I understood if they had no previous family or developmental theory education, and that we would take this slowly.’

“So, who would like to go first?”

After three or four seconds passed, an older student in the front of the class raised her hand, “I guess we will…”

“Great,” I replied.  “What would you like to share?”

“Well, we didn’t know any theory, but all four of our group members have learned about Gary Chapman’s Love Languages, so we analyzed the following scenes using them.  First, we noticed that the mother must have ‘Acts of Service’ as her primary Love Language based upon the scene where she was fixing the dishwasher, refereeing the children, talking with her husband on the phone, and cooking dinner…”

The group identified each of the main characters, hypothesized which of the Love Languages might be their primary focus, and backed it up with the “why” analysis that graduate lecturer’s love.

Love…did I just write that?  Yes, I did.  I LOVE that the students were trying to stretch their scholarly wings by spending time in thought as well as time in discussion with our class. Why?  Because Gifts of TIME is my love language…not Acts of Service.

All six groups presented in six different ways, but they all performed higher than the bar their facial expressions had set prior to the assignment time.

“They’re scared,” I thought.  “And they don’t understand what capacity they have for learning right now.  I need to go gently…take my time with them.”

There it was again.  I was loving them with the thought of taking time with them, of spending however long it took to nurture the ideas of the early philosophers, the mid-century theorists, and the post-modern gurus and researchers covering all they should know about family and developmental theory before the end of the semester.

As I walked to my car after class, I revisited the first group’s analysis once again.  “The mother’s Love Language was Acts of Service because…”

But here’s the thing I decided: all Love Languages are Acts of Service.  All of them. Physical Touch, Giving Gifts, Gifts of Time, Words of Affirmation, and the one that spells this theme out, the actual Acts of Service are ALL acts of service to the person who has that Love Language.

When I give my students time by teaching, explaining, answering their e-mails, meeting with them after class, mentoring with them at Starbucks on Saturday mornings, helping them find out professional licensure information, etc…that IS an act of service.  To me, giving time is serving.  To others who are truly open and giving with their words of affirmation, THAT is serving.  The letter a person writes, the hugs they provide when needed, the gift selected especially for the right occasion – every one of these acts is servant-like, servant-esque.

I got in my car after packing my large carpet-bag-sized briefcase into the back seat.

“No,” I thought.  “Serving is not my love language…because however anyone loves is their own act of service.  Of gratitude.  Of deference…of honoring those around us with what we have to give, regardless of the shape in which we give it.”

I smiled as I drove home, preparing to spend time with my husband before going to bed.