I’m not one of those people who has a lot of friends. But the friends I do have are very important to me. I met one of my closest friends at the beginning of my university studies in my late teens. Over the four decades of our friendship, there have been times when the geographical distance between us has made regular contact difficult. But every time we have reconnected it has felt like we were never apart. From the very beginning, we found in each other a kindred spirit. We share a love for creativity, a deep curiosity about the world, and a rather strange and unique perspective on life. In this friend, I have found a mirror, a witness to my inner and outer world, and a cheerleader who has encouraged and supported me.
We humans are relational beings. We need trusted companions to help us grow, be healthy, and feel safe. But we can’t form close relationships with everyone. Most of us will only find deep, mutually-enriching intimacy with a few significant others. The close friends and family with whom we do find true connection are what I like to call our tribe. And they are the ones who teach us how to love. If we want to find rich, authentic, and fulfilling life we need the lessons in seeing and being seen, knowing and being known, and loving and being loved that only the closest of companions can teach.
We grow and become healthier as much by giving love as by receiving it. When we love another person well, we step out of our own experiences and perspectives and step into those of the other. The more deeply we connect with our beloved, the more our awareness and depth of experience expand. And the more we give love, the more loving we become.
Another university friend excitedly told me about an anonymous letter that had been pushed under the door of his dorm room. He was going through a tough time, but the writer had expressed such care and appreciation that he had been deeply comforted and encouraged. What he didn’t know was that I was the letter writer. When I saw what a difference a few words on a piece of paper could make, it changed me. That simple gesture taught me to be more intentional about loving those around me.
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
Whenever someone experiences being loved and becomes a little more whole, the world becomes a healthier place. That’s why I believe that learning to love our tribe is important not just for us and our friends and family, but for our community and our society. Jesus’ final and only command was for his followers to love one another—freely, unconditionally, and sacrificially. This command wasn’t meant to lead us into protected religious communities. I believe Jesus knew that when we begin by learning to love those closest to us—our “one anothers”—we end up on a slippery slope of love which ends up with us loving everyone.
But loving our tribe isn’t as easy as it sounds. Families are complicated. Friendships are always changing. Every person is unique. Every person needs to be loved differently. Which means that as wonderful as love is, it also takes work.
THE WORK OF LOVE
So how do we love our tribe and learn from them how to be better at loving everyone?
- We begin by listening, but not just to words. We observe the other person’s body language, interests, and activities. We strive to see them for who they are—not who we want them to be— and to accept them on their terms. A helpful question to ask is: “what makes you feel loved?”
- The next step is to make forgiveness, apology, affirmation, and safety key elements of the relationship. When we apologise quickly and blame slowly we show our respect for our beloved. When we take the time to work through the inevitable hurts that come, we demonstrate that we value the relationship above being right or protecting ourselves.
- It may seem obvious, but if we are to love our friends and family we have to let them into our hearts. Vulnerability must be part of the relational equation. We cannot love well if we are always holding back or protecting ourselves.
- Finally, it’s not enough simply to speak the words “I love you”. Our love must be expressed in action. Healthy relationships are built on learning to give love in ways that make sense to the one being loved. Perhaps this is why Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages (affiliate link), has been such a hit. While I’m doubtful that there are only five languages, I do believe that it is helpful to learn to express our love in ways that feel loving to the other person.
SHARE THE LOVE
So who is in your tribe? What do you need to learn in order to love them better? And how can learning to love your friends and family teach you to be more loving generally? Please share your thoughts about loving your tribe in the comments.
If you’re aware of anyone who needs to feel loved now, please share this post with them as an expression of your love. If you’re looking for a tribe that is committed to learning to love better, please consider joining the EvoFaith Tribe. Don’t forget to stay connected on social media so that we can share the love together there.
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