How to Practice Love Through Action - Ways to Say 'I Love You' With More Than Words
Telling family and friends we love them is very important. Growing up, I was told that I was loved regularly by my family. As a result, I never had to go through the painful experience of wondering if anyone loved me. I was secure in the knowledge that I had people in my life who would protect me and care for me, people who had my best interest at heart. I didn't know that not everyone has that experience. Until I became an adult and heard stories from other adults who were never told they were loved by their parents or their family, I just assumed my upbringing was the norm. I took quite a lot for granted.
Yes, saying 'I love you' is extremely important. We never know when we won't have that chance anymore. But sometimes, our actions don't measure up to our words. I can tell a friend I love her and mean it, but also harbor feelings of resentment against her for something she said or did and choose to gossip about her to make myself feel better in that moment. This kind of negativity can eventually serve to chip away at love and compassion, and, if engaged in enough, can destroy a relationship. While it may not be possible to perfectly express love through our actions and to never say or do hurtful things to our loved ones, we can improve in this endeavor, and there are practices that we can engage in to demonstrate love.
The Practice of Love
* Refrain from gossiping - It may be tempting, especially if a loved one has ticked us off or done or said something that has generated feelings of unworthiness inside us. Gossiping about someone is a way to take the focus off us and our flaws and shine the spotlight on the flaws of another. It's also a way to spread outright lies framed as perceptions or speculation. Character assassination, it's called. I've been the victim of this type of gossip and I've engaged in it myself. It's toxic for the one engaging in it and extremely hurtful for the victim. And yes, the victim often is aware that gossip about her is taking place, even if only through picking up on the energy in the room. Find a way to forgive and sort through feelings of anger without gossiping.
* Accept loved ones as they are - We all have faults and quirks. Sometimes these can be hair-pulling, eye-rolling, exasperatingly irritating to others. But warts and all, we are who we are. The whole is greater than the sum of our parts. Remembering those qualities we love about people can help us to accept the ones we don't. And, remembering that all these qualities, the pleasant ones and unpleasant ones, combine to create the person we love can also give us new perspective.
* Stay out of another person's business - Love may mean wanting the very best for a person. But it also means recognizing we don't know what's best for anyone else. Trying to control another person is an energy waster, because it's futile. People are going to do what they are going to do, and change is an internal process that a person must experience for herself - it can't be forced, at least not with any desirable results. If a person gives in and changes something just to please someone else or stop a loved one's incessant nagging, resentments are bound to develop that will cripple the relationship. Even when we're sure we're right that Uncle Jimmy would be happier if he got a girlfriend or Grandma Jones would have an easier time if she sold her house and moved into a personal care home, it's really none of our business.
* Pray for loved ones - We may not know what's best for the people that we love, but we can have faith that there is a higher power that does and we can pray to that higher power that they receive whatever serves their highest good in life. Prayer can be helpful in finding peace about situations regarding our loved ones that have us worried but that we can't control.
* Avoid discounting or invalidating what a loved one says or how he or she feels - People often say things like, "Don't worry about it. It will be alright," because they don't know what else to say. It's much easier to say something like that than to truly be present with someone who is in despair and let them just be right where they are. I've never felt more loved than when my friends just let me sulk, rage, and describe my pain, and then express compassion and care. And I've never felt more unlovable than when someone tells me I shouldn't feel how I feel, rejects my perception in favor of their own, or discounts the severity of my pain.
* Make amends for past behavior by changing present behavior - If we let people down or hurt our loved ones, especially on a consistent basis, the best apology we can give is to change our actions. Words only go so far, and they fall flat if our actions don't back them up. Years of abuse or hurtful behavior can't be undone by a simple "I'm sorry." In fact, these things can't be undone, period. But deciding where we were wrong and doing our best to improve how we handle similar situations in the present can restore trust and improve our relationships.