Levi absolutely adores his new baby sister. He has been excited about her from the very beginning. However, another child means Levi has to share mommy and daddy’s attention. That has been hard on him. The last two months have been very challenging because Levi has been “acting out”. He does things he has never done before. He throws tantrums that he has not thrown since being 2. He suddenly has “forgotten” how to put on his shoes or pants. He needs more cuddle time. This is a good kid that is normally pretty easy going, bright, and happy. He is not perfect, and he has had his moments during his lifetime, but there was a good two solid weeks I thought someone had taken over my child’s body. His behavior was downright awful, and his attitude was just plain nasty. James and I knew the source of his problem: his tank was not getting filled.
Baby Imogen has needed a lot of extra attention. As much as Levi loved his sister and kind of understood she needed our focus, he still needed quality time. That is one of our child’s love languages. He appreciates quality time. When people come over, he hopes it is so that they will play with him. He hates seeing people leave him, and he absolutely loves church because it means he gets to spend time with a lot of people that he enjoys. We kept Levi away for a few months to prevent him from getting sick so that then hopefully Imogen would not contact RSV or some other illness dangerous for premature babies. This was torture for him. Every day he begged to go to church or to see one of his friends. His “love tank” emptied quickly every day, and he required more from James and I than we could give. So, he started behaving badly to gain our attention, even though it was negative attention. Negative attention is still attention.
We adults do it too. It is not usually a conscious decision. I do not think we always realize our tanks have emptied. But when we are not receiving the language of love that edifies us and helps us move forward emotionally stable, we tend to respond to stressful or frustrating situations in abnormal ways. Or ways that most people would not approve of. Our instincts may be to discipline immediately. “Oh, that is not how Christians should behave.” Reprimanding ensues. When we are reprimanded, our tanks drop even more. I hate the phrase “constructive criticism”. Criticism is still criticism. It still knocks a person down. Sure, we all need to be corrected from time to time. Our children need to be disciplined. We should be helping each other by holding each other accountable and reminding us when we stray that God has a better way for us.
However, when someone is getting beat up over and over and over again….when someone’s tank has been emptied again and again…when you know there is something going on in a person’s life that could be causing problems: STOP. Pray. Don’t jump in immediately and find fault. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t ignore it, either. Galations 6:1 says “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” So, be careful not to also behave badly as you approach that person. Show love for that person. Be gentle. Be compassionate. Be generous. Be thoughtful. Be gracious. Be merciful. Be caring. Encourage that person. Fill that person’s love tank. Sometimes it means spending some time. Sometimes it means giving verbal affirmation. Sometimes it means feeding that person. Sometimes it means giving that person a big hug. Sometimes it means cleaning their house. Maybe a combination of the above is needed.
It can be easy to think, “That person has so much! Why are they so down? Why don’t they realize how grateful they should be?” No matter how much we have or how grateful we really should be, if our tanks are empty….life feels hard. Let us not judge. It is very likely that person is not getting the kind of love language he or she needs.
Truly being an example of Christ to someone may require that you take care of that person’s needs instead of correcting the behavior. At least initially. Even though reprimand may be done because people love us and want to see us handling things well and living in a Christ-like manner, when we are feeling low, lost, hurt, or scared, reprimand can sometimes push us away. It is easy to think, “They do not really care about me.” If we make people feel that way, we have already lost the battle. We have already lost that person. Whether or not that person is a Believer, souls are at stake. If a Believer’s tank is empty, how can he or she fill someone else’s tank? If a Believer is feeling useless or unwanted or hurt, it is really difficult for that person to then go out and reach others for the kingdom of God.
We are so busy. It is easy for me to get too busy for my family. It is easy for me to get too busy for the church. When we are too busy, we do not give people the attention they need. The church is too busy sometimes. Too busy trying to get surface matters accomplished. Our mission is to share Christ with the world. If we cannot be an example of Christ effectively with our own fellow believers, how can we effectively share Christ outside the Body?
God desires for us to love one another. He has told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We need to stop expecting Believers to behave perfectly all the time. We need to start being honest with each other, dropping the façade of “having it together all the time.” We need to remember that everyone needs their love tanks filled to overflowing. If we want to be an effective body of Christ, we need to take care of each other.
I am challenging myself as I challenge you: pray that God shows you someone in the Body that needs their tank filled…then fill it.