I first met Kristin Tennant a few years ago when I was blessed with the invitation to share a meal at her table. From that first meal it became obvious that her warmth, hospitality and writerly wisdom were something to be cherished, today you get to share in a piece of that, enjoy.
We all know that love is better when it’s shown rather than told—that it’s more believable when it impacts your life in some tangible way you can point to.
There’s the love, for instance, shown by my mom when she came and stayed with us for a week after each of my babies were born—the cooking and dishwashing, the early morning baby soothing and late evening advice-giving.
More recently, we witnessed the love of friends who showed up with rubber gloves, cleaning supplies, and a fresh burst of energy as we were frantically preparing our house for its sale the following day.
Yes, those demonstrations of love carried me through stressful times, giving me not just nourishing post-partum meals and a sparkling pre-sale kitchen, but also a clear understanding that I wasn’t alone.
But maybe it’s wrong to assume that love showing up is always active and busy—that it must involve a flurry of helping and working, problem-solving and doing. Maybe in the midst of so many busy demonstrations of love, we miss the love people need most: the quiet, steady love that doesn’t try to control what happens next, but just sits with you and waits to see what happens next.
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Of course, there’s something to be said for the most practical forms of love—the meals, childcare, and snow shoveling: It’s much harder to screw them up. Being a loving presence in someone’s life, on the other hand, is a tenuous balancing act.
I experienced this first hand 10 years ago, as news of my failed marriage spread through our small church and community. The people in my life seemed to instantly sort themselves into two categories: those who faded into the background, where they could pretend nothing uncomfortable was happening, and those who assumed a very active role in what was happening.
Of those who chose to speak up and get involved, there were also two distinct groups. One group, primarily Christians from both our current and former church communities, felt compelled to demonstrate love through lecturing, debates, and “loving discipline.” They were so laser-focused on my Issue they became blind to every other part of my life and the whole person I still was.
The other group, consisting primarily of non-church-going friends, demonstrated love through vocal, all-encompassing support. They were my cheerleaders, and in their eyes I could do no wrong. There’s no doubt this was a refreshing counterpoint to the many critical voices in my life, but it also didn’t exactly feel like love. It wasn’t nuanced enough to make room for the complexity of the situation—for the conflicting emotions and uncertainty, for both the despair and the hope. The comfort these friends offered lasted for only as long as I was sitting with them, having coffee or a beer, soaking up their approval; it dissolved as soon as we hugged goodbye.
I know that these expressions of love—both the brutal questioning and the blind acceptance— are generally well-intentioned. They emerge from a desire to move people we care about toward a better place—toward whatever is best for them. The flaw lies in assuming we know what is best for them.
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In the dark days of my separation and divorce, love showed up and stayed with me in the form of a friend who didn’t pretend to know what I should be doing to fix my life. She didn’t come bustling in to shine a harsh light on my messiest corners, nor did she sweep the mess under the rug. She simply came with a quiet, steady love, ready to sit with me.
She was saddened by my situation, but not hopeless. She hurt for me, but refused to take on that hurt in any personal way. She listened when I wanted to talk about the dark details of my divorce, but she also listened when I talked about the type of mid-century modern sofa I was hoping to find for my apartment, or when I wanted to complain and laugh about the mundane trials of parenting two little ones. She reminded me that she was praying for me—not for any specific outcome, but for God’s clear and steady presence, guidance, and love in my life.
And in exactly that quiet way, she was God’s hand of love in my life.
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Kristin Tennant has been a freelance writer for 12 years. In 2007 she began blogging about family, faith, doubt and redemption at Halfway to Normal (www.halfwaytonormal.com). Kristin, her husband Jason, and their blended family of three daughters live in Urbana, Illinois, where they love cooking and sharing meals and conversation with friends.
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