Love on Purpose
Because loving others is not something I can check off my to-do list, it can be challenging for me at times. I am a list person to the core. I have always been very driven and place great value in productivity, efficiency, and accomplishment. Sometimes, I think I place too much value in these things, rather than on what really matters. When I read Shauna Niequist’s book Present Over Perfect for the first time, it was like a wake-up call. I was sitting in my big overstuffed chair, snuggled in a blanket, candle flickering nearby, and my journal at the ready. Thankfully, on this occasion I was reading and really paying attention. Her words rang so true for me at this point in my journey:
What makes our lives meaningful is not what we accomplish, but how deeply and honestly we connect with the people in our lives, how wholly we give ourselves to the making of a better world, through kindness and courage.
What I’m learning, slowly but surely, is that changing my mindset requires me to be more conscious on a daily basis about putting aside the to-do list and actively looking for opportunities to love others well. As I’ve been striving to quiet the refrain of productivity that drives me in order to love others better, I’ve found that three components are essential for me: I must be intentional, present, and vulnerable.
Being intentional means focusing on how I can make a difference for others rather than what I can accomplish next. For me, this looks like turning off the radio on my drive to work and practicing intention-setting for the day, thinking about how I can be loving to my colleagues and students. It means taking the extra time to write a handwritten thank-you note to someone who has shown me kindness. It means choosing to ignore the laundry that’s piling up, or the stack of dishes that should be cleaned, and deciding instead to pick up the phone and call a friend who is going through a difficult time. Being intentional doesn’t have to look like grand gestures, although sometimes that may be the case. I’m finding that something as simple as a phone call, note, or smile can mean the world to someone who needs it at that moment.
I’m also learning that being fully present is another crucial piece of loving others well. Recently, I was given a bracelet with the simple words “Be Present” etched across a gold band that serves as my daily visible reminder of this goal. Being present is a choice I must make each day, each hour, each moment. When meeting up with a friend for coffee, turn off the ringer on my phone and really listen — be present. While working with a student through a difficult situation at school, instead of thinking about the stack of papers piling up on my desk to be graded later — be present. In the midst of making and eating dinner with my husband, turn my focus away from the to-do list a mile high of tasks to accomplish that evening — be present. These moments matter, and I don’t want to miss them because I’m focused on something else. Being present is definitely a work in progress for me. Personally, I’m finding that this takes a lot of grace, both grace for myself and grace from others when I let distractions get in the way of being fully present and invested in that moment with them.
Lastly, I am finding that loving others requires me to be more vulnerable. This certainly doesn’t mean telling everyone everything. But it does mean showing those I love who I really am, not putting on a mask to be what I think they want to see. This means when someone asks how my day is going, I need to be willing to stop the incessant “good” response and truly let them in to my messy and imperfect reality. Loving the people in our inner circles well means being vulnerable and allowing them to be vulnerable as well — without judgment, without expectations, without easy answers. To love well, I’m learning to let myself be seen in an effort to help others feel seen as well.
Bob Goff, the founder of Love Does, says it perfectly: “We’ll become in our lives what we do with our love.” How will you choose to love today?
Kaiti Brown is a teacher, a coffee enthusiast, a reader, and a puppy-mom to her cockapoo, Theo. She is always up for an inspirational quote, a Harry Potter movie marathon with her husband, or a new book recommendation. Her favorite places to be are in a coffee shop talking with a friend or at home in comfy pants enjoying a random Netflix series. She would like to think that her spirit animal is Joanna Gaines.