Sometimes the most life-giving thing we can say to someone is I like you.
I am a member of the most narcissistic generation that has ever lived. We think about ourselves, talk about ourselves, read about ourselves, study ourselves, watch movies about ourselves, make music about ourselves. We map out our own minds with personality tests, we decorate social networking sites with our personalities, and we spend early morning hours pouring out our existential crises to each other on living room floors and front porches and over phone lines. I rather enjoy all this, and I don’t know any other way to live and be.
But we’re still insecure.
All the words and time we give to understanding and expressing ourselves can be helpful but won’t necessarily answer our essential questions. We all have a need to be accepted by our tribe, to feel security in who we are as individuals and in our relationships, to know and be known by others.
I am loved. I know this. I can name a good number of people who I am confident love me. I need that, as we all do, and I am glad for it. But in the context of what I’m talking about, love isn’t the only thing I need. Because there are people I love who I don’t really care to be around, people I love who I think are making bad decisions, people I love who I just don’t frankly like. I doubt they feel terribly affirmed as persons by that love. Sometimes we have to love people even when we don’t like them or don’t approve of their actions, but it’s no fun, not for us and not for them. To be completely secure in a relationship, to know joy and peace in it, we need to be loved and liked.
There are times when it is far more powerful to tell someone you like them than to tell them you love them. Love, especially in a Christian context, is an easy word. It’s supposed to be our default, so we don’t infuse it with a whole lot of social meaning. It’s abstract. But Like? When was the last time you told a person directly that you like them, that you enjoy them, that their company makes you happy? It’s a little uncomfortable, but also deeply life-giving.
If you want a challenge, choose one person today to tell you like them. Tell them something they do that makes you smile, something they’re good at that you admire, something about their personality that is unique and truly pleasing to you. Don’t thank them for something they’ve done for you or express appreciation for a role they play for you, because as genuine as it might be it will frame the whole thing as a transaction and softens the impact. Just tell them you like them and why. It’s harder than you think.
When I read Blue Like Jazz so many years ago, one of the most powerful points of the book for me was when Miller said he came to the point of realizing that if he were ever to meet Jesus as a real person, Jesus would like him and enjoy his company. When he accepted that, it was far easier to believe Jesus would also love him. Alise talked about this concept in a great post back in October.