You didn’t have to hear my very accomplished friend say these words to know that they were all too true: "My father…” he began haltingly then continued with deep emotion in his voice, "he… well… um… um… well you see, he has never once said that he was proud of me. Not once. He’s only said that he loved me a time or two in my whole life."

Unfortunately, I’ve had friends — both men and women — share this kind of anguish that dogs them emotionally every day. This pain often sabotages their personal attempts at "adulting," especially parenting. The lack of love language from a parent to a child is a frequent form of abuse that goes hidden, ignored, or dismissed as expected:

Well, that’s just not manly!

That’s just the way things are between mother and daughter.

Most who have endured such pain have a very hard time shaking its effects. They either use denial to discount their pain or hide their anguish. That eventually leads them to act out, trying to prove their self-worth. Even worse, many who have borne the dry spirit from this kind of neglect hardened themselves to deal with the ache in their hearts. They then find it easy to pass on their pain to their children, friends, and spouses.

How important is our using love language with the significant people in our lives? God answers that very clearly at Jesus’ baptism: "You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy." (Luke 3:22 NLT). That is how the Lord God Almighty chose to speak to his divine Son!

We mustn’t ignore the importance of this example. God affirms and uses tender love language to affirm his love, his relationship, and his joy in his Son! The Father’s example should be enough to move us to follow suit. When we move past the genealogy and continue on with the story, notice what happens the next time we see Jesus. The Lord is in the wilderness facing the trials and temptations from Satan. The first words the evil one speaks to Jesus should bring us a chill: "If you are the Son of God…" (Luke 4:3 — Bold added for emphasis.).

Do you think it is a mere coincidence that the Father had given his Son the exact assurance he needed before Jesus faced his time of trial? "You are my dearly loved Son…" Of course not! And if Jesus needed this reassurance, how much more do our loved ones, whether family or friends or spiritual family, need this kind of loving assurance.

Over the years, as I have shared this principle, some folks have protested:

I don’t have an example of this kind of thing from my parents, how do I learn it. Even more, I turned out pretty OK, so is it really that important?

Do my kids really need this from me? It’s just not who I am!

What words am I supposed to say?

If I start this now, no one will believe I’m being legit — they will wonder what I want from them!

That feels so unnatural to me. It’s just not me. It’s not my style.

The list of excuses could be much longer, but you get the idea. However, we must realize that whether this affirmation is natural or not, whether we received this when we grew up, or whether our friends think it’s weird, our loved ones need this love language. Unlike the Heavenly Father, we don’t know when those who are precious to us will go through their trials. We just know those trials will eventually come no matter how we try to protect them. So, let’s arm them with the language of love.

So, how do I learn to start this change?

The best way I know to start trying this love language shift is to use it with Jesus. More than praying formal prayers, let’s begin to talk to Jesus as our ever-constant friend. Yes, disciplined prayer is important to keep our spiritual conversation in balance. However, notice in Jesus’ life how easily he broke into conversation with his Father. These conversational prayers open up the door for us to recognize the abiding presence of the Lord in our lives.

Oh my, thank you, Jesus, for the beautiful sunrise you painted for us this morning.

Thank you, precious Lord, for my children. They help me know how much the Father loves me. How can I ever thank you for this gift?

Jesus, I feel so alone right now. Can you please show yourself to me. My heart hurts to know you are there. My spirit is dry, and I am thirsty to experience your presence that once seemed so near.

How can I express to you how deeply I love and appreciate what you have done for me, Jesus.

Holy Lord, I adore you as my beloved constant friend and ever-loyal Savior.

Christ Jesus, there is no one who grabs my heart quite like you do. As I think about your glory and grace that you chose to share with me, I am in awe and wonder at your love for me.

Is this different than the way you talk to Jesus? If it is, why? Why do we not use the love language of God for our Savior? If our hearts are incubated in the Psalms along with the letters of Paul and John, then we find such language for God in those beautiful and Spirit-ordained examples.[NOTE]

We can begin to learn healthy love-language as we speak with our Savior. Then, we can begin to shift it to our family. After all, Jesus is our older brother who paid the adoption price to bring us into God’s family. As we speak in love language to Jesus, we are training our hearts to use this language with our loved ones. They need to know how we feel about them, too. Because we have become familiar with this language in our times with Jesus, it won’t seem odd to us as we begin to use it with our precious ones. They will grow accustomed to it from us and even crave it — no matter what our teenagers may say. Most of all, they will receive the affirmation of our love as our genuine affection, adoration, and appreciation. In the process, as we begin to share this with those we love, we learn the truth of what Jesus said, "It is even more blessed to give than to receive!" (Acts 20:25).

Holy Lord, I adore you as my beloved constant friend and ever-loyal Savior.

A Big Regret:

Anytime I speak or write on this subject, I know that some who receive these words have their hearts break: not because they were the recipients of this neglect, but because they were the administrators of it. They don’t know how to get past the past. They don’t know how to "flip the switch" (their words, not mine) on reversing the silence and replacing it with words of grace, appreciation, and love. That is why beginning with Jesus is so important. However, this can’t be used as a dodge allowing ourselves not to begin with our loved ones.

My dad was demanding, sometimes hard. He loved us — my two brothers and I. He pushed us to achieve. He even occasionally said he loved us. He did things to show his pride in us and love for us. He talked about us in glowing terms to his friends. Unfortunately, he wasn’t so good about saying those things to us.

Then he got extremely ill. He began a long journey that would end about 11 years later in death. The medicines he took revved up this high octane and hot-tempered dad even more. I have videos in my heart of painful exchanges that I try to keep hidden deep in the vault of sorrows. BUT, and you must see this "but" as a great reversal, somewhere along the way, the Holy Spirit grabbed his heart. He did what dads in his day never did. He spoke to me with emotional language, tears, and clear, tender words of love. He apologized. He was specific. He was distinct.

His actions could not erase all my pain or his regrets, but they began a new chapter. His words set me free to have my wife help me learn to be more affirming with our own kids. As someone whose primary love language is what is done, I’ve learned the importance of saying my feelings. I’m not great at it yet, but I’m still trying, and I’m urging you to join me in learning to be more like my Father!

A Place to Start:

A great place to start is regularly reading the Psalms. As you do, notice the love language the psalmists use to speak to God — for example, look at Psalm 63. Remember, the Psalms were regularly read aloud by all the people in worshiping God. Worship was their training ground to learn love language.

Also, notice 1, 2, and 3 John and John’s language with his fellow believers — use several different translations to get a feel for his language. In addition, look for Paul’s language as he speaks to his "sons" and "daughters" of faith in his churches — for example, the shockingly intimate language of Galatians 4:19 and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12.

Using love language to speak to people in our family and spiritual family is not strange, weird, or forced: it’s the natural language of love in the family of God. As we begin to use it, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to have our Father’s kingdom come to our beloved ones. That, dear friend in Jesus, is a touch of heaven in our broken world. And, that’s a touch of grace we all need.

Special thanks for the use of the Jesus images in Phil's blog, "The Jesus Window," to Free Bible Images and the The Lumo Project.