Something I have been thinking about a lot lately is what it means to be a thoughtful person. At first glance this doesn't seem like a very tricky question. It's easy to do something thoughtful, write a note for someone, buy flowers, do the dishes for someone, etc. We all know this, so what's the big deal? Well, I think that thoughtfulness goes way beyond that. It is quite easy to be thoughtful without it being received as thoughtfulness. This happens when the giver thinks of something they would like to have/do and not of what the receiver would want. I am sure at one point or other each of us has fallen victim to someone's attempts at thoughtfulness - the gift of a giant box of chocolate chip cookies when you've just announced you've given up sugar, the bejeweled sweater you will never wear, or a bouquet of flowers you are allergic to. Sometimes when we get a gift we don't really want we are able to appreciate the thought behind it anyway. I personally (usually) feel so blessed when someone thinks of me and sends me a card or gift (especially out of the blue) that I would appreciate almost anything, just because I know they were thinking of me - though of course it's always way better when it's something you actually like/want/need. Some people however, my husband included, just don't really appreciate gifts they don't like. Nothing personal, he just doesn't. Either way, if your intention is to bless this person (which, for the sake of this blog I am just going to assume that it is to bless them and not even address any ulterior motives) and you found out they didn't like/appreciate the gift you would most likely feel hurt or disappointed, and at the very least, as though you had wasted time/money and/or energy. Many people have such a fear of this that they dread Birthdays/Christmas's/Valentine's Day, Anniversaries or any other "mandatory" gift giving event that gives them yet another opportunity to fail at showing love to one or more people. Not to mention even thinking of giving/doing something for someone just because.
I am not one of these people. I love giving gifts/notes or doing something helpful for someone especially when it is just because. When you give a gift/note with no strings attached for no other reason than you wanted to bless or encourage them, it really does show that you care.
Doing little encouraging things has always come naturally to me. I get it from my mom (who truly is the best and this) and I already see it in my daughter Mikaiah. Doing something kind or encouraging for someone blesses me almost as much as it blesses them. It's always made me feel good when people told me that I was thoughtful or kind, or a "really good friend." These comments just made me glow - they still do, really. They fill me with affirmation, reminding me that I am wanted, needed and loved and that what I do makes a difference. Not everyone, however, feels this way. For many people doing more than the minimum is way too much. And that is totally okay, we are all different. I will say though, that when I get a card or small gift from someone whom I know this does not come easily I feel extra encouraged and loved.
I never had to think very hard about what might encourage someone, as I said, it came rather naturally, at least until I got married. Then I got completely thrown through a loop. Somehow I managed to marry the one person who didn't seem to appreciate these small efforts, it was so discouraging! Seth and I got married almost seven years ago. We had known each other since our early teens and been friends for several years prior, even though we only dated eight months before getting married. In the beginning I tried extra hard to do things Seth appreciated, but they all seemed to backfire. I would make a nice meal after I got off work, he would run in, eat on the counter and head downstairs to work on his truck or some other project, leaving the two table settings untouched and my feelings hurt. When I saved up money to get him an Ipod for his birthday (back when they were a hot ticket item and the Iphone was brand new) he found out about it ahead of time, and upon opening it looked at it without saying anything for a long moment and then replied "I think I've decided not to return it." Never mind that he ended up using it all the time and was never without it, he was not immediately impressed with my sacrifice and thoughtfulness (at the time he didn't have any other music player or computer) and I was crushed. I would write him notes and put his favorite snacks in his lunch and he was nonplussed. (Though I do think he appreciated them somewhat, just not as much as I would have thought.) If he had a hard day and I asked him about it he acted super annoyed. If I tried to help him with a project and didn't do it up to his standards, he'd get frustrated or annoyed. I was stumped. When I would ask him what he would like for his Birthday he would say things like "pipe clamps, a hitch for his truck, or a 50 ft. *snore* chain." These items were so boring to me I couldn't bring myself to buy them, so I continued to guess at things he'd like or appreciate and I continued to (often, though not always) miss the mark. I was frustrated because of all the energy I was exerting to bless him and because it not only didn't seem to pay off, but if anything, make things worse. On the other hand if I was having a hard day and needed an encouraging word it never seemed there. If I was tired and the house was a mess and he would come up and give me a long hug while I was in the middle of sweeping the floor, it would down right irritate me. It was like he was trying to sabotage me! My birthday would come and go, and while I would have appreciated a heart felt anything, he seemed to always either do nothing/very little, do something late (take me to a movie of his choice the day after my birthday, or do something forced (take me out to dinner because our roommate told him he had to.) While I could appreciate some of this, mostly I was left feeling unloved or unappreciated - even though I knew both to be untrue. All I wanted was to feel loved and appreciated by the person I loved the most, and because he didn't know how to express it in ways I received, I was often disappointed.
The second year we were married Mikaiah was born, and as Seth's first Father's day approached I decided to try something different...I got him something he wanted. Imagine his surprise!I bought him a 50 ft 3/4 in. chain - even though to this day I practically fall asleep just thinking of that boring gift. I bought it because he wanted it. He asked for it. I bought it because I didn't know what else to do, and you know what? He loved it. I mean he really loved it. I had finally succeeded in doing something completely with him in mind, not something I thought was cool or that I thought he would want. And the next Valentine's day you know what he did? He carved me some of the coolest leaf earrings you've ever seen. Slowly we were starting to get the hang of it. It turns out that because of his own pickiness Seth was so afraid of giving the wrong gift he'd rather not give a gift at all, he didn't want to disappoint me, when all I needed was something, anything, to remind me how much I was loved, and by not trying he ended up with the result which had kept him from trying in the first place.
These changes don't come easily, and there are things you can do from both sides to help each other out. Show grace. I have recognized that when Seth does something for me, even if it's going to a movie I don't really want to see, eating popcorn I don't really want and spending money I don't even want to think about, but he really is doing it for me, I need to be quiet, say thank you and remember that he's making an effort - something that doesn't come natural to him if he's not positive he'll hit the mark, and know that if I start complaining about things like this he will shut down and stop trying completely. When I do this, I am (pretty much always) able to truly appreciate the gift he's given me.
I have made a big attempt over the past few years to really listen to him and what he wants, even when it sounds boring to me, and get him the things he appreciates. (We both also have a cheat sheet now, which would be Amazon wishlists - they may not be a huge surprise, but at least it's something they want. Something else we have done is to take the Five love languages test (which can be found here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/file/) Although Seth and I had both heard of these for years and could guess what they were it really did help us to do this test together (one at a time, watching each others responses.) It turns out that though I have always considered myself an affectionate person I actually got a 0 in physical touch, while Seth got an 11. I scored highest in quality time, gift giving and acts of service. Knowing these things about one another has really helped us to become "bilingual" in each others love languages, meaning that not only are we learning to show love in a way that the other person receives it, but we are also learning to see and appreciate it when they are showing us love in their love language. This has totally transformed the way I see things. I am now able to recognize that when Seth was giving me a long hug while I was in the middle of sweeping he was not trying to "sabotage my productivity," as I really had begun to think he was, but was showing me how much he appreciated my efforts. I still have to remind myself of this from time to time, but oh what a difference it has made! Also, Seth has really started to reach out and help in ways I need him to and not just in the ways that come natural to him.
We all want the people close to us to know how to love, comfort, and bless us, but it is not always natural. This is a long, ongoing process, especially since we go through different seasons and sometimes the things we need change. I think the most helpful things that Seth and I have done (apart from discovering our love languages) is to discuss what is helpful, and encouraging to each of us. Having lunch foods in the fridge without him having to ask, and coffee and half and half on hand are two things that he really appreciates. Sending texts throughout the day has been helpful as well. Giving one another feedback, while showing gratitude for the effort put out is huge.
Whether it is your spouse, your children, or a friend thinking specifically of what would be helpful and appreciated by them instead of just doing what you would think is nice is really the key here. Also, I have to say that whenever I hear someone say how they don't do anything for Valentine's day or some such expected holiday because "it's a commercial holiday and I shouldn't have to do something and I can do something anytime to bless them" I roll my eyes. This is the biggest cop out I have ever heard. This only works if you really do something for them on a semi-regular basis (say once or twice a month) and if they really, truly wouldn't be at all disappointed if you did nothing. I can't actually think of anyone who would rather you do nothing for a "obligatory" holiday than to do something, though I can think of a few people who would rather not have much, if any, money spent on one. This is not a problem, since many of the nicest gifts are free, such as a thoughtful letter, digging up the garden plot, or making dinner, but it is worth noting that (almost) all gifts worth giving cost something, whether in thought, money and/or energy. If it costs you nothing to give, it tends not to mean that much to the receiver.
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:32