In novel writing (and maybe other forms of writing), there is really one cardinal rule to producing an excellent story. Sure, character development is key. Yes, plot is essential. But this cardinal rule is more basic than anything else. It’s the rule of show, don’t tell.
Ever heard that? If you’re a writer, you probably have. If you’re not a writer, maybe it sounds foreign to you until you start thinking about the rules of relationships. It’s one thing to tell someone something. It’s something else to show them.
“Jack walked through the tall grass” is much less meaningful than, “The tips of the prairie grass tickled Jack’s fingers as he marched across the field.” See the difference? The first time, I’m telling you what Jack is doing. The second time, you see what’s actually happening. In writing, that’s the difference between showing and telling.
Frankly, relationships aren’t much different.
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.
Have you ever told someone that you love them? It’s easy to do. Those three words fall off our lips, often without any thought of consequence or commitment. You love your friends. You love your family. You love your coworkers (usually).
But what does it mean to love someone? Is it just something you say? Or is there more to it than that?
You can tell someone you love them and the treat them poorly. We see it everyday. What people say doesn’t match up with their actions, and that’s not the way relationships are supposed to work. What’s even more troubling is that we see it in the Church. We see it between brothers and sisters in Christ.
Did you realize that if you believe in Jesus Christ, you belong to Him? Yes, you probably knew that. So then do you understand that if the person sitting next to you at work or at school believes in Jesus Christ too, that makes him or her your brother or sister? That means you are family. That means you are called to love that person with a love that defies explanation, and that love is what will make the world see us as different–as having something they lack.
Christ-followers are family. Maybe that’s why we feel justified in tearing each other apart so frequently.
You say you love the Christian sitting next to you. When push comes to shove, will your love stop at words? When that Christian runs into financial trouble or family trouble or any kind of trouble, can you sit still and keep saying you love them while you do absolutely nothing to help them?
It’s the same with our brothers and sisters around the world. We sit in our comfortable homes, living our comfortable lives, and we post on social media that we love and support our brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. But what are you doing about it?
I know some people get frustrated with the concept of trying to prove their love to others, but I don’t think that’s what this is about. The truth is that love is an action word, and our culture tries to turn it into a passive idea. Love isn’t something that just happens. Love is intentional–or at least it should be.
So who do you love? Do they know? I mean, do they really know, or are they just used to you telling them? When was the last time you showed them?
If you love someone, whether it’s family or friends or coworkers or just strangers on the street, saying you love them isn’t enough. The difference between showing and telling when it comes to your relationships is who your love is about.
Is the love you feel about you? Do you tell people that you love them to make yourself feel better? Or are you willing to sacrifice your comfort or your security or even your life to do something for someone else?
That’s the difference. The truth about love is that it’s not about you. Love that’s about you isn’t love; it’s selfishness. Love that’s about other people? That’s real love. It’s not easy. It’s actually terrifying. But that’s the love we’re called to have, the kind of love that lives in actions and not just in words.