I long to be great at connecting with people in a profound way. Because God is relational, we who are created in Her image will find our satisfaction and meaning the same thing She does: interaction. What else is there really? Our entire driving force is toward deep connection, even if we don’t realize it. We long to be acceptable (to other humans) and do what we believe is required. Depending on the corner of the world we grew up in, we’ll perceive different obstacles to true love. All of us inherited some form of: If I were intelligent, rich, sexy, skinny, shredded, driven, skilled, hilarious, generous, unflappable, I would be loved the way I long to be. And therefore happy.
This is the story capitalist culture reinforces to its advantage, holding love like a carrot on a stick at the end of a long line of things we should buy or produce.
- If I published a bestseller, I would matter.
- If I lost fifty pounds, I would stop being invisible.
- If I make a million by age 30, I will be impressive.
- If I’m the best mother who ever freaking mothered.
And we’re off to the races. If things work out for us, we find there’s no lasting meaning or satisfaction hidden inside accomplishments. We may conclude we picked the wrong goal and redirect, chasing something new that will make us loveable.
But let’s say you’re unusually wise and give up the detours as early as 85, committing the rest of your days to loving well. Where do you start? How about an aspect of love American culture doesn’t prioritize? Attunement.
Attunement is when you really see another person and seek to understand what they’re feeling. You may feel curious and drawn toward connection with them. (Some trauma survivors notice people’s mood in a self-protective way, but the response will be to control the situation or escape, rather than connect.) What if you saw a person’s emotion and rather than pretending it never leaked out, invited them to talk about it? What if they opened up and we got to know them better and they learned they are still loveable. That’s the gift we offer people by attuning to them.
Last week we talked about how feeling afraid limits our interest in people, which strikes at our ability to be attuned. If I never feel curious about my friend’s inner world, I know I need to heal the trauma rendering me too afraid to be curious about anyone else.
The second thing I’ve noticed about tuning in to the people I love is I have to make room for it. This is where I’ve implemented minimalism to clear my calendar of anything that makes life so fast we can’t take the time to tune in. And it does take time. Quality over quantity doesn’t work with people. You can’t spend five minutes with a person and squeeze in all the love you’d normally express in an hour. I’ve tried! People need time to unravel when they’re stressed. They need time to talk about the trivial, safe things before they can get to the hard bits. And sometimes, we need time to establish our attention is really on them – that they won’t share something big only to have us answer a text, look up, and say, “Huh?”
Much like searching for a radio station takes a little patience and effort, tuning in to a person will not be straightforward or efficient. But that’s the glory too. Have you ever felt like you were being difficult and offering no shortcut or way to expedite things, but the person stayed, allowing you to warm up as you could? Have you shared something tough with someone and been shocked when they picked up the conversation a week later? Have you had anyone with whom even painful topics don’t have an expiration date?
I’m afraid few of us are great at offering attunement to people and because we push through life settling for checked boxes by our To Do list (or whatever your stand-in for meaning is), we don’t know people well. And if we don’t know people well, we can’t love them well. So maybe think about what you could intentionally remove from your life, to make some room for people. It could be a No Spend month or a new awareness of screen time or going for a ten minute walk with someone. It could be clearing mental space by doing destressing exercise or journaling your angst or listing desires so you don’t have to review them in your mind.
Whatever you do, allow yourself to be a beginner. Chewing yourself out for being bad at attunement will not propel you into expert status. Jesus is right in the middle of our endeavors to love well and you will notice He is not in a hurry. Let his pace become your pace. Let the yoke you share with Him guide you. When you go His pace, sensing His gentleness beside you as you begin to breathe in sync, as you attune with Him, you will live from the part of your heart that holds enough love for everybody.