I was going on a date with someone I didn’t know.
It really wasn’t that big of a deal. I had surprised myself by asking her for her number out of the blue and, sure enough, she gave it to me. I called her later on that week to set up a casual lunch date.
When I told a friend of mine, she naturally wanted to know all about this girl I was taking out.
“Well,” I responded, not really knowing what to say, “she’s nice.”
My friend scoffed and replied “Around here, just about everybody is nice.”
That totally struck me. Living in the heart of Provo, surrounded by a bunch of Mormon college students, of course everybody is nice.
But that wasn’t the point my friend was trying to make. She really was saying, “Okay, that’s great. But, come on, tell me something I don’t know. What makes this girl any different than any other girl? What makes her truly special?”
I’ve been pondering that ever since.
This article made headlines a couple of weeks ago. A scientific way to fall in love with anyone. Answer a bunch of questions and then stare at each other. It takes an hour. According to this, you can seriously fall in love with someone in 60 minutes. It doesn’t matter who the person is. It could be a friend, a lover, or a complete stranger. It doesn’t matter. If you follow all the steps, you’ll fall in love. Period.
But how does it work? You ask tough questions, questions that tap into a place people don’t express as much. You learn about others on a deeper level, because they drop their barriers and become vulnerable. You begin to see, to understand. You finish off the questions with a gaze into the eyes of your partner, through the windows of the soul. You see that person at their most vulnerable - they’ve shared with you things they haven’t shared with another human being; you look into their eyes longer than anyone has ever looked before. You realize that what is before you, what you’ve been interacting with isn’t merely an object with a voice. It’s a person. And, suddenly, you love them.
An excellent example of this is The Story Trek, a BYUTV show which asks average people a simple question: “What’s your story?” Every episode is unscripted, and every story told is aired. Every person has a story, and it’s amazing just how quickly you can come to love a person simply after hearing it.
I saw this all the time as a missionary. We would run around, trying to talk to anyone willing to listen. They could be the most obscure, uninteresting person imaginable, and yet, once we got talking to them, we would find out there was so much more to them than what met the eye. As missionaries, we would immediately talk about things which are generally off-limits in conversation - Who is God? What is Salvation? What is truth, and how can you find it? And when people start talking about these things, walls go down. You begin to see inside their souls. You start to love them.
This Valentine’s Day, I hope you’ll be able to find a connection and deepen all friendships. This isn’t a holiday only about romantic couples-love (although there is nothing wrong with that). It’s about the sincere expression of any kind of love, be it smitten 2nd graders making giant valentines to give to their crushes, to old friends reuniting after years apart. It’s about reaching outside yourself, opening yourself to others in the hope that they will reciprocate.
It’s a difficult thing to do. Being open requires vulnerability, which is expensive. I know many people who have been burned in the past to the point that they won’t let just anyone in. Yet, ofttimes, these people need that human connection the most.
Yes, you can be nice to the person. You can say hi, give things to them, talk to them, whatever. But that only goes so far. Sometimes, you have to be the one to risk being vulnerable in order to make a connection with someone. It requires truly empathizing, sacrificing, sharing their burden and pain, when necessary. It takes making that person a priority.
It’s impossible to do this for every person you know. And that’s okay. I know of only one Person who could genuinely show this much love so freely to so many. And, in the end, the best thing we can do is try our hardest to follow His example.
Don’t just be nice.