"I love you."
It takes a relationship to a deeper level like no other three words can. Where were we when we first said the "L word?" Often couples remember this moment in their dating time together more than any other. Who said it first? How often did you want to say it afterward-- screaming to the world, "He loves me!" and "She loves me too!" Time is marked with particular delightfulness.
Recently, I was chatting with a friend, when out of the blue the conversation was ended with a hug and the simple statement of "I love you." Nothing was meant by this phrase, other than the simple wish of how much our friendship meant to him. I was taken back and warmed in spirit all at the same time.
No matter who it comes from, there is something often shocking about these words, especially when we hear them for the first time.
But, what if such a word is not said often. What if such a word has not been said in years? What if great damage has been done in the name of the "L word?" What is unconditional devotion has been promised and pain has been inflicted in its place?
Where does this leave the hopeful beauty of these words?
One of the ministries of my congregation is a card ministry: telling visitors, new members and older members alike that they are thought of when they are going through a difficult time, experience a period of joy or loss. Though I know there is not anything unusual about this (lots of churches regularly send care, concern and celebration cards to their members), the more I have observed this ministry in action, the more I've realized there is something deeply rooted in the character of our congregation through these cards. And, it's love.
The first time Kevin and I got one of these cards, I was first shocked that I got something from the church that I didn't send myself. Then, as I read the note, I was overwhelmed by the fact that every single person who signed it included the word, "Love" before their name. The genuine nature of their spirit leapt off the page. Furthermore, I was not getting special treatment because I was the pastor. This is what they did for everybody! It was such a natural practice to say to their church family: "I love you."
What might it look like if our churches used these three words more often? What if the basis of our relationships with one another began with this? What if we not only loved each other through cards, but through actions and appropriate expressions of love such as hugs more often than every couple of years?
With all of the damage that has been done by persons in positions of power using "I love you" to manipulate, control and orchestrate inappropriate relationships within the church, I fear we as people of faith have lost the beauty of these words to bringing healing, comfort and joy to those in whom we are in community with. For as much as our society has commercialized romantic love, it's not the only love to be found in our lives. I can say that if all I had in my life was the love from my significant other, I know my life would not be as rich as it is right now because I'm a part of communities full of love for one another.
Who might we need to take the leap of vulnerability with today and say simply, "I love you?" Where in our lives do we need to be more open to receive the outpouring of the blessings of love from others? How might giving and receiving love begin to transform our communities into more faithful, God centered places?
Go ahead. Just say it. "I love you."