How often do you hear the words, “I love you”?
Be honest. Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Can’t remember the last time?
How about the flip side of that question: how often do you say the words, “I love you”?
Maybe you have heard or said these words a little more than usual because of the recent Christmas season. But what about the rest of the year?
Just before school let out for Christmas break, I asked those questions to one of my students? Her reply got me to thinking about my own teenage years, about now, and how often I hear and say it.
When I was a teenager, I did not hear those words very often. It was assumed, I guess. Now, don’t get me wrong. I knew that my parents loved me. I was very fortunate to have been born into a family who nurtured and deeply cared for me. They just rarely used the word “love” in a sentence. “Love” was a reserved word like “hate”. It was to be used in extra ordinary situations.
It wasn’t until I graduated from college, got married, and moved away that mom started to say she loved me regularly, usually at the end of our phone conversations. I can recall my dad only telling me that he loved me three or four times. Only once did he say it before I did. I am sure my parents had told me they loved me when I was a child. I just can’t seem to remember any of those moments. I do not regret them not saying it to me. I knew they loved me. It just would have been nice to hear the words though.
Now as a parent of four, the words “I love you” come easy for me to say to my own children, much easier than I ever thought possible considering my past. I know I say it most frequently to my two youngest children, ages four and two. Part of it is due to the routine of tucking them into bed. The words do not come automatically. I think about what they mean every time I say them. On the other hand, with the two older children, ages seventeen and twelve, the frequency is much less because there is no such routine. Tucking a child into bed offers a moment of intimacy that lends itself to saying “I love you” more readily. There are tender moments with my older children. I need to get back into the practice of saying “I love you” to them more often. I need to hug them more too. Something to work on in the new year.
As a devoted husband, I say “I love you” to my wife just about everyday, even in front of my children. Again, it has become a part of our routine when we depart from each other or hang up on the phone. There are also those occasional moments where I steal a kiss or a hug, and sometimes that quick moment of intimacy results in an additional “I love you”.
Since being baptized almost two years ago, I have also found myself saying “I love you” to some of my closest friends. Something I never did before. I have also told some of my students that I love them too. These moments are infrequent and seem to occur during special moments like at retreats.
Maybe it goes without saying, but often within my prayers, I also simply tell God that I love Him too.
For me at least, to say “I love you” requires a certain level of intimacy, a moment where the walls around our hearts are down and touching. Maybe that comes from my teenaged years when the word “love” was reserved for special occasions. My definition of a special moment has greatly expanded since I was younger. People have become so much more precious to me. Any moment is a special moment when there is a connection between two hearts, and an expression of love for another deserves to be expressed.
I am a firm believer that actions speak much louder than words. My everyday actions telegraph to those around me that I love them. But sometimes those simple but powerful words, “I love you,” need to be said to balance out the whole picture. Sometimes those words need to be said so that the brain knows it too, along with the heart.
Every now and then, I pray the Serenity Prayer. I cannot control what others say to me, but I certainly can control what I say to them. Like how a smile can brighten up the day of a stranger, saying “I love you” to someone can change a life.