I didn’t realize how much I refused to say it. I wrote papers in high school about how I didn’t believe it existed. I wouldn’t say it to anyone. I wouldn’t even let myself think it. And if I did say it, it was hollow, said just to please some romantic. When the hubby’s, then just the boyfriend, family said it all the time to anyone, I was shocked. Scandalized. Afraid. When I tried it with my family, those three words fell flat, and I again refused to say it.
I couldn’t say “I love you.”
I don’t know why. Really, I have no idea! It isn’t like my parents never said it to us kids. They said it all the time. My mom would whisper it while she tickled my back at night as a little girl. My dad would tell me on our daddy-daughter dates. They’d tell us randomly throughout the day.
Whatever the reason, whether something forming over my rebellious high school years or as a result of watching my parents’ marriage struggle, I decided that love was something precious and rare, maybe non-existent all together. I kept it locked in a little corner of my heart, with “Only Use in Emergencies” plastered across the front of the glass. Those words were only when I really, really meant it.
My husband’s family, however, had the completely opposite idea: they said it to everyone special to them. Family, friends, even me. I was shocked. Was love so trivial to them that they shared it with everyone? No, I realized, as I watched them. Every time, every time, my husband left the house, one or both of his parents would shout out “Love you!” and he’d shout it back. There was always a lightness in his walk, a slight smile after we left.
If they said it to me, though, I’d freeze. I’d cough and splutter and turn red, and then mumble an awkward, “Love ya, too” while desperately glancing at the hubby. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t allowed to open that case except in an emergency. It was currently only open to the hubby, and I was scared to say it to anyone else. I was afraid it’d cheapen it.
Over the years, I’ve watched the hubby have long-lasting, incredibly deep relationships with those around him. He is loyal to a fault with his family, willing to do anything and forgiving anything. He calls his best friends brothers and isn’t ashamed to say, “love ya, man.” He goes out of his way to make sure that they know he cares, helping friends’ little sisters move broken-down cars, offering help whenever he can and drinks if he can’t. My husband’s heart is huge. There is no one he cannot befriend, and he loves freely and openly.
I thought I was doing better. A recovering love-a-phobic. We always say “I love you” when we hang up, and if one of us forgets, we text to see if they were mad. It’s easy between us. And I love my boys ridiculously, saying it perhaps more than normal folks do. I even toss it into conversations with my family, even though I know they probably won’t say it back. (Not because they don’t love me, too, but because they either aren’t expecting it or because it’s just not the way we function.)
Wednesday at church, though, I had a revelation. One of my Bible study sisters always says, “Love you!” as the boys and I leave. I always awkwardly nod and pretend like #1 is doing something crazy so I have an excuse not to say it back. Emergencies only, and all. And I realized: love isn’t just romantic. It seems so simple, but it was why I’d kept it bottled up for years. I assumed that “I love you” was either romantic or for immediate family. I couldn’t seem to wrap my brain around loving someone else. In that moment, I realized that I have a very narrow view of love, one that’s kept me stinted in my relationships and kept me much lonelier than I should be. I’d severed friendships because I wouldn’t allow myself to love. Cut off family because I was afraid of it being thrown in my face. Refused to open up to my new family-by-marriage because it seemed so foreign.
Yet God calls us to first love him, and then love others. My husband, who doesn’t go to church regularly and didn’t grow up going to Christian school or singing “Amazing Love” in youth group, understands the heart of God more than I do.
I was humbled. Beyond belief, I found myself staggering to my knees. Love wasn’t and isn’t about some thing that I give only to those who are worthy. Rather, it is something to be given to everyone, because I’m not worthy. I don’t deserve love from anyone, because I’m flawed. I tend towards micromanaging, controlling, and dominating. I want to have everything in its place, and think only I can do it best. (The biggest of my human flaws.) I, as a sinful creature, deserve nothing but separation. Yet for some reason, God loves me. He loves me ugly spots and all. If I can be loved, it seems only logical to love those around me.
Last Wednesday, I said “Love you” back to my friend. A weight lifted off my shoulders and I felt free. It seems silly, and overly simple, but I am realizing that love is for our sisters and brothers, our friends, and our family. It is for those we value, and saying it to more people doesn’t cheapen it. Rather, it makes it more precious, more beautiful than it could ever be otherwise.
Someday, I hope to have the kind of heart my husband has: one open to loving everyone, one that easily forgives and quickly forgets. For now, I’m so thankful that God brought him into my life, so I can have the nearest human example of what true love really is.