This week I have stepped away from my regular responsibilities at the Church and settled into a remote log cabin in the mountains to do some sermon planning. I try to do this sort of thing a couple of times each year. It helps to set the worship agenda for the year ahead, and everything from the music, prayers, and so forth that we use on Sunday mornings take their lead from these plans. This week, I am planning for June – October.
Late one afternoon this week, I needed a bit of a break, so I went with Carol to the grocery store to pick up a few things to fix for dinner. As we were about to leave, we made one more swing through the produce department. About that time, we literally bumped into a man who was about twenty years older than me. He was looking for something and was turning from side to side in a sort of confused fashion. Looking up at us, he jokingly said, “I think I’m lost.” We all laughed and that began a conversation.
He explained that he had been married for sixty years, but until his wife died four years earlier, the only time he had ever gone to the grocery store was to pick up a quart of milk. Then, without warning, the deep feelings which he normally kept hidden began to surface. He said, “She did so much for me. I never realized all the things she took care of around the house.” He continued, “I loved her so much. I always knew I loved her, but I didn’t realize how much I loved her until she was gone. I miss her so much.” We listened and acknowledged his great loss.
Then almost as quickly as the feelings had surfaced, they retreated to the protective place in his heart where he could control them. He introduced himself to us, asked about Carol and me, we chatted for a few more minutes and about that time the conversation ended. It happened just that unexpectedly. However, as Carol and I were walking away, I quietly commented to Carol, “I wonder if he ever told her he loved her.”
I have known people who have been married for years, who clearly love each other deeply, but who never mention the three most powerful words in the world, “I love you.” Sadly, I have known parents who, for one reason or another, can’t seem to say those words to their children, and I have known children who have waited a lifetime to hear those words from their parents. I have known people who were life-long friends who joked a lot and supported one another, but who unfortunately never acknowledged the depth of their relationship.
I’m not suggesting you casually throw those words around. I don’t trust people who casually say, “I love you.” It makes me wonder if they have a clue as to what is real love. At the same time, I also know what it means to me to hear my wife, or one of my children or grandchildren, or a friend say those words to me. It not only affirms a relationship I know exists; it reminds me that I matter to someone.
We all have a longing for belonging. Saying, “I love you,” tells someone they belong.