In one week, two grown men confided to me that their fathers never told them “I love you.” The father of one of them has been dead for years; the other is still living. These two men were obviously saddened by that fact. They seemed to feel incomplete—not whole because of it. They implied that they had been kept from something important in their lives because of it. The man whose father is dead cried when he told me; the other man seemed angry.
I did not know what to say. This morning, several weeks later, I had a thought about it.
We are called to love. Jesus said that what God wants the most from us is love. He said the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-33). And who is our “neighbor”? He means love other people—the people around us.
It doesn’t say “Get others to love you.” And it doesn’t say, “If you know somebody loves you, make sure they say it.” It tells us to love others. That says nothing about them loving us or saying they do. No conditions are attached to it, I notice. We don’t have to wait until they love us first. Love others.
But obviously, people want to hear those words, “I love you.” The words have a sort of magical power. They transform. Could we tell the people we love that we love them—even if we know they might not respond? It’s a hard thing to do. Why should it be so difficult to say three words?
Let’s think about that old goat, our stubborn father—or a difficult grandfather—maybe an indifferent mother or hard-hearted sister. We could gather up our courage and say the words: “I love you.” Saying the words opens our hearts—throws us out in the open, unprotected. It might make a world of difference in our relationships, in their hearts, in our own hearts.
So what if they never can say it back? We could keep on saying it anyway, from time to time, raining love on them. Who can resist a love attack for long?
The all-important question I have for that angry man whose father is still alive is this: can you fling yourself off the safe narrow ledge and say to him ‘I love you’?
The picture is from National Geographic.