This may come as a surprise for most of you, but sometimes I can be really cynical—downright darkly sarcastic at times. (What? You knew that already?!) This sarcastic urge significantly increases whenever Christmas paraphernalia starts showing up in stores. I see the words “love” and “peace” scrolling across electronic signs or plastered all over store windows, usually next to the seemingly permanent “50% off” poster in the window. Recently, I thought (quite sarcastically) how appropriate it is that the “50% off” is permanent and the “love and peace” are seasonal. “Love” and “peace” seem to be mere words, empty ones, for the sales team or the store owners (unless, of course, conglomerates have feelings?)
Once my sarcastic inner dialog ran its course, I was left with a more serious thought. I say the words “I love you” to my wife many times a day. I say them when I end phone conversations. I say them when she or I leave for work. I say them when I come home. I say them before I go to bed. Can I really mean all of this love talk every time or is it similar to the “love” and “peace” that adorns yuletide festivities? Here are some thoughts in answer to that question.
The answer can’t be to stop saying, “I love you.”
My first thought was that, perhaps by saying the phrase so many times I had robbed “I love you” of meaning. But God says “I love you” all the time. Every time you turn around in Scripture, he says it again. He is love (2 Cor 13:11, 1 John 4:8) and he says that he loves us (John 16:27, 2 Thess 2:16) even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it (Job 7:17, Rom 5:10). God demonstrates his transcendent love most powerfully by the death of Christ (John 3:16, Rom 5:8, 1 John 3:16). Jesus was love incarnate, not holding onto the glory he rightfully enjoyed with the Father from eternity, even though it would cost him his life, even though we were enemies that deserved to die, he came down here as a baby human (Phil 2:7–8). The words “I love you” from God are the most precious things in all the world. Let us emulate the love of God and our Savior and say to our spouses “I love you” over and over this Christmas. If the statement is true, there is no reason to stop saying it.
You spouse needs to hear it.
My second thought is that, given the number of times God says that he loves us, given the death of Jesus for us, given justification and adoption and propitiation and our hope for a resurrection in him, it is incredible that we still find ourselves doubting his love for us. Why is that? I think we still have a tendency to think that we need to do “better” for God to love us. We struggle to accept his unflagging (steadfast even) love and acceptance by God. We believe that if we can do enough good, God will love us more and if we do evil, God will love us less. But nothing is further from the truth. Sin can’t change God’s affection and concern for us—if it could, then there is no way we could be saved. When sin abounded (past, present, future), undeserved loving grace abounded even more (Rom 5:20). In other words, sin can never overtake love because of Jesus’ sacrifice. God will always love more than we can sin–and the cross is the proof of that! In light of such a windfall of loving grace, let us believe it without reservation. And let us recognize the tendency to forget about love, to shrink back from its shameless persistence in the face of sin. Thus, as we have understood the unchanging nature of Christ’s love, let us convincingly tell our spouses that we love them. Tell them in moments of joy, after failures, during hardships, in “sickness and in heal, for richer or pooer, till death do you part.” We image God’s love by giving love freely and with his example as our guide, we should strive to reflect him by loving our spouses with a multitude of words and actions. Remember, the pull to doubt love’s tenacity is in every marriage. Help your spouse battle this now, during the Christmas season, and throughout your life together.
Your spouse needs you to mean it.
We are all aware how empty words can be if not supported by sincere motivations. When God says and shows that he loves you, he does so because of his relationship with you. And if God “sets his heart” on someone (e.g. Deut 10:15), he means it as an irrevocable relationship of love. The words describe the relationship, the actions prove the relationship, but in his heart is the reality of the relationship. Thus, when I say “I love you” to my wife, it’s because we have committed to be in just such a relationship. An irrevocable relationship. That means that love infuses each situation of our marriage. I love her when we fight, I love her when we are on a date, and I love her when we’ve both had non-stop work for the past three weeks and are so very tired. So, even if the words “I love you” are not accompanied by a candlelight dinner, a kiss (under the mistletoe), or a deep warm “Christmas-y” feeling, I can still mean those words with all my heart. Let come hell or high-water (or famine or sword, or death, or angels etc) God always mean “I love you” every time he says it. And shouldn’t I try to copy God in this regard?
So, in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I love you Liz, come hell or high-water (or sick children and overtime at work :-)