The quality of life is usually tied intimately to the quality of our relationships with those around us. All kinds of relationships—those with parents, with friends, with coworkers, with boyfriends or girlfriends, with spouses, etc–have an impact. I have experienced and witnessed beautiful, life-giving relationships and tense, fragile relationships. I have felt the pain that comes with a broken relationship. But, a culmination of my own experiences and the experiences of others has led me to believe that the health of any relationship can be measured by the frequency of the exchange of 8 simple, timeless words: I love you.Thank you. I’m sorry. Amen.
I love you.
If you’ve been to a Christian wedding, then you’ve probably heard these words before: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8).
Some may argue that this is a cheesy, unrealistic vision of love and that those who claim it are either too ignorant, too blind, or too proud to admit they’ve struggled in their relationships.
But recently, in a moment of mutual frustration between my boyfriend and I, John paused, looked at me, and said, “I love you.” In this moment, all of my aggravation came to a halting stop. Did any of this arguing even matter? What else could I do but respond “I love you too”? I do love him, afterall. We both smiled, and I joked, “Well, I’m trying to love you at least.”
In this moment, I was reminded of this passage from 1 Corinthians, and a beautiful conversation followed. This passage and other statements that have been made similar to it are in fact cheesy, romantic, and over-the-top, but that is because love, in its ideal, perfect form is exactly that. To love another selflessly, to put another’s needs and desires before your own in every circumstance may seem worthy of an eye-roll, but this isn’t what we should be striving for in all of our relationships?
Following my joking comment after our exchange of “I love you,” John and I talked about how every “I love you” is really, deep down “I am trying to love you.” Even in our best, most loving and intimate moments together, we are still striving for a more perfect love. We are still trying.
Being a human makes it really hard—nearly impossible—to love unconditionally with complete selflessness. That is a reality of my life—a reality of all of our lives. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth working for. When John responded to our moment of tension with with, “I love you,” he was reminding me of what was important, and I needed that reminder. He was reminding me of a bigger picture, a commitment, an ideal of utter selflessness for which we are striving for together.
Those three words—“I love you”—are undoubtedly powerful ones. Why do you think it is so hard to say them to someone for the first time? Saying and hearing these words frequently—especially in moments of tension or conflict—has been critical for me in remembering the end goal in my most important relationships.