I grew up in a loving household, so I am not really sure where I picked up this particular sentiment. But for as long as I can remember, I have not really been comfortable saying the words “I love you,” to just anybody. I would sign cards, “Love,” or “Much Love,” or maybe throw around the casual, “Love ya!” But somehow those three words seemed big and perhaps reserved only very special people. There is an intentionality in those three words that made me feel uncomfortable or even too vulnerable. As someone who can be a little emotionally guarded because of my profession, those three words evoke an intimacy that sends off warning bells. And I am not sure I am alone in this sentiment. There was even a movie called, I Love You, Man! As if adding the word “man” qualifies the three words enough to not make them too intimate.
But in the last couple of years, and certainly during this pandemic, this sentiment has started to shift. I found after a long, hard phone call, where a friend and I bore our souls about how hard this pandemic has been, the words just came out of my mouth. My immediate instinct was a little panic about how vulnerable those words felt. But when the friend said the words back, a shift began. The lesson was reiterated in a pastoral visit with an aging parishioner who was approaching the end of life. After a long talk, I allowed the three words to escape my mouth again. The returning “I love you too,” made me realize skirting around the words, “I love you,” has been an unnecessary, and perhaps false, act of denying the truth of our relationships. No matter how much I try to protect myself, the very act of being a pastor means entering into, and sometimes offering one-sided, relationships of love. The acts of Jesus were often shocking because he vulnerably offered love to all.
This Sunday, we will celebrate two baptisms at church. It will be a day full of love, even in these restricted times when most of our parishioners will have to join online. But as I prepare for Sunday, I am especially struck by our lesson from Isaiah,[i] which offers words of consolation to a suffering people. In verse four, God says to God’s people, “…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” We have lots of images of God rolling around in our minds and hearts, but these are some of the most intimate, affirming ones I have read of late. And I really needed to hear them. Perhaps you need them today too. If so, they are my gift to you. And if you need to hear them aloud, join us on Sunday for online worship. There will be plenty of love to go around!
[i] Isaiah 43.1-7