Valentine’s Day has never really been my thing. You can chalk it up to the fact that I never had a boyfriend filling my locker with carnations or chocolates. Or I can be self-righteous and declare Valentine’s Day to simply be nothing more than a Hallmark holiday meant to trick us into spending money in a season when most people are still recovering from Christmas, but that’s not really it either. Aside from the fact that I applaud and welcome any and every occasion to eat insane amounts of sweets, I just don’t really “get” Valentine’s Day.
But, even I can’t resist the opportunity to say a few words about love and what better time than the day before the most love-y holiday of the year. So here is something that has been rolling around my head lately:
When Greg and I first got married almost nine year ago, I noticed something about the way I would talk about him sometimes. We were just in the beginning stages of figuring out that Valentine’s Day love isn’t really the kind of love that makes a marriage go ’round and, as all couple do in the first few years of marriage, we were discovering things that really drove us bonkers about each other. Greg hated that I kept my shoes on in the house all of the time, as if (in his words) “I was ready to make a run for it at any time”. I hated that he left his shoes…everywhere. Greg hated that I was always in such a hurry. I hated that it seemed to be impossible for him to rush through anything. And on and on. And as I would struggle to express these small nuisances to him I found myself saying something like, “I love you, but (insert complaint here).”
“I love you but….” Aren’t those just the four little words that make everyone’s hearts jump? NO! Because the presence of the word “but” completely negates the first three words! When we use the word “but”, we mean that we are about to contradict ourselves or add a provisional clause to our statement. “I love you but you drive me crazy sometimes.” “I love you but I need you to stop leaving dirty dishes in the sink.” “I love him but I just can’t condone that behavior.” “I love her but I can’t stand it when she gets so petty.” I started paying attention to the amount of times I would pair the word “love” with “but” and it was way more than I actually meant.
Recently I’ve noticed that my “I love you’s” have been reunited with their good friend “but” when I am talking to or about Levi. “Levi, I love you but you have got to pick up your toys.” As if the placement of Levi’s toys have anything to do with the amount of love I feel for him! “Levi, I love you but, man! I wish you would eat more than macaroni and cheese every day!” I’m going to love that kid with all of my heart, til my dying day no matter what food he puts in his mouth!
Now, that’s not to say that our complaints and our frustrations aren’t valid. They most definitely are and they need to be voiced so that we can feel heard and respected and even loved. So I’ve started challenging myself to replace “but” with “and”. “Levi, I love you AND I need you to help me put your toys away.” “Levi, I love you AND because I love you, I want you to eat healthy food.” With the simple replacement of a word that packs a negative punch for a word that brings inclusion and compromise, I manage to keep my “I love you” intact. I don’t accidentally create a false world in which my love for Levi is contingent upon anything other than him being my son and utterly adored. I get to express my frustration AND I get to express my love for him.
The extra challenge for me is to sometimes let my “I love you’s” stand on their own. I am hoping I can move myself to a place where sometimes (not all the time, because, duh, I do have to actually parent) but sometimes I can be frustrated and pushed to my limits and about to blow my gasket and yet I can look at my son…or my husband…or my sister…or my best friend and simply say “I love you” in the face of their (insert hurtful behavior here). Because that’s what Jesus did for me, right? “I love you.” It’s what He continues to do for me every day. He should say, “Reagan, I love you but you have GOT to stop lying.” Or He could even go the extra mile and say, “Reagan, I love you AND you have got to stop being so slanderous.” But instead, day after day, He lets me know in a myriad of ways, using a myriad of people and circumstance that He loves me. Period. No follow up words needed.
I want my “I love you’s” to mean something. I want them to stand on their own. Because Love can change the world.