"I just called to say, "I love you."
I just called to say how much I care.
I just called to say, "I love you."
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart..."
I remember the first time I heard Stevie Wonder's"I Just Called to Say I Love You," and thought, "yes, this is the kind of relationship I want to be in..." That was a long, long time ago. I've since learned, at least for me, that saying "I love you" is not always the best way to say what is in our hearts.
There was a time in my life when I wasn't calling just to say, "I love you," but to hear it back. I needed to hear that the love I felt for the special "someone" I was in love with, was reciprocated. And it wasn't enough to know it...I needed to hear it, over, and over, and over again.
Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the sweet interchange of "I love you," and "I love you, too." It is played out in millions of conversations, phone calls, text messages, emails, airport goodbyes, and school drop-offs...every day. It is not the words that I found myself struggling with, but my reason for saying them.
I wish I could say that I'd learned this lesson a long time ago...and I did, on one level...but it's a lesson I've had to be reminded of a number of times in my life. And I now realize how insidiously the ego tries to misuse something so pure, to feed it own hunger for self-confirmation.
My journey towards a more thoughtful use of "I love you" started decades ago. I was in a relationship that was on pretty shaky footing, and completely out of balance. The man I loved was wrestling with the rightness of our partnership and I just wanted him to "get over it" and get back to where we'd once been.
I found myself saying "I love you," constantly...every phone call, at the end of every lunch date, each time he walked out of the room....I would say, "I love you," and the expectation was that he would say, "I love you too." And he did. And I know he cared deeply about me, but was he "in love" with me the way I was with him, and the way I wanted him to be with me...hmmm....I don't think either one of us was so sure about that. Somehow, though, I thought if I reminded him often enough that I loved him, he would remember that he once loved me.
So, in deference to my needs, he would say, "I love you too." And as much as this was a nice affirmation in the moment, on a deeper level it made me feel needy and even more hungry for confirmation. It was like taking a bite of chocolate...the more I got, the more I needed.
Then one day the thought occurred to me, "Why are you saying 'I love you?' Do you really think he doesn't know that you love him? And if you really loved him, wouldn't you give him what he needed, rather than what you need?"
This was not what I wanted to hear from my Inner Teacher. But I knew exactly what She was trying to get me to see. I was saying "I love you," not for him, but for me. I had no doubt, whatsoever, that he knew that I loved him. But I also knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that what he most needed, at that moment, was the space to think, and pray, and listen deeply for his own angels. He needed to sort through his own feelings. Somehow I'd convinced myself that if I said, "I love you," often enough, and he responded in kind, he would be convinced that it was his truth.
I realized, in horror, that I was hoping for some kind of emotional self-hypnosis. And it was clear, that this was the opposite of true love. True love wants what is best, what is most true, what is divinely inspired for the people we love. Love wants "the loved one" to be at peace, to live, and laugh, and love with spiritual integrity. Love doesn't want to...or need to...possess another person's affections, but gives those we love a trusting, open field to leap, and dance, and sing their truth...the truth that comes from a deeper listening for God's guidance and direction...in.
With that realization, I stopped saying "I love you" to my friend if, and when, I detected in myself, an aching hunger for hearing those words in return. And step-by-step I began to take it a little further, refraining from saying "I love you" if I already knew that it was not what he needed to hear.
If saying "I love you" was just what I wanted to say, to affirm for myself that I was in a relationship where I could say those words, then I tried to hold my tongue. Instead I asked myself what, instead of words, might those affections look like if I were to really support his dreams, hopes, vision for his life? Did I really trust that God, in the quiet space of my friend's prayers, was leading him in a divinely inspired direction? And, if that guidance took him in a different direction than a more committed relationship with me, did I really want to interfere with those angels? Would I want what I was left with...a man who was tolerating his life because he was not being true to his own heart?
Why would I really even want to be in a relationship with someone whose heart wasn't genuinely longing to be in a relationship with me? And even if I were to get my way, was that really even "a relationship"...or was it just having an emotional leash on someone.
This not only led to creating the space that my loved one needed for learning what was his truth, but it also gave me the space to hear God...rather than my own needy "I love yous" over and over again, throughout the days, weeks, and months that followed.
Love doesn't create in us an emptiness that is filled by another, person. Love isn't a hole we stuff with "I love you" or "I miss you." Love is an infinite fullness that overflows its cup and pours out of us with such affluence that we are awash in the peace that comes with knowing that we are whole in this loving...not by being the object of someone else's affections...but by being the very objectification of God as Love.
Eventually this space gave birth to more honest relationships for both of us. Ones that, I think, have allowed each of us to live, laugh, and love with, what I know for myself is, a greater trust in God's hand in my life, and with a joyful abandon...to be at play in the field of the Lord.
I am now learning that this same truth is essential in having a lasting relationship with my family, friends, and most assuredly, my children. Yes, I still say "I love you," but more and more, I am listening for "why". If my motives are pure, and there are no strings attached, it might just be exactly what is needed. But if it is just "filler," or if it is said with a question mark at the end...it probably isn't the right thing for me to say at that moment.
There is a hymn in the Christian Science Hymnal that includes this verse:
"Is the heart a well left empty?
None but God its void can fill.
Nothing but a ceaseless fountain,
can its ceaseless longings still."
- C. H. H. Perry
This ceaseless longing, for me, has become the longing to love like God loves. It is the fullness of knowing that nothing will ever satisfy my thirst but the water that flows from the purest of wells...a divine wellspring, one that has its source in the kingdom of heaven -- within me. This is living water. This is water that flows with such pure and ceaseless affluence that there is no stagnation, no backwash, no spurts and sputters of self-doubt and uncertainty.
Love isn't about words. Love is about putting someone else's needs ahead of your own. And sometimes, it's about listening for what another person needs to hear, rather than what you want to say. I am learning that what I want most for the people I love, is that they hear their own angels, their Inner Teacher, God's voice whispering, "this is my beloved son/daughter...this is the way, walk ye in it..."
Kate Robertson, CS