Saturday, June 23, 2012

How Do You Say "I Love You"

One of the things I learned early in my marriage was that loving someone in a way that feels loving to me, may not feel loving to her. The words, gestures and actions that would say "I love you" if my wife were to say or do them to me, do not necessarily say "I love you" when I say or do them to her. A huge part--a never-ending part, in my experience--of married life is learning what says "I love you" to my spouse.  

Learning in this case is not merely hypothetical, although that also is hard. Less so these day, but earlier in our relationship, I was often confused by Bonnie's response (or lack of response) to loving gestures on my part. And even more bewildering to me were her requests--after a few years of marriage, when she finally figured out that she would actually have to tell me what she liked because I would never figure it out. But most frustrating of all has been the on-going struggle to actually do and say in the midst of the grind of daily life what I know I should do and say--and truly want to do and say when I am undistracted and focused. This is particularly true of some gestures. I know that certain gestures say "I love you," but I still don't think of doing them very often. I'm still a husband in training.

However, there are some ways that I have learned to tell my wife that I love her that have over the years become natural, almost second nature, to me. Now I feel like I am loving her when I say or do these things, even though at the beginning of our relationship they felt awkward or contrived to me.

I think my experience learning how to love in marriage is similar to my experience in learning how to love God. In the early days, prayers and songs that felt loving to me were the only way I knew how to express my love for God. With time, however, God began to introduce me to ways of loving Him that did not come so naturally to me. Self control, ancient prayers, generosity to the poor, kindness to those who annoy me, patience and trust in trying circumstances--these all are ways God has taught me. These all are ways that God has taught me how He wants to be told "I love you."

After thirty-three years of marriage, Bonnie and I notice more and more often that one of us will do or say something that would more naturally be said or done by the other. Bonnie will say when she notices such things in herself, "I am becoming a Gillis." I will say, "I am becoming domesticated." I have a hunch that our transfiguration into the Image of Christ looks like that too, at least in some ways.  

We accept the yoke of Christ. We are married to Christ in baptism. This involves a long process of learning how to love Christ the way Christ wants to be loved. It sometimes feels a little awkward and contrived at first. Some bits come more easily, others never seem to fit well at all. Yet in it all we say "I love you." We become a little more like our Bridegroom, a baby step closer. But at least we are moving. We have eternity.

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