When Dan came home from work tonight the boys and I had lit candles on the table, dinner on the stove, Steven Curtis Chapman’s It’s All About Love album in the cd player, movies from the library and the gifts/cards they’d made in their classes, all ready and waiting. Lest it sound too “Leave it to Beaver”ish, I’d broken up a number of fights, raised my voice multiple times, and it was nearly 8 pm. We were glad he was home. Before doing anything else, though, Dan suggested that we gather around the candlelit table and take turns telling one another “I love you.”
It was astounding.
Dan began, starting with me and moving through the boys oldest to youngest, speaking words of encouragement and gratitude and ending with “I love you.” Then I took my turn, doing the same. The boys listened and their eyes shone. Will followed, telling his dad things that he loves about him and saying, “I love you.” He then looked at me, took a deep breath and started wiping his eyes.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” he said, wiping away.
“Do you want to take a break, buddy?” Dan asked. “Maybe let Aiden have a turn and then we’ll come back to you?”
That sounded good to him, so Aiden took a turn. He spoke very thoughtfully and sincerely, his clear blue eyes shining brightly in the candlelight. “I know I don’t always obey you, Mom, and even sometimes when I try I still don’t. But you are the best mom that God has ever given me, and I love you.”
He continued on, telling Will that he is “the best big brother I’ve ever had,” and then hugging him. Josh is “the silliest” and Noah “the cutest baby brother that I asked God for.”
“Wow, Ai, you made it all the way through!” Will said, impressed, and so took another stab at it. He did it without crying but also spoke very sincerely. After he told Aiden “I love your imagination and your drawings” they hugged again. Seeing our two oldest, completely headstrong and competitive boys sharing verbally with one another their love and then spontaneously and genuinely hugging each other is something that struck very deep inside me. Will told Josh that he’s “the craziest silliest” and Noah that he “loves the memories of when you would lay down and snuggle with me.”
Josh, anytime that anyone would speak to him, listened but made silly little faces and sounds in response. It seems that he sometimes uses silliness as a cover when he is uncertain or perhaps afraid of messing up.When it was his turn to speak he tried to talk nonsense, but we gently and firmly told him that he needed to use real words, and could just say “I love you” if he wanted. So he did, very sweetly and a little shyly, using each person’s name and most of the time making eye contact. I wonder why this was a little hard for him. He doesn’t hesitate to say I love you multiple times every night before going to sleep… perhaps it was because he didn’t know what to say in addition, even though he didn’t need to. He’s one of those kids, too, who though it seems is just being goofy and not paying attention, is actually drinking in every word.
Finally it was Noah’s turn, and he spoke much as Josh had, and without using the words poop or butt, I think. It really was remarkable, though. It wasn’t something Dan and I had talked about or planned on doing, just a spur of the moment thing that, with four crazy, hungry boys, could have been rather frustrating or fake. Yet it was beautiful, honest, and a gift.
Despite all the times I fear that I fail to love my boys well, or struggle with frustrations both trite and heavy, God reminds me often that ours is a family knit together with love. And even though we tell each other every day, I will treasure this particular Valentine’s evening of saying “I love you.”
~1 John 4:18-21
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.