Of all of the words I’ve ever heard, three are most thread throughout the days that my mind can pull from memory’s files. My mother has said them more times than I could possibly begin to count since the Lord saved us from our darker days. She has giggled, tickled, and cried them, whispered and sighed them. They have pierced through slamming doors and crossed over oceans.
The words, “I love you,” are now cherished, exceedingly great and precious. As a kid adjusting to this new Christianity, however, our wounds ran deep and I hadn’t come to know the faith, hope and love she had yet. She meant them in a whole new way, but they still seemed more obnoxious than endearing to me. Even still, she would begin, end, and interrupt dozens of sentences with them daily.
Once, when they were met with my typical sass, she replied, “A day will come when you’re going to need those words, and I won’t be there to say them. I’m not just saying the words, I’m chiseling them into your heart. I want them to be that song that you can’t get out of your head, so that when you need them most you’ll have them, always.”
This little speech didn’t mean much to me at the time. Years passed before that day came. Choice after choice had lead me to an empty apartment one cold December evening, steeped in the sin of a heart of stone. An acknowledgement of the vanity of my days consumed me. Meaning in any genuine and worthy form had been lost. Just as it all became too much to bear, uncontrollable sobs propelled my broken pleas into the darkness toward a God I thought I knew once. With every last ounce of air in my lungs, muscle in my body, and will in my being, I screamed for Him to hear me, to answer the cries of my aching heart somehow. It was in that place at that very moment that my sin met God’s grace. Nothing else was present. I needed them.
Having plummeted to the darkest depths of loneliness, wanting to place the blame on past moments exposed to the darkness of others but fully aware of every vile thread of sin that bound my own heart, I wept. Raw, exposed, terrified. Three little words met me in that place.
Etched into the fiber of my heart, a tireless work of many days and nights, my mother’s “I love you” captured my heart’s attention. In that moment, the God of mercy and grace held me close and made it known that they were still true. His love was in her and “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” A living God. A personal God. A God who saw, who knew, yet loved me just the same drew my heart to know and ears to hear them new.
I. Am. Loved.
I have too many words and not enough to convey to you just how deeply my heart was changed, but suffice it to say God used those words in saving a life that night.
Others must be told. May we say those words often. May we giggle, tickle and cry them, whisper and sigh them. Even if it takes a life time, even if we must cross over oceans and through slamming doors, others who wouldn’t be told they are loved with the love of God apart from outsiders stepping in to their brokenness must be told.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13