Lent Entry, Day 3

“TIME!” my dad barked from his third-base coach’s box. He motioned me to walk to him and he met me as I did so from home plate.

It was an age-appropriate pressure moment for a 13-year-old kid: Bases = loaded. Inning = last. Score = losing by a run. Stakes = The Pony League park championship game for the summer of 1979.

Dad put both his arms on my shoulders and made firm eye-contact. I’m not sure what I was expecting…a pep-talk maybe. Possibly some sort of strategy on how to get two runs home to win. What I got was a life-long memory. A gift from God who was fully aware that some 4 months later my Dad would die in a manner that was unexpected to our family.

“Look. Here’s the deal, son. If you get a hit and we win, we go get ice cream afterward, and I love you. If you strike out on three pitches, we go get ice cream afterward and I love you. It’s only a game. A fun game. But these kinds of moments are few and far between. So put one foot in the batter’s box and while you’re digging in, take in the moment. take a deep breath and enjoy it. Sometimes you get hits and sometimes you don’t. But have a little fun up there.” He patted me on the butt and I was off to the plate.

I had the kind of childhood where I knew I was loved. I was told so consistently. It was backed up by action consistently.

Which is why I re-read the sentence in the international section of the newspaper this morning a couple of times. The feature was on the evolving societal mores of India are evolving. Apparently, the discussion of public displays of affection and marital conversations in India are spurred by a major heartthrob’s on-screen kiss with a pretty co-star…

…and this is a country where chaste behavior before marriage is highly valued and marriages are still largely arranged by parents. Even within marriage, public displays of affection are discouraged and any outward expression of love, even verbal, is frowned upon.

Here’s the quote, from Roy Abraham Kallivayalil, president of the Indian Psychiatric Society: “I don’t tell my wife that I love her. My father has never in 88 years told me that he loved me. We don’t do that.”

It was at this point that I had to employ my Missions Pastor mantra, “Not wrong, just different.” I sometimes have to remind myself not to see other cultures through my American eyes.

Anyway, I started thinking about how my life is wildly different than Roy’s. My mom showed love in my childhood in a myriad of ways, from food to consistent communication to elaborate gifts and everything in-between. So, when she said that she loved me, I don’t think I ever doubted it even if it didn’t feel too loving at the time. Of course, there were plenty of times it did feel loving, too. Same for my dad. He had a lot of moments where he called me an “idiot” (as in, “You were on Savoy Street on your skateboard after I told you that was the one street to stay off of? Without the helmet and pads we got you? Wearing only shorts and a tank top? You’re an idiot. Stay here in the garage while I get the Bactine.”) or chided me about the half-ass job I did leaving Mohawks when I mowed the yard but even then I knew I was loved. Hours-and I do mean hours-of his playing whatever sport that was in season with me and the neighborhood throng of kids when he got home from work or the playful roughhousing or giving me a buck to chase down the ice cream truck or laughing when we used his 4-iron to trap snakes let me know that when he said he loved me, well, I didn’t doubt it. So, even when it didn’t feel loving I knew it was from a foundation of love.

I carried that behavior into my family life as an adult. It was pretty normal to tell my college sweetheart that loved her. There were usually gestures where I tried to do so in meaningful ways, like a mix-tape (there’s an art to that, a time-consuming thoughtful art, one in which burning a playlist doesn’t compare, kids). But I also showed her. Same for when I married her. I tell her a lot. Sure, sometimes it’s habit, like when I’m leaving for work or at the end of a phone call, but other times it’s deep and heartfelt. I try to back that up with little actions to serve her…like the reality that I know it makes her crazy to plan dinners. After a day at work and trying to come up with what to eat, what to buy to make sure we have all the ingredients and all that. So, I have about 10 or so meals that I can make and do make. They’re simple but reasonably healthy meals, and if she’s tired of them, she lets me know and we think through options.

Same for my daughters. I was smitten with them from the moment I found out we were going to have them. But I tell them I love them often. With my time (much like I learned from my dad) or by finding ways to serve them. Like dropping what I’m doing to find the specific DVD they want to watch right now or by giving advice or even discipline or whatever else shows them dad loves them…even if it doesn’t feel to them like love.

And that’s the one thing I have learned about love: Love is NOT a feeling. It’s a choice. Now, the feeling will follow the choice. But I’m convinced that love is primarily a choice.

Here’s what I mean. There are plenty of times that don’t feel like I love my kids. Like when they were infants and somehow decided to wake up and be all hungry and stuff. I didn’t feel like loving them by getting up and preparing the bottle and feeding them. But it was my turn, and somehow, some way, I’d be all groggy and such and I’d stare into their eyes while rocking them and be overwhelmed by feelings of love.

There are times when I don’t love my wife enough to give her a remote control, much less die for her like I’m told to in Scripture. But whenever I feel that selfishness in me and begin to make the choice to think about how God truly blessed me so much by giving her to me and how great a wife she is and all the things I admire about her, well, I get overwhelmed by the feeling of love, too.

Even in the over-and-misused definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, if you take a look at the characteristics listed, they’re choices we make. Being patient. Kind. Not rude. Not jealous. Not selfish. Bears all things. Believes all things. Hopes. Endures. Not angry or resentful. Not a fan of injustice. Rejoices with truth. Those are choices, folks. We have to make that choice, and the feelings will follow. Jesus even said that the supreme measure of love is a choice to lay down his life for his friends.

So, I’m wondering about how that affects our friends in India. I mean, maybe it’s all show. Jesus didn’t say that we were supposed to say “I love you” before we gave ourselves up for our friends. Maybe their culture is diligent to show each other how much they love each other. I try not to judge that stuff. Really. I do try.

But, just the same, I wonder about how my life would be different if I’d never been told that I was loved. If I’m not told that now…

…with the foundation of being shown as much, too.

Because I am reminded that both have been modeled from my childhood memory database into as recently as this morning. And my life is better for it.