I fell in love in the nineties when passing hand-written notes and wearing charm bracelets made life worth living. Anticipation filled my body as I walked the halls between class, hoping my boyfriend would have a note to hand me. There was always something about the written words that could quiet insecurity in me while I navigated the tumultuous waters of middle school.
I collected each note as a valued possession and hid them underneath the bottom right drawer of my pink painted dresser. Pulling them out and reading them over and over again, I remember the progression of the expression of love. It started with a heart, followed by love ya, then love you, and finally, I love you.
I love you was a strong proclamation for two kids in middle school who were “going out”. I remember my parents and level headed friends questioning what “going out” meant especially as neither one of us was driving or allowed to do anything alone. With rules and boundaries in place, our ability to show love was limited to hand holding and gift giving.
I still have the Christmas gifts he gave me that year, soldered on my charm bracelet. The first one being a heart, and the second an I LOVE YOU charm. Those spoken words travelled to an unreached part of my heart, settling deep in my soul. Our relationship was sweet, formed within the safety of two families growing in relationship with one another until suddenly it ended when he chose someone instead of me. My tender heart broke as I began to wrestle with the reality that his words and declarations were only temporarily mine.
The pain and ache felt as if it would never leave as I struggled to understand what love really is.
My five year old describes love as hugging and doing fun things together. He says telling someone you love them doesn’t really count because you can still do mean things to them and then you don’t really love them. This conversation occurred after he ran screaming down the hall yelling, “You hate me!”
The first time he yelled those words, I attempted to reassure him that it was not the case, that I indeed did love him. His arguments and screaming stopped my continued affirmations and I decided to hear why he thought that I hated him. In essence, he believes that I hate him because I parent him. You don’t believe me?
Me: “Hey buddy, please don’t jump off the back of the couch.”
Him: “You hate me!”
Me: “I need you to take this to your room and then go brush your teeth.”
Him: “You hate me and you didn’t say please. Why do I have to do everything myself?”
He followed that last sentence up by stating that I only make all his food, take him to school, do the laundry and clean the house!
When asked if all that I do, shows him love his response was, “No. That’s making and doing. It’s not loving. Like I said, loving is being together.”
To my five year old, loving is about presence. His attachment to me or lack thereof has the power to determine whether or not he perceives my actions towards him as love or hatred.
The question, “do you love me?” is tied to security. Instead of naming my insecurity or even more my disappointment with my attachment to another, I look for ways to prove that I am not loved. Examples, if you loved me you would have washed the dishes before you relaxed for the night. If you loved me, you would have put the clean clothes up on your day off. If you loved me, you would help to minimize the chaos in our home. If you loved me, you would find a babysitter and schedule a date-night. If you loved me, you would recognize all that I do to show you love.
Sound familiar? I suspect you and I are not that different.
What if instead of running off like a five year old with an insecure attachment, we remind ourselves what is true about our attachment with those who we love. Could we be surprised if we shift our focus from unmet needs to looking at the faithfulness in our everyday lives? Sometimes a faithful love is a love that wakes up and goes to work. Or a love that makes a point to kiss you when leaving and returning. A love that makes eggs for you every morning while you ready yourself. Or a love that tucks you in at night.
Oh how you love me, let me count the ways.
Bethany Cabell is recently returned to her home state of Texas after residing for six years in Michigan with her husband and their two young boys. A lover of beauty, she lives life chasing after wide-open spaces: sharing her heart with others, in relationship with Jesus, and through music and photography. She tells her story here. &