Valentine's Day reminds us that it's good to come right out and SAY IT! We do, of course, say it without the words, per se, in lots of what we say and do. You primary breadwinners say it every day when the clock goes off while it is still dark out, and you are still heavy with sleep deprivation, and you get up to slog back into the trenches when it is the very last thing you want to do, but your family needs you to do it. You parents and grandparents and others who care for children do it when you put your own needs and wants aside to be there for a child in a thousand little ways that some days drive you crazy with tedium. You who deal with depression and addiction and other chronic illness say it every day when you find the courage to get out of bad to take up the burden and the struggle for yet another day, as opposed to giving up. You kids say it every time you do something hard, or do something kind, or give a hug to someone who needs it. And we don't just say it in the hard stuff either; we do so in the joyful moments as well. Like that mother with her little girl, we say it, in a way, whenever we stop and linger over a special moment. When we recognize beauty and connectedness, wonder and awe, when realize again how precious we really are to one another.
So yes, we say it without words in all kinds of important ways. But sometimes, it's important to remember to say it WITH words, too. They say that's what all the phone messages from the towers were on 9/11. I can tell you for sure that's what gets said at hospice bedsides... So here is my question: why wait? Why not say it early and often? My son's God-Father, who is like a family member to us, made this point after we moved away, leaving him in Minnesota. We talk nearly every day, and soon after the move, he came right out with it and said, "I think we should say "I love you" whenever we hang up." The three of us here in Ohio agreed, and now, fifteen years later, if we forget, one or the other calls back right away to correct the situation. It injects warmth and kindness and grace into every conversation. I'm glad he made himself vulnerable and encouraged us to SAY IT.
And we can go further still! Rather than just using it as a way to finish conversations, or send somebody out the door, we can incorporate it right into the heart of our interactions. Like when somebody does or says something that touches us, we can take the time to notice and name it right then! Even the little things! Every day when I knock on my mother's apartment door to take her mail to her, she calls out "come in, come in!" in a way that is gracious and welcoming and sweet. Why did it take me so long to tell her how warm that makes me feel, and how it puts a smile on my face every day? When I named it and thanked her for it, she looked surprised, but then she smiled too. We lubricated the gears of our connectedness there. It cost each of us precisely nothing, but charged the moment with love.
I'm sure I have probably shared with you before the great Minnesota joke. Minnesota, as you may know, is full of stoic people of Scandinavian descent. And the joke goes, "did you hear about the old Norwegian who loved his wife sooo much that almost told her? The other joke along these lines is the guy whose wife, late in their marriage, asked if he loved her. His response? "I told you I did on our wedding day. If anything had changed, I would have let you know!"
OK, that may be the extreme, but don't we all tend to slip into it? To allow the demands of the daily round to keep us from SAYING IT enough? Sure, it might make us vulnerable, but so what? Even if we don't get the response we would like, that's about where the other person is in that moment, and we need not take it personally. Besides, our own risk taking might plant seeds. And to "say it" roots us more solidly in the water table of love that flows beneath all of us, all the time, in any case, and that is a good and centering thing.
And so, today and for the rest of February, I am going to be encouraging us to say it more often, and to rise to the challenge of warming up our emotional climates. Two weeks from today, we will culminate this February Warm-Up with a Beach Party here in our service. So haul out those Hawaiian Shirts and grass skirts and sunglasses, and be sure you come. Rumor has it we'll be hearing some Beach Boy music that day.
But the message in the meantime is that we need to say it more often, maybe first to ourselves; to stop the berating and judgment, and focus on compassion and kindness toward ourselves. And we need to say it more often to others as well: in our families and homes and friendship circles, here at church. And while we might not want to put it in vulnerable, emotional terms in our workplaces or public spheres, ( healthy boundaries might require some translation in those contexts,) still we can find appropriate ways to name the good we see in one another, to express appropriate warmth and affection in any setting.
I did this on a city bus in Bradenton, Florida last week. I will tell you more about that amazing bus ride in next week's sermon, but for now let me just say that the bus driver had clearly made a very conscious choice to welcome every rider onto her bus with intentional warmth and enthusiastic courtesy. City busses in economically depressed cities can be kind of depressing places. But this driver, by the tone she set, welcomed every rider to a party that she herself had clearly decided to host. I long ago made a decision that when I see something wonderful, I will try to name it and offer gratitude and affirmation to the person generating it. So when I exited the bus, I stopped and said, "this is the most amazing bus I have ever ridden. Thank you for approaching your job the way you do." Tears sprang to her eyes. She grabbed my hands and said, "thank you so much for saying that. It's just one little thing I can offer to the world, but some days it's hard to keep it up."
She made a daily practice of "saying it" to her riders. I took a second that cost me nothing to "say it" to her. She "said it" back to me, and in love's economy, I believe that energy was contagious and then spread through the rest of every person on that buses' day in a way greater than the sum of the parts.
Valentine's Day, a reminder and a perfect opportunity to go ahead and SAY IT! And so we are going to give you opportunity to do so today. In a moment our kids will come forward to pass out blank valentines and pencils. You are invited to take a few moments and write something to someone in particular, or to a group, or just to write down something in general for which you feel love and affection. Then, Halcyon will pass the mike for any who want to "Say it" in this gathering, or you might not want to do that, but might want to pin it on the back cork board after church. Or you might want to just give it directly to somebody you've meant it for, and we even have envelopes back there in case it requires mailing. Please now take a few moments, to think about someone or some area in your life where you would like to say it. ..Will the kids please come forward to distribute the materials?