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A Thousand Throwaway I Love Yous

In a healthy marriage, there are a thousand throwaway I love yous. This demands explanation, and there’s probably a better wording to make this point. But there’s also a certain rhetorical power to stating it this way, and so it stays for now.

I’ll illustrate what I’m after this way. Imagine this scene: I am at Walmart, having stopped in after a round of golf. I’m picking up a couple items, but also want to be a useful husband, so I call my wife and ask, “Is there anything else we need while I’m here?” She suggests an item or two, and as I’m attempting to make sufficient mental note of what she has just said, I tell her, “All right, I love you, see you in a few minutes.”

This scene repeats itself hundreds and thousands of times in a healthy marriage. These are the thousand throwaway I love yous.

Let me clarify: it is not the case that such I love yous are insincere. That would be a real problem. It is the case, however, that these I love yous are hardly ever spoken with the breathless passion of a Hollywood ending. As one member of my church noted, if I, standing in the produce section, did come to the end of the conversation, paused dramatically, and offered my most impassioned Alicia, please know that I love you, there’s a decent chance my wife would suspect I’ve either entered a hostage situation or that I’m about to rob the Walmart. I’m not keen to plant either of these scenarios in my wife’s mind.

No, these throwaway I love yous do at least two things. They do express genuine affection for my wife. They also (and this is critical) sustain my affection for my wife. The very repetition, the habit of these I love yous is part of the natural rhythm of a mature marriage. The very act of repeatedly affirming that I love my wife helps me remember that I love her and builds my love for those moments in which a more emotional expression is in order.

This is the liturgy of marriage.

In the same way that the thousand throwaway I love yous support and sustain my love for my wife, a healthy church liturgy supports and sustains my love for God. Yes, at all times, my worship must be sincere, not hypocritical. But contra the message of big box evangelicalism, my relationship with God (a phrase of dubious worth) is not going to be characterized by ceaseless breathless passion. Rather, the liturgy of my church is often (not always) like the thousand throwaway I love yous: sincere but not spectacular. A true expression of my love of God and a true sustaining of my love of God, but not always an experience of rapture.

This is an argument by analogy, and one of dubious worth in a culture that cannot conceive of love to either wife or God that isn’t dominated by passion. But for those who are coming to grips with reality, it might prove helpful.

About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.