The words “I love you” are thrown around a lot these days. In a relationship, as soon as one member of the couple expresses those words, the other party is expected to return the verbal affirmation. If he or she does not – there is a pregnant pause – “well, aren’t you going to say it back”? retorts the potentially wounded partner. Or, “you love me too don’t you”? At this early stage of the relationship there can only be one of two probable consequences; trouble or a lie. “I love you”, once firmly established as a key component of the relationship vernacular can often take on a ritual of sorts, one that over time can potentially lose its meaning, its impact, and its relevance. Why do we perform such significant actions, like telling someone we love them, when we are only mouthing the words? At that moment, was there a rush of affection that prompted the feeling of love? Or, is it possible that such a repetitive utterance has diminished the authentic expression of love when we so repeatedly and unthinkingly emote those words? But alas – this is not about what we may or may not say to our significant other, or to God – but what we say to ourselves and are we being less than authentic in so doing?
We do many things in life that over time can lose their meaning and we ultimately have no clue why we ever did them in the first place. We sleep walk through life. We are creatures of habit, of rote, of routine, sometimes meaningless routine.
“Rote”, doing the same thing over and over as expected. Take away the “e” and we have “rot”, the process of decaying, and decomposing.
What about prayers? Many who “believe” – love God, but in reciting the prayers are we simply mouthing the pre-scripted words? The Jewish world is about to begin the holiest day of the year – Yom Kippur. Coincidentally for Muslims, the Hajj is also about to commence. Even today as I see on Facebook, how sad it is that many of us are focusing negatively upon one another – these great world religions. Both of us, children of the same God – why must it be so? How many of us within these two great communities within our synagogues and mosques will shortly recite prayers, stand up, sit down, bow, prostrate, all in unison, like sheep, without thinking, without knowing why we are doing it, or why at that precise moment it is necessary to stand, sit, bow etc? And is there intention in our actions or are we just saying “I love you” out of habit – as expected of us?
Many, me included, do things, many important actions, without thinking. I am currently saying the Jewish yearlong ritual mourning prayer of Kaddish – for my late father who passed away earlier this year. Day after day I say these scripted words, the same words over and over again. I struggle with their meaning and significance – but I do unquestionably find comfort within the parochial community and I am grateful to them for the ongoing support. But taking the scriptural and liturgical words to heart requires effort – sustained effort – and also faith. Are we there in the pews for the rehearsal or the real show? Are we more concerned about someone sitting in our seat or about what is weighing heavily on the mind of that person? Are we judgmental of our fellow – or contemplating what we can do to support that individual? We find ourselves in a ritually based safe comfort zone. Why are we content being in the pews if we question the very reason for our attendance? Is it genuinely that comfortable and safe? Are we truly happy being there? And is true meaning found in it? Last time I checked and as a dear friend once told me, “you only have one shot at life.“ Be merely comfortable and safe if you wish – that is a choice. But ask yourself this? Is it your authentic self? Are you being true to yourself? Or do you yearn for more?
Instead of sticking to the scripted word, rote and rituals in our life, perhaps what is warranted is to devote some time to doing what feels right for us. Not the expected words or actions, but words and actions of our choosing, that find meaning, significance, and purpose. Words and actions that are authentic, and represent our inner truth or that inner voice that strives to come out. Let’s make these words and actions meaningful. It is time to honour that authentic self, regardless to whom they are being directed. Next time we say “I love you”, mean it.