Growing Out: Speaking Love

I Thessalonians 1

February 2, 2014

A little over a week ago, NBC Nightly News aired a story about an elderly woman in Union, New Jersey by the name of Marsha Kreuzman. Ms. Kreuzman, who is Jewish, grew up in Europe during World War II. Like so many others, she and her family ended up in a Nazi concentration camp. There, both of her parents and her brother died. Having been starved to a weight of only 68 pounds, Kreuzman was standing in line one day in 1945 awaiting her own death when American GI’s arrived to liberate the camp. That moment literally saved Ms. Kreuzman’s life.

In the years that followed, Ms. Kreuzman married another Holocaust survivor and moved to America where they settled, lived and grew old together in New Jersey. Along the way, she shared with countless school groups about her experiences in the concentration camp. But, at the same time, she continued to live with a life-long regret about her time there. You see, when the GI’s came she never took the time to thank one of them for their heroism. When she moved to America she thought that she would eventually meet at least one soldier who had been a part of that fateful day and whom she could thank as a symbol of her gratitude for all of them. But, that opportunity simply never materialized.

That is until last October, when Ms. Kreuzman read in her local paper about a nearby couple’s 60th Anniversary. In the story, it told about his service in World War II and that he had been a part of the liberation of the very camp in Austria where she had been held. Amazed, she took the initiative and called him—stranger. Eventually she met him and then uttered these words which she had longed to say for many, many years, “I love you, thank you.”

I think what Marsha Kreuzman’s experience reminds us of is that often times in our lives, we fail to verbalize or share in an audible way the real feelings of our hearts. Sometimes this happens when we say things that we don’t really mean or that unfortunately come out in the heat of the moment. At other times, this happens when we fail to ever speak the true feelings of our hearts as we fail to take the time to communicate to others what we really think about them.

This morning, it is this later issue that I want to invite us to think about for a few moments as we begin this month long look at four critical aspects of strong, grown relationships—whether they be the relationships that we have with our spouse, our children, family, our parents or simply with our good friends. Today, I want to begin by suggesting to all of us, that strong, growing, thriving relationships are those in which both parties know how the other feels about them because those sentiments have been communicated in either verbal or in some other direct way.

This morning, I want to set before us the Apostle Paul and the letter to the church in Thessalonica as an example of this principle. At the same time, I also want to say that the approach that we see Paul taking here in chapter one of this letter, is a path that we see him taking over and over again in the letters of the New Testament from him to the other early New Testament congregations that he helped to start as well.

From the outset, in Thessalonians, Paul let the believers there know clearly how he and how God felt about them. In both direct and in indirect ways, Paul articulated to the believers in Thessalonica that he loved them and that God loved them. Sure they were struggling to establish themselves as an early congregation and certainly they still had a lot of questions and quite a bit of growing to do. But, they didn’t need to have any doubts—Paul was grateful for them, he was proud of them, he loved them and they needed to know that God felt the same way. In turn, before saying anything else, Paul established this reality. And, again, Paul not only started the letter to the Thessalonians this way, but, many if not most of the letters from Paul in the New Testament begin the very same way.

This is not rocket science but it is a basic invaluable principle that good healthy relationships generally include. In strong relationships, each person is very clear and has little doubt about how the other person feels about them. Unfortunately, much of the time we assume that others know that we love them, value them and cherish their place in our lives. Likewise, we also often assume that everyone has a good healthy sense of God’s love and compassion for them. But, I want us to understand that these assumptions are often not accurate either in how others perceive us or God. In turn, it is important and it is healthy to articulate how we feel and how God feels on a regular basis. How we really feel should never be in doubt to the important people in our lives.

It reminds me of a silly episode from the old television show from the mid- 1960s, Gilligan’s Island, which as you will recall was a thirty minute comedy about seven castaways are their humorous adventures on a deserted island in the Pacific. The cable channel TV Land is now airing the old show in the evenings and I have found myself enjoying it all over again.

A few nights back, they broadcast one of my favorite episodes. In the story, Gilligan is fishing in the lagoon and catches a large crate that is filled with vegetable seeds for planting. Well, this was an exciting discovery to say the least. After all, the castaways were used to eating fish, coconuts, bananas and the other basic foods that the island where they were stranded produced. It had been a long, long time since any of them had enjoyed fresh vegetables so this crate seemed like manna from heaven.

The problem was that these were experimental radioactive seeds from a Hawaiian laboratory. They had fallen off of a transport ship by mistake and somehow floated to the island. They were dangerous and not for human consumption. The crate that Gilligan had found was clearly marked “danger” but when the crate had been opened the warning label had been discarded before it was seen or read. In turn, throughout the episode, the message was right there in their midst, but they failed to see it, hear it or heed it.

That is what happens in our relationships I am afraid. We assume that how we feel is obvious. We assume that those who are special to us already know our thoughts and feelings so why communicate it. Yet often times, we live in each other’s presence and in the presence of God every day without hearing and being clear about the love and affection that we share. In turn it is far better to overstate how we feel than to understate it. If we love, cherish and value the special people in our lives and if we know that God feels the same way, let’s make sure that these feelings are clearly known.

The other thing that speaks to me about Paul’s writing in chapter one of Thessalonians is the context within which it is shared. What I mean is that as much as Paul loved the Thessalonians and for that matter the other early New Testament congregations that he helped to found, they also frustrated him. Paul’s work was not easy work. As happens in both the best of churches and in the best of human relationships, Paul was sometimes disappointed by these early believers. Sometimes he was at odds with them and at other times he was saddened by their behavior and decisions. But, that never, ever changed how he felt about them in the depths of his heart. In turn, often times, he began his letters by expressing how much he loved them so that the genuine way that he felt would provide an underpinning for everything else he was going to say.

This, I think is good advice and an excellent practice for all of us to embrace.

Some of you have heard me share a saying from an older gentleman that I know which to me deserves repeating here. In the past, when I lived near him, I heard him on more than one occasion have a conversation with someone within which they disagreed about the matter under discussion. Invariable, as the conversation came to an end, the other person would say to him, “even though we disagree, I hope we can still be friends”. When such as statement was made, this gentleman would always respond, “I never knew that our friendship was in question”.

I like that. Yet, in this world in which we live today, I don’t think many people take that idea for granted. Today, so often, if someone disappoints us, fails us or disagrees with us then the whole way we feel about that person often changes. In other words our love and affection is often believed to be as open to change as the wind or the outcome of our most recent actions. In turn, one of the greatest ways we can impact people, and at least from where I sit, one of the best ways we can share the love of God, is by letting people know clearly and directly that our love and care as well as God’s love and care remains. And, that these feelings are true even in spite of what may have happened in our relationship in recent days.

To use a new twist on an old saying, “saying “I love you” in the end may not be the most difficult thing, but saying “I love you” and meaning it is.” Amen.