This was written by: Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church and shared here with permission.
Every now and then I will have some person who is struggling with family relationships to say, with appropriate sadness, that they do not remember ever having had their father (and sometimes mother) say that they loved them. The absence of expressed love in a family leaves a large emotional hole in the psyche of a child, and it has predictable consequences in the adult life of that child. These consequences inevitably show up when that person marries, and even more when children are born into the family. Unexpressed love (or the absence of love) tends to cross generational lines. The ripple effect is not only predictable but palpable. The effect of unexpressed or absent love goes on, like a genetic illness, from generation to generation until an emotional or spiritual healing experience stops it.
When I was a graduate student in psychology at Garrett School of Theology and Northwestern University we were required to read a book titled, "One Little Boy." I have long since forgotten the name of the therapist/author of the book, but I have never forgotten the story it told. The reason I have never forgotten is because I have seen the story reenacted so many times in the lives of people in my care. The therapist traces the roots of the emotional problems of "one little boy" back three generations and still did not get to the point of beginning.
Somebody has to stop the ripple effect or, better still, see that it does not start, which brings me to the point I wish to make.
Expressions of love withheld tend to die, and the people from whom they are withheld tend to die also – little by little. So many times only a crisis will draw from us expressions of love that the people around us are so hungry to hear. If we were to suddenly discover that within a few hours the world as we know it would end, I venture to say that every telephone line and every other means of communication would be tied up by people calling people to stammeringly state some long neglected expression of love.
The world is filled with people who are starved for some expression of love, some indication of acceptance, and some assurance of belonging. Many of the people with whom you will brush elbows today are lonely and frustrated for the lack of some adequate expression of genuine love. How deep would be the benefits to those we do love, if we would let expressions of love permeate our days and our relationships. Several years ago I was visiting in a home on Saturday before Mother’s Day. A five-year child wanted to show me the card she had for her mother. It was not one that she bought at the store. (The kind many of us use when we care enough to send the very best, but are too lazy to write.) It was a piece of bright construction paper on which the child had scrawled a message of love. How rich we are when we live in a climate where love is expressed! How poor we become when love is withheld and unexpressed.
If you love somebody tell them now. Tomorrow may be too late. They may leave, or you may leave, in any of the many ways in which someone can go away. Do not let someone you love die and leave you choking on the words of unexpressed love that you intended to say but never did. Do not let your children grow up and end up in my office or a lawyer’s office, or a psychiatrist’s office sadly saying: "I do not remember ever having heard my father/mother say they loved me."
Can you hear what I am saying to you? I hope so. It begs to be heard!!
AN ENCOURAGING WORD for May 24, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church