Growing up I never saw my parents show affection. In fact, I think I saw them kiss once and was shocked by it. More so, as a family, we never said “I love you” or “I care about you”. I never thought about those things until I heard other families saying it, openly hugging, and mothers and fathers kissing. While having these conversations with my friends, I realized that as a Kenyan-American I had experienced what most of my African friends had experienced growing up.

Yet, most Christian relationship books I’ve read highlight the importance of showing affection and sharing words of affirmation. While in college I listened to a podcast about how a father strengthened the relationship he had with his son by simply telling him that he loved him.

I began to think about God and particularly Jesus and his love for his father. He never hid it and God never hid his love for him. Jesus preached and spoke about it everywhere he went. He was unapologetic about his love for his father, so why do we hide our love for each other? Why do parents not show that they love each other at home so their kids can witness this love and use it as a foundation for their marriages in the future? God’s love for us is not cultural. It transcends every race and class and our love should be the same for our families regardless of where we come from. 

See how great a love the Father has given us, that we would be called children of God; and in fact we are. For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know Him. – 1 John 3:1

I decided to try it. First, with the person I thought was going to be the most difficult one to say it to. I was nervous the first time, being that my conversations with my father had always been very matter-of-fact and to the point. It was always about giving career advice or suggestions for what I should do with my life. At the end of the conversation I paused as he said, “Okay my daughter, I will talk to you later.” I waited a moment and blurted out, “I love you, daddy.” There was a silence on the other end that seemed to go on forever before he replied, “I love you too.”

From that day on we said it after every conversation and years later it has become a staple for how we end conversations in our family. Even amid arguments and anger, we all manage to end with that statement. These simple words have helped me see my father in a softer light. He has opened up more about himself and his struggles. We are not perfect by any means but I sometimes wonder how much we would have missed had we never vocalized these three words to each other. How much we would have wondered about our love for each other or assumed it was not as strong as it truly is.

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. –1 John 4:16

This is the type of world I want to live in and I hope you do too. Saying I love you to your family requires constant communication and at times even forgiveness. In your mind, you have to remember to love beyond the dishes not being done, the homework not being completed, or even the failing grades. Saying I love you means you are committing to working through these things and that despite the challenges of today you are choosing to remember and continue to love each other every day. It may be awkward at first but try these three words every day when a family member leaves for work when they’re going to bed and after a phone call.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. –Romans 5:8

Want to share how saying “I love you” to your family has changed your relationship? Share in the comments below.