A Word in Season
The Art of the Love Letter
Valentine's Day is around the corner. Sure, there are gifts or cards you may wish to purchase for the woman in your life. But I'm here to help you make an impact, to help you capture the heart of your beloved with something that very few women receive anymore in this digital age, and something that we Catholics ought to bring back into vogue: The Love Letter.
We live in a time of fleeting messages on a screen. They blip past our eyes one moment, and then they are gone the next—erased, shut off, or lost to black hole of cyberspace. Email and text messaging and social media connections are so commonplace today. Yes, women want your affectionate ad-libs in your emails, texts, and status updates. Don't stop that! But our goal here is to go for the tangible, for the personal, for the real hold-in-your-hand proof that what you say is what you mean.
We are looking for words that endure, that are authentic, and worthy of being committed to paper in a moment that cannot shut off or erased. (And yes, you can buy that awesomely tender card in the store and sign your name, and really, she will love your thoughtfulness. But stick with me here, guys, go for something a bit more customized, and permanent.)
Remember: If you've found a woman who loves you, then you've found a treasure.
Do you see all those empty and counterfeit "loves" out there? Do you see the heartaches and the pain that exist between women and men today? So does she. It grieves her soul. Do what you can to shore up the foundations of love in your life. Make sure she knows what she's won when she has won your heart.
For Valentine's Day, or really, for any special occasion—her birthday, your anniversary, you name it—you want to do the uncommon thing, the heroic thing, the thing that sets you apart from anyone else in the world, the thing that she will carry in her heart, or in her top dresser drawer, or purse, until next Valentine's Day and beyond.
She wants to hear and know the words that only you can give her: words from you that describe how you cherish her and value your love together.
How do you accomplish that?
Don't compare her to anyone else or anything else. Tell her what makes her unique to you. Be intentional about naming the specific ways your love is one-of-a-kind.
Here are a few writing prompts to get you started and give you the confidence to overcome your reticence or fear of trying it. (Trust me, this list is enough for several love letters, but pick a few themes that speak to you today, and give this an hour of your time for the sake of your wife, or wife-to-be.)
- What is the one memory of her that stays with you and lifts you up when you think of her?
- How does she inspire you?
- How does her love make you a better person? Or strive to be?
- How does her care make you feel loved by her? By God?
- What is her greatest virtue? How can you pay her a compliment about it? This is different than naming her greatest talent or skill. Her accomplishments are great to notice, but dig deeper to what is enduring or transcendent about her. Articulate something that reflects her deepest beauty as a person, not the skin-deep stuff, but something in her soul from her inborn goodness and depth of character that calls to you. Then tell her how that virtue has blessed your life. And how you might see her blessing others.
- Tell her how your love for her has grown over the past year, and why. Have you gone through something difficult that has drawn you closer when it could have pulled you apart?
- Tell her the story of your love—a short paragraph about something from your past that really endeared her to you, that helped you know she was "the one." Then update it with a paragraph describing something recent that makes you realize this all over again.
- Describe the way her heart speaks to yours: how she knows things about you that no one else does, even the stuff you don't like to let show, or you're not proud of, and how she loves you all the same. A little vulnerability does not diminish you in her eyes. She wants to know that you trust her and value her confidence.
- Is there some little "everyday" detail about her that you find attractive? Tell her. She probably has no idea that such a simple thing is special in your eyes.
- Tell her about a special place you'd like to travel to with her, from the lake to the Louvre, whatever your budget can afford. Then put it on your calendars. There's nothing like the thrill of anticipation, and the actual time away to refresh a couple's relationship.
- Don't forget to write the words: "I love you."
Why am I suggesting love letters? Because I have a drawer full and I know what a wealthy woman I am because of them; but most of all, because all couples long for communion with one another, especially the kind that will last. That simply cannot happen without communication that starts off with words that come from the heart.
Here's another reason, and it's the Catholic angle: Everything we do ought to mirror what Jesus does for us in his words and deeds. He spoke words of love that changed hearts, and healed lives; he laid his life down for his friends. That could be a very powerful definition of what your marriage should be.
Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are his Bride. His words preceded action.
Catholic life is one that is filled with words and deeds. The Bible is the greatest love letter ever written to the heart of humanity, and the Sacraments are the greatest graces that, in our day, make the Word tangibly real indeed. At Mass, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we hear our story recounted, the words of faith and love. In the second part of Mass, we experience the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Person of Christ becomes present to us in Communion.
The words we say and pray and hear find their truth in the Presence of Love.
Let your love for your wife, or your wife-to-be, be the words of a bridegroom. Let your bride know your memories of her, your delight in her company and in your own couple's story, and, finally, your renewed pledge of fidelity to her.
Communion starts with words of love, and ends with love that need no words.
Be her Valentine.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press. Subscribe to “A Word in Season” via email or RSS.