02/24/2012 11:18 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

Lent: An Excuse to Say 'I Love You'

I had never read anything by Jeffrey Zaslow (although as I realize now, I did read The Last Lecture, which he co-authored with Randy Pausch). This week, I happened upon a letter to the editor in The New York Times about him, in response to the article entitled, "Life's Frailty, and the Gestures That Go a Long Way." Jeffery, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, died last week in a car accident at the age of 53. I then went back and read some of his columns. The one that touched me the most was one he wrote on Feb. 12, 2004, in the WSJ entitled, "Keeping the Car Filled With Gas And Other Ways to Say 'I Love You'"

I was struck by the simplicity and yet great depth of his insights and comments. When I preside at weddings, I always encourage couples to make sure that they say "I love you" to each other -- and mean it -- at least once a day, because I believe that love begets love and love also begets strength.

Working as a professional chaplain in a hospital has brought this simple, yet complex, phrase greater depth over the years. From loved ones regretting that the last words spoken were not "I love you" before their family member departed for their "normal" day which then turned into the farthest thing from normal when a massive heart attack, stroke or accident took their life, to those who felt more at peace (in some way) because the last words they did utter to their loved one were words of love, or encouragement or support. It DOES make a difference to people. Since beginning my chaplaincy work in 1991, just about every family I have been with, whose loved one died suddenly, thought back to their "final words" with their loved one -- a memory that will stay with them for the rest of their life. Those with fewer regrets seem to be those who did utter those three little words that mean so much, but when said without thoughtful consideration, can also seem to mean so little.

We are embarking on Lent this week. People talk about what they are going to "give up" for Lent or "go without" for Lent. I want to suggest a different way to practice the disciplines of Lent. Each day, take time for those that you love most. Take the time to really look that person in the eyes (if they are close by) and say "I love you" and mean it. Take the time to let those who live far away also hear those words -- said in ways that are not "off-handed" or have no meaning behind them. Take the time that you might otherwise use for texting or emailing to pick up the phone and call that person. Allow Lent to be a time to "turn another way," to do something with an intention towards those whom you love.

If needed, let my suggestion for this Lent be the "excuse" you need to say "I love you" every day to the people about whom you deeply care. We never know when our life can change in a heartbeat -- ensure that you say I love you and mean it -- especially because we never know what the next moment in our own life might bring.