Some Thoughts on Valentine’s Day
On Valentine’s Day in fifth grade I rode my bike to Hunt Drug, bought a box of chocolates, and delivered…
On Valentine’s Day in fifth grade I rode my bike to Hunt Drug, bought a box of chocolates, and delivered them to Cheryl England’s doorstep. I signed my name with a heart, rang the doorbell and tore off on my Schwinn.
We associate Valentine’s Day with romantic love. A time for roses and cards, for that special someone.
Today I brought in the trash can. Karla hates to walk to the end of the driveway on a cold day like today. It’s still good to drop notes and candy for your beloved. But I’m at the place where I realize love that lasts looks more like dragging in the garbage can.
The love demonstrated by the Saint Valentine himself was not about candy hearts. The thing began as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, established by Pope Gelasius I to honor some people named Valentinus who were martyred for their faith on February 14.
One part of the lore says Valentine was put in prison for ministering to Christians when they were being persecuted by the Romans. While in prison he fell in love with a young woman (the jailer’s daughter?) and sent her a farewell note (from “Your Valentine”) before his execution.
Another story is about a different priest named Valentine who was arrested but spoke so beautifully and powerfully about the validity of Christ, an aristocrat named Asterius and his family were baptized. When Emperor Claudius II found out about it, he had Valentine beheaded.
Some think Valentine’s Day may have come about partially as a result of the “Christianizing” of the Roman pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. The history is murky.
What struck me was how, through the centuries until today, we associate the day with romantic love, Cupid shooting arrows causing people to swoon into love, as if overcome by some magical spirit. We love the mushy stuff. There’s a reason Hallmark Channel is still around.
But anyone who has sustained a deep relationship over any period of time knows that real love isn’t kept alive by fluttery feelings. It happens through grinding out successive daily decisions where you choose to stay committed. Where you choose to put your own needs and desires aside long enough to bless someone or be kind or at least bite your tongue when you want to start an argument.
Real love is about blessing when you want to curse. Forgiving when you want to stay angry. Staying when you want to leave. Love for the Christian is nothing less than a call to give our very lives as well.
None of that is very sexy. But it is the road that leads to the place everyone wants to arrive – a place of safety and security and commitment and trust. We crave that kind of relationship, belonging, and safe place. But we are so preoccupied with shallow “friends” on social media and keeping up appearances and the lies told on film and romance novels that we keep holding our hand out waiting for some romantic fairytale, when what we truly want is found when we put our hands to work to bless another person over a long period of time.
Real love isn’t the result of finding some romantic fling or fix that makes your heart titter. It is not about sex. It is forged in the fires of non-sentimental devotion to someone. Giving ourselves in this manner allows us to find what we long for the most – deep love.
My friend is missing his wife of 49 years today. She died of cancer a couple years ago. What does he miss the most? Maybe her touch, her presence, her voice, her cold feet on his legs in bed at night. But more than that, he would give anything to get her a cup of coffee in the morning. To bring in the trash can so she didn’t have to do it.
When Karla and I are at odds, it’s always because one or both of us is focused on what we’re NOT happy with at the moment. We are, in a word, selfish. But when we are healthy enough to think of the other, like Jesus teaches us, everything gets better, fast.
I find it interesting that the real St. Valentine suffered so terribly. He gave his life as a martyr for the love of Christ. And Jesus himself gave us the ultimate example of love when he laid down his life for us. That’s not the stuff of Hallmark Channel. But it is a reminder that when we most want love, to give yourself away.
Thought of in this way, Valentine’s Day can be for all of us who know Jesus, not just couples. It’s a call to love selflessly. To form special bonds of family among us so that everyone is cared for and remembered.
But that isn’t to say there’s no room for romantic love. It’s one of God’s beautiful gifts. It’s just that it’s not as cheap as we’ve made it. My parents celebrated 70 years of marriage last summer. There’s some commitment that has sustained them to the place now, where they have something precious, a priceless treasure. And sometimes, it manifests in the simple holding of hands and a gentle kiss.
But the clasp they enjoy now would not be as sweet if those same hands hadn’t taken out the trash a thousand times.
Each of us is making a life of some kind, every day. Today, I wonder how much more robust and beautiful our love would be if we not only bought chocolates or sent a card to someone, but took in the trash can – and committed to do so, for a long, long time, no matter what.