Understanding Valentine’s Day

Growing up, my parents treated Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to bless my four siblings and me with sweet reminders that they loved us. A special breakfast before school, a surprise package in the mail at college, and later, a box of chocolates on my desk at the office. I wish I could say I always followed their example.

Several years ago I wrote an article about my Valentine’s Day state of mind in the years when I didn’t have a boyfriend:

I wasn’t alone in my dislike of the holiday that reminded me how unattached I was. On my floor at Calvin College, we called Valentine’s Day “Black Death Day.” It was a mopey holiday for us. And though what we most wanted was a guy to celebrate with, we did little in our depressed, dressed-in-black state to make ourselves attractive.

Valentines_2013Mercifully, God didn’t leave me in my state of self-pity. He sent a friend to remind me that my day for romance would come. In the face of that challenge to stop feeling sorry for myself, I started by grieving all the Valentines Days I’d wasted. It was a relief to finally repent for my bitterness and ask God to help me turn my view outward. I made a decision to start with my Dad, Mom, sisters and brothers — the very ones who had gone so far out of their way to make past Valentine’s Days special for me.

I wrote that article nine years ago. Back then, it felt like I’d made real progress. Celebrating Valentine’s Day by focusing on others, rather than dreading and despising it, was a start. But I wonder what I would have done if I’d never gotten married. If all these years later, I was still limited to sending hearts and flowers to my parents and siblings.

I think my feelings of frustration and despair as a single woman on Valentine’s Day came not only with wanting what I didn’t have (a husband), but also with misunderstanding love. It’s not primarily an emotion. But that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about as the world we live in celebrates it. It’s about feeling wanted, desired, and being wooed, with decadent sweets and indulgent gifts. At root, it’s about feeding our appetites. But that’s not love at all.

Jesus said,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

That’s good news because it removes the pressure to do Valentine’s Day the way Victoria’s Secret, Target, Dove and Hallmark say you should.

If I’m the source of the love I give, it’s a pretty limited supply. But I’m not. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2 imitate God’s love “as dearly loved children.” We can love others because we have been intimately, infinitely loved the One who made us and knows our name. As believers, every day should be a day for loving others with the love we’ve received. I appreciate the extra reminder and opportunity to do it on February 14th. I’m thankful to be able to give to my husband, our children, and the people God has placed in our live. It’s one of my favorite days. I still call it Thanksgiving.