St. Valentine’s Day has come and gone. While others are exchanging cards, gifts, chocolates, flowers, and embraces, I was completely ignoring the day. Valentine’s Day has had negative meaning for me since high school… until my daughter was born Valentine’s morning twelve years ago. I suppose God knew I needed a reason to make it through Valentine’s Day every year – something to celebrate – so He blessed me with my own little angel. Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist in our home; instead it’s a day to celebrate my daughter’s birth, my receipt of the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.
In reflection of this day full of confections, I realize I know little about the origination of the holiday other than the Catholic Church designation of it as a day to remember St. Valentine – a man I’m certain few think of when they’re making their romantic plans. True to modern day America, we have taken a day from history and turned it into one of the grandest displays of secular consumerism there is, not far below Christmas and Easter. Okay, so I give in to many of those as well while I still try to focus on on the original reason for those seasons – but even then, are our Valentine’s Day traditions really displaying a healthy image of relationships? While romance is always a feel-good concept, it’s not a true representation of marriage or relationships. Alongside movies about finding Prince Charming and tuns sung by time’s greatest crooners, Valentine’s Day encourages the connotation of romance as a prerequisite for love.
But I have come to learn that love is not romance, romance is not love – it is an optional bonus. Perhaps the fact that romance is connected to every movie, song, and book about love has us expecting that love and romance come hand in hand. Perhaps it is in part responsible for the huge increase in divorce in the past forty years – okay, that may be a stretch for some, but it did play a huge part in my dissatisfaction of my relationships. Now please don’t take this as my being anti-romance. I’m all for it and nothing makes me tear up like a man who truly romances his love with a well-thought out, creative plan of his, or even just a bouquet of flowers for no reason other than “I was thinking of you.” However, we must remember that real relationships, unlike that of the happily-ever-after stereotype, take work… a lot of hard work.
Love isn’t something you can fall into and out of, like movie star crushes or favorite ice cream flavors. Love is something that, frequently, you have to try to do. Love is a choice, and sometimes it’s a very difficult choice. My Dad has always said that: Love is a choice. I never completely understood what he meant and even shooed it away as crazy talk. But, as usual, he was right. God has created this primary lesson for us, to learn to love unconditionally and completely, so that when we come before Him, we can experience His pure love and return it. Love is something that should be given freely, not with expectations or conditions. True love goes beyond looks, beliefs, thoughts, and words. Remember Our Lord’s command to “love thy enemy.” Most woudl say that’s impossible; you can’t love someone who is an enemy. Keep in mind that love is completely different than like. Most people would say there are plenty of times they don’t like something their spouse says or does, or maybe they don’t even like the person he or she is at times. But most would say they still love their spouse, despite the faults.
Love doesn’t always have to be connected with a romantic interest, which is probably where a lot of our expectation comes from that if we love someone, we will always say the right thing or do the right thing. Consider the love a parent has a for a child. In this relationship, the parent is constantly giving to and caring for the child, without expectation of return or condition of words or actions. Forgiveness is never-ending. Even when the child is rebellious and dares to utter the words “I hate you,” while it’s a stab to the heart for the parent, the love for the child is not diminished. Even when parents makes the difficult decision to cut off the help they give their child, whether financially or otherwise, they choose to do so because of their love for him or her, and their desire to see the child make good choices and learn responsibility.
Imagine if everyone took this concept of love and applied it to their marriage, if one spouse continued to show his or her love to the other regardless of whether it was returned; if kindness, respect, and duty continued, even when love wasn’t felt returned. Of course, a much harder concept to enact than to contemplate or discuss. Yet this is what the Bible, what God, instructs us to do. Imagine if your spouse continually showed you respect, kindness, gentleness and forgiveness in word and action regardless of your short faults.
It comes to mind that the perfect closing for this post is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and one I attempt to live out daily (and retry and retry…):
“What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”