For some, Valentine’s Day is a day to treasure, a day to celebrate, a day to spend time and money on a loved one.
For others, Valentine’s Day is a day to forget, a day to despise, “Singles Awareness Day.”
For me, how I reacted to Valentine’s Day used to depend on my relationship status: if I was dating someone, I couldn’t wait for it; if I wasn’t, I’d much rather we jumped from February 13 to 15 and skip the day altogether. One year a long time ago, I actually broke up with someone on Valentine’s Day, which was not only extremely poor form but also combined the two reactions in one.
Since then, Valentine’s Days have included (in no particular order):
- Going snowboarding for the first time with a bunch of friends.
- Being sick in bed all day.
- Babysitting my friends’ adorable kids so my friends could go out for dinner.
- Going on a phenomenal date.
- Being in an evening class for grad school.
- Staying in and watching the primary election results.
Some have been spent with a girl, some have been spent with friends, and some have been spent alone. Some have been awesome; some have been decent; being sick just made the day a non-event.
And over the years, I’ve come to see the day as … well, any other day. What began the shift in my perspective was the realization that my relationship status was not the definitive characteristic of my life. It was then that I was able to let go of the idea that I just needed the right person to come along and make everything better and be the perfect date, and was subsequently able to better embrace life, to take hold of opportunities to love more boldly and more fully. And, I suppose, also to begin to understand the concept of love a little better.
Growing up, my dad used to say that people don’t just “fall in love,” as if they have no choice in the matter; and when I was young, I had no idea what that meant. “But I feel this way about this person; I’m crazy about her; whenever I see her I get goosebumps, and my heart skips a beat, and … and …,” I’d protest. Our culture tells us that love is only a feeling, an emotion, a chemical reaction. As C.S. Lewis writes:
Another notion we get from novels and plays is that “falling in love” is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles. And because they believe this, some married people throw up the sponge and give in when they find themselves attracted by a new acquaintance. … But is it not very largely in our own choice whether this love shall, or shall not, turn into what we call “being in love”? No doubt, if our minds are full of novels and plays and sentimental songs, and our bodies full of alcohol, we shall turn any love we feel into that kind of love: just as if you have a rut in your path, all the rainwater will run into that run, and if you wear blue spectacles, everything you see will turn blue. But that will be our own fault. (Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 6.)
Love–biblically understood–is something different, something much more. If the two greatest commandments in Scripture are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” and “Love your neighbor,” then Tim Keller makes a good point when he observes, “Emotions can’t be commanded, only actions” (The Meaning of Marriage, 103). If God is love, then we know that love involves sacrifice, it involves rescue, it involves putting everything on the line for the good and well-being of the object of your love: “For God loved the world in this way: he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) and “There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Love is more than just emotions, more than just chemistry, more than just buying chocolates and flowers, more than just making dinner for a loved one–though it may involve all of those things in the context of a romantic relationship.
For many of us, though, we need to relearn what love is, as defined by God–what love really means, what love really looks like, what love really feels like. Loving God may mean having to let go of something very dear to you that stands between you and God. Loving your neighbor may mean putting their good before your own in a way that is not the culture-prescribed method of doing things. But in doing these things, we learn a better way–maybe not better in the eyes of the world, but better in the eyes of God and better in the way that we were created to be. In doing these things, we behave–and more importantly, become–more like Jesus.
It’s risky and it’s dangerous–in the context of romantic relationships in particular, we all know how hard it is to be vulnerable or to commit to something or to let someone in or to be hurt by someone–but the alternative of not loving is far worse.
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Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 123.)