My Valentine’s Day History, a.k.a. A Few Thoughts on Love

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.

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.)

Too much in love?

Original post: February 11, 2008; repost: March 7, 2010.

Have you ever been so caught up, so affected, so (dare I say) in love with someone that it was hard to think about anything or anyone else? So much so that the first thing you think about in the morning is her and the last thing you think about in the evening is her, and pretty much every moment of the day in between is spent thinking about her; and then you’ve been thinking about her so much during your waking hours that you even dream about her. So much so that you forget to turn off your car and take the keys out of the ignition after driving home with her. And your heart skips a beat when you see her, and the butterflies go crazy in your stomach when she calls, and you just don’t want time to pass when you’re together.

I love being in love.

But it sounds a little unsustainable, doesn’t it? Probably highly inadvisable, maybe even a little unhealthy, in the long run. How would you be able to give our full attention to the other things in life, to papers, or work, or hanging out with other friends, if your mind was completely captured by the other person?

I wonder if our relationship with God works the same way. I love those ‘high points’, those moments of spiritual ecstasy and intensity, where the presence of God is so tangible, where I never want to leave the moment, where I even dream that I’m praying. I love when shivers go down my spine when I see thousands of Christians worshiping together, singing with one voice to the one God. I love it.

But like the heightened sense of being in love, it’s not really sustainable. Because it doesn’t take into account the rest of life, the reality that life is hard and complicated and gritty, and requires perseverance rather than momentary passion, patience rather than immediate gratification, and sometimes, maybe it requires the absence of God to allow us to grow up and learn to relate as adults.

A lot of friends have gone through, and are going through, difficult periods, where God is just absent. And I can’t offer an explanation. For some, they’ve never experienced those spiritual highs, the tangible closeness of God, and they don’t know why. I don’t know why.

Over the years, through wrestling with my own faith and trying to figure out what it’s supposed to look like, I’ve learned to leave some things unexplained and just go on faith. And somehow, God gives me faith enough not to know it all. Wherever you are on your journey, I pray that he gives you faith enough as well.

I think love is a bit of heaven

Of all the words I’ve ever read in all of the books I’ve ever read, this remains one of my favorite passages:

I think love is a bit of heaven. When I was in love I thought about that girl so much I felt like I was going to die and it was beautiful, and she loved me, too, or at least she said she did, and we were not about ourselves, we were about each other, and that is what I mean when I say being in love is a bit of heaven. When I was in love I hardly thought of myself; I thought of her and how beautiful she looked and whether or not she was cold and how I could make her laugh. It was wonderful because I forgot my problems. I owned her problems instead, and her problems seemed romantic and beautiful. When I was in love there was somebody in the world who was more important than me, and that, given all that happened at the fall of humanity, is a miracle, like something God forgot to curse.

— Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz, 151.