I have always loved Valentine’s Day.
I know it gets a lot of bad press. I’ve heard it called “Singles Awareness Day” and I can understand why. I understand how people can feel left out – especially when they are bombarded with pictures of happy couples everywhere they look. I know it’s tough to see people write about how amazing their husband/wife is and how that person has been there for them through every step of life’s journey. It’s tough especially for those who are single because every happy post or tweet seems to make matters worse. It can feel like a day to emphasize emptiness and broken hearts.
I am aware of all of these things. Still, somehow, I find myself loving this holiday.
I am single too. I can understand every emotion above because I’ve been there. Maybe it is because I am an outsider to Valentine’s Day that I am enchanted by it – like an anthropologist who is studying a local community. You see, I have never experienced Valentine’s Day from a couple’s perspective. Every romantic relationship I have had has ended right before February 14 or began right after it. I am curious as to what it would be like to join in this gigantic community of practicing romantics and to be welcomed as one of them but, as of this moment, I can only observe from the outside.
I am OK with this. You might think this would make me sad but I can honestly say that it doesn’t. I suppose a big part of this is linked to two simple facts:
1. To me, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love,
2. Romantic love isn’t the only kind of love that exists.
As a missionary kid, I grew up with a holiday much like Valentine’s Day. In my (other) country we actually called the holiday “The Day of Love and Friendship.” I love that concept because I think it really tries to encompass the beautiful and complex thing that love is. Love is a vibrant, living, multifaceted experience. It is both a noun and a verb. It can apply to so many situations. One of my favorite poems says that love
“bears [all things] out even to the edge of doom.” (“Sonnet 116,” Shakespeare)
It’s also a part of one of my favorite biblical passages:
“[Love] beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (I Corinthians 13:7)
The word “bear” amazes me here (Not the grizzly or polar kind, of course. The verb – but you knew that). We often interpret it to mean something like “carry” as in “love carries the weight of the world” or “love helps you to carry burdens.” And that definition absolutely works in this context. But we use this word in other contexts as well.
It is also the term we employ when describing what a mother goes through in pregnancy: she bears a child. When I think of how love “bears all things,” I am reminded of what it means to bear a child (or to bear fruit, to apply another biblical context). When a mother bears a child, she carries that child because she knows she is carrying life. It is difficult sometimes – painful even – but she keeps going because she knows that in a short period of time life will be produced. In this context, love doesn’t just carry things – it nurtures life and is nurtured by life even in the most difficult of situations.
When I think of love in this way, I am completely overwhelmed.
I also feel a need to allow love to move freely in all of my relationships in life. There is no force more powerful. There is no element so pure. Love surpasses all. It is when I have looked at love from multiple angles and have expanded my definition that I am reminded of another beautiful verse:
“God is love.” (I John 4:8)
It is in this verse (and the one preceding it) that John reminds us of the need to love one another. The love we have one for another is how we are identified as His disciples. It is how we come to know Him. The more we understand of love, the more we understand Him. The more we love those around us, the more we understand how He loves us.
And so I return now to Valentine’s Day – the celebration of love.
I know that the tradition on this day is to celebrate romantic love and, if you have that in your life right now, I commend you for celebrating it. Go big and go small. Enjoy your flowers, chocolate, and selfies. Hold hands under the moonlight. Enjoy long walks into the sunset. Do all of the things people say are cliches but also remember that love is more than the sum of these things. Allow its meanings to wash over you and color everything that you do. Express your love and be proud it is in your life.
However, if you’re not “in a relationship” (to use the Facebook terminology), I would urge you to celebrate still. Regardless of what the world around you may say, you have so many reasons to rejoice. Celebrate the fact that you have people in your life who love you. Celebrate your family – those who are living and those who have passed on. Celebrate the friends who are in your life. Celebrate the strangers who have shown you kindness in an hour of need. Celebrate your children. Celebrate your pets!
And if you look around you and truly don’t think you have love of any kind in your life, celebrate the fact that you have a God who gave up the splendor of heaven to die for you – before you even asked Him to or realized you needed Him to – and is currently preparing a place for you that is more wondrous than your mind is able to comprehend. Celebrate the fact that He is coming back to take you home. Celebrate the fact that you are complete in Him. Celebrate these things most of all.
This lovely thing we call life is far too short and the people in it are only with us for a few precious moments. Love them while you can. Cherish them for as long as possible. Hold them until your arms grow weak and then hold them some more. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
Most of all, don’t let this beautiful day be the only one you use to celebrate those you love. Love is far too precious and powerful to be contained in a 24 hour temporal prison. Unleash it and let it do what it was destined to do. Show love to those who have never felt it. Demonstrate love to people who don’t deserve it. Remind the people in your life how dear they are to you.
To my friends and family (and pets!): I am thankful for you today. Know that you are loved and valued on this and every other day of my life.