This month brings with it one of the most loved and hated days of the whole year- Valentine’s Day. Of course it is a Hallmark creation that most of society eats up hook, line, and sinker, but it is a real part of our society nonetheless. There are bound to be as many sales on roses and chocolates as lists of things to do for singles and reasons to not want a relationship. Valentine’s day can draw a stark dividing line between those in love and those in want.
While it is sad that we have allowed the very idea of love to become commercialized, I am not writing about that here. Love is not a commodity; but it is also not primarily something that we receive. I actually don’t mind the fact that Hallmark has capitalized on a day to express love. The problem is that it is not love that most people are “expressing.” There is a difference between loving and being loved. Most of the time what people consider love is the yearning to receive something from someone else; it is the desire to be loved. This desire is also a great thing, as we were created to receive love, but it is not the same as loving another.
Love is an act of self-gift. We love when we give something of ourselves to someone. This act of self-gift is completed by the other person receiving the gift. Too often we get the idea that loving is an exchange of gifts. We think the act of love is completed once the other person gives us a gift as well. If we love with the expectation of getting something back in return, this is not actually love.
If Valentine’s Day is all about loving, then you only need to find someone to love. That’s easy! There are plenty of people to love, and even more if you don’t expect them to give you anything back. Loving is something that single and committed people alike can do. Everyone can participate in Valentine’s Day if we look at it correctly.
To take this reflection a step further, we can ask where we get the ability to love in the first place. As Christians we believe that it is only because we are first loved by God that we can love others. We experience the fulfillment of that desire to be loved when we open to the love that God has for us. This is, in fact, the deepest way for that desire to be fulfilled, even for married men and women. A human relationship will never satisfy the heart’s longing to be loved with infinite love. Only by orienting first to receiving God’s love does any other relationship work. This orientation is for every person, single or not.
On Valentine’s Day, this should be good news to those out there not in romantic relationships. In the world’s perspective, there might be reason for bitterness on Valentine’s Day, but Christ has overcome the world. That’s good news. This should also offer some balance to those of you who feel on top of the world this year because you got the biggest heart shaped box of chocolates. While good, that’s not the same kind of good.
Here are those two steps I promised.
Step 1: Take some time to think about how much you have been loved by God. You have to actually do this. Don’t write to me telling me your Valentine’s Day still sucked if you don’t take this step.
Step 2: Think of someone that might not know how much God loves him or her. This person is wide open to receiving love, and you can be the one to give it. You don’t have to preach about God’s love, you just have to put it into action. Take the love you have from God, and transform that into some act of self-gift that you give to someone else. This can be a family member, a co-worker, or the check-out girl at the grocery store. Cooking for someone, babysitting someone else’s kids, or leaving a bigger-than-usual tip are all simple things that you can do. Use your imagination. The more self-gifts you give, the better your day will be.