My first husband said he didn’t love me the day before Valentine’s Day. Two weeks later, he moved to another state.
I will never forget that day, try as I might. That cold rainy day in February is forever etched in my mind. It was the day my old life ended, and a new unwanted life began.
At first I couldn’t process what was happening. It didn’t seem real. Our children had thought we were happy. Outsiders had thought we were happy. I naively had thought we were happy too. I assumed we’d make it through this.
But as the details became apparent and weeks turned into months, I felt increasingly hopeless. After months of mourning, I was forced to embrace my new normal.
God helped me pull my life back together, but I was left with a deep ache. The first year after he left, I dreaded Valentine’s Day for weeks beforehand. What would I do? How would I spend the day? Could I move past my painful memories?
I made it through, though I emptied several boxes of Kleenex. Valentine's Day reminded me of what I didn’t have. What I never had. And what I’d lost.
I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling. I’ve had numerous friends, married and single, who find Valentine’s Day depressing. It’s a day just to make it through and hope that February 15 brings something happier.
But is that the way to best make it through? Do we stay in bed, feel sorry for ourselves and hope the day passes quickly? As Christians, how should we view Valentine's Day?
History records several saints named Valentine, each with a unique story, but all of them focusing on self-sacrificing love. None of their stories involved romantic love. All of these saints were motivated out of love for God and for others.
So perhaps this day, I too should be motivated out of love for God and for others. Maybe I need to let go of unpleasant memories. Maybe I need to see it as a day to serve others and sacrifice for them. Maybe I need to recognize that I don’t need someone to make much of me. God already does that as he delights in his children.
God delights in us; we don’t need people to celebrate us. We don’t need people to make much of us. And we don’t need people to satisfy our hearts. They can’t. Single or married, loved or unloved, Jesus is the only one who can meet our deepest needs and satisfy our unmet longings. No earthly relationship can carry that weight.
Perhaps Valentine’s Day should be about loving others with the love of Christ, without expecting anything in return. In considering what that looks like, my mind is drawn back to a story I read in college, from the book Improving Your Serve by Chuck Swindoll:
Little Chad was a shy quiet young fella. One day he came home and told his mother he'd like to make a valentine for everyone in his class. Her heart sank. She thought, I wish he wouldn't do that! because she had watched the children when they walked home from school. Her Chad was always behind them. They laughed and hung on to each other and talked to each other. But Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she decided she would go along with her son. So she purchased the paper and glue and crayons. For three whole weeks, night after night, Chad painstakingly made thirty-five valentines.
Valentine's Day dawned, and Chad was beside himself with excitement! He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag, and bolted out the door. His mom decided to bake him his favorite cookies and serve them up warm and nice with a cool glass of milk when he came home from school. She just knew he would be disappointed ... maybe that would ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think that he wouldn't get many valentines-maybe none at all.
That afternoon she had the cookies and milk on the table. When she heard the children outside she looked out the window. Sure enough here they came, laughing and having the best time. And, as always, there was Chad in the rear. He walked a little faster than usual. She fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. His arms were empty, she noticed, and when the door opened she choked back the tears.
"Mommy has some warm cookies and milk for you."
But he hardly heard her words. He just marched right on by, his face aglow, and all he could say was:
"Not a one ... not a one." Her heart sank.
And then he added, "I didn't forget a one, not a single one!"
I didn’t forget a one, not a single one.
Chad didn’t even notice whether he received valentines or not. He was more concerned with giving than receiving. His focus was on other people.
That’s where my focus should be. I need to take my eyes off myself on Valentine’s Day. I need to stop thinking about what I’m missing and pay attention to the needs around me.
Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us (John 15:12), to do good expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35) and that it is more blessed to give than receive. (Acts 20:35) Paul tells us to consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:4) and to outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10). Peter says to bless those who have hurt us (1 Peter 3:9). John exhorts us to lay down our lives for others (1 John 3:16) and to love in truth by our actions (1 John 3:18).
Valentine’s Day should be a day to make much of others.
This year it coincides with Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. How appropriate. We celebrate and commemorate the one who loved us extravagantly and gave his life for us for 40 days beginning with Valentine’s Day.
So what should you do if you’re dreading Valentine’s Day?
Revel in God’s love for you and set apart time to spend with him. Remember that his love is far deeper and more lasting than any human love.
And then try serving others, giving without expecting anything in return. This year, I am writing a letter to two people who have had an impact on my life. I also want to intentionally look out for people who might be struggling this day. I’m sure there are many if I stop to think about it. I want to deliberately forge new habits that make me focus on others this day and not myself.
Would you join me? Do you have any ideas on how to celebrate Valentine’s Day and make much of others? I’d love to hear them in the comments.