[…] if we love one another, God dwells in us, and God’s love
is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12 The Inclusive Bible).
One February 14th, in the mid-1960s, my warm, caring, generous step-father, Bob, did not give a Valentine’s Day card, flowers, chocolates, or any other present to my mom. Mother, secure in her husband’s love, would have kept Bob’s oversight to herself except that she worked in an office with four protective men who were eagerly watching for the roses that never arrived for their office manager, whom they greatly appreciated. By the end of the day, Mother’s boss telephoned Bob and reprimanded him. The following day a dozen long-stemmed red roses were delivered to Mother at her office, along with the following note: “I don’t need Valentine’s Day to remind me that I love you. I love you 360 days a year.–Bob.”
i’ve always liked that story, which contains various lessons, such as my mother’s ability to laugh joyously, rather than be offended, by Bob’s lack of concern about details, such as the number of days in a year. Other learnings include Mother’s loving and forgiving attitude, Bob’s openness to feedback from his wife’s boss, Bob’s understanding that we can love one another in ways a bit different from the “romantic” ones our society insists on, and the example of how we can choose to focus on loving rather than on being loved.
How might we be more loving as yet another global pandemic Valentine’s Day approaches, as well as more loving throughout the year? As we express love to our sweethearts in whatever ways please them, we can also remember those who feel left out on February 14th, a day on which many individuals of all ages feel particularly vulnerable. A delightful example of such thoughtfulness was my friend Jeanne’s actions on Valentine’s Day, 1980 about three weeks before my first husband’s and my divorce was finalized. Upon arriving home after work in the dark, i was greeted by a beautiful bright yellow daffodil placed in my door knocker. What a difference that precious flower and Jeanne’s sweet note made that evening and on vulnerable days afterward.
During the decades that followed, i observed that Jeanne was extremely supportive of her numerous friends, family, and acquaintances. After Jeanne died at age 80 on August 24, 2020, here’s how her obituary described one of many ways in which Jeanne behaved lovingly: “She cultivated her garden in the same way she cultivated her friendships, befriending the unique ones who might not be seen or heard by the masses, but were accepted unconditionally by her.”
Surely the most thoughtful, helpful communities of all are churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other faith communities. First Congregational UCC members likely appreciate, as i do, that in early February whenever college students have been a part of our congregation, we’ve sent them Valentine greetings of “love boxes,” including homemade cookies, other snacks, study supplies, and notes. i’ve always liked that caring gesture to our young people, hard at work in their studies. Maybe as individuals, we could, occasionally throughout the year, do something similar for vulnerable friends, neighbors, family, or church members of all ages.
Wouldn’t it be great if all adults and children carried out the attitude of my elementary school teachers, and probably yours? In the 1950s, each of my classmates had his or her handmade “valentine mailbox;” if we wanted to deliver valentines, we were to give one to each child. No one in my class would suffer Charlie Brown’s agony on Valentine’s Day upon facing his empty mailbox.
Let’s remember that widows and widowers are among those most vulnerable as February 14th approaches each year. As we consider how to be supportive, it would be good to first pray for guidance and sensitivity to what kinds of actions various persons would most welcome.
Moreover, as we expand our generosity of self, thoughts, prayers, gifts, and love greetings to others, let us look also at our human tendencies to give with less than fully loving hearts. Though we do not consciously intend to, our gifts on Valentine’s Day, as well as throughout the year, may at times be motivated by such things as keeping up with the Joneses, giving in the hope of receiving, wanting to impress others, giving with strings attached, and giving out of duty. How sad that our society’s lopsided focus on romance can encourage us to make a god out of gift-giving and actually interfere in our ability to love one another and to love God.
Isn’t it ironic that our current ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day, including much commercialism, are so different from the ideals of this holiday’s namesake? According to Robert Ellsberg’s 1997 All Saints; Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, Saint Valentine is an example of John 15:13: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Ellsberg writes:
Saint Valentine was […] a Christian priest in Rome who assisted martyrs during the persecution under Emperor Claudius II. He was eventually arrested and sent before the prefect of Rome. When he refused to renounce his faith, he was beaten and beheaded. Thus, by offering his heart, he proved himself a true devotee of the God of Love (p. 77).
A heart is certainly the appropriate symbol for Valentine’s Day! Every year let’s each do our part to ensure that the valentines we mail, text, email, deliver in person, Zoom, or proclaim over the telephone be based more and more on loving others as God loves us.
Dear God of Love, please help us focus on the Spiritual, instead of the material, and be more loving on Valentine’s Day as well as throughout the year. Amen.
Much of this was first published in Indianapolis’s Garden City Christian (Disciples) Church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Garden City News, February 9, 2000.