Reflecting on Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. A young lady asked me at church yesterday if Valentine’s Day is for girls or for guys. I said I thought that it was for girls because they need to hear how much they are loved by the ones who love them. Men are rocks and don’t need to be on the receiving end of flowers, chocolates, cards and hearts. My wife and daughter are the treasured women in my life, so my goal is to let them know how much they are loved. But men also need to hear how much they are loved, in spite of their faults, failures and denials. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36 regarding that we are to love our enemies. Here is the key portion of Scripture for me:

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!” (Luke 6:32)

Valentine’s Day is a day set apart for celebrations of romantic love, but let me offer my thoughts on this passage that focuses on love.

The origins of this holiday are somewhat unsure. Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus) were recognized as martyred saints by the church. One of these was buried near Rome on February 14. Medieval tradition held that this particular Valentine, a priest, was marrying Christian couples in a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying. For this crime, he was arrested and killed by the Roman government. In recent times, an addition to this story claims that Valentine, before his death, sent a love note to a young girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that any of the historical saints named Valentine actually did any of these actions that might be associated with romantic love. Apparently, the connection between St. Valentine and romance was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th-century English writer and poet. Later writers on the saints embellished Chaucer’s story, leaving us with the Christian saint who honored marriage and sent the first Valentine’s Day card.

I grew up hearing very little about St. Valentine. February 14 was simply a day when we did special things to express affection for our friends and family members. The “big event” happened at school, when we would exchange valentines with our classmates. As soon as I got home after school, I’d dump out my pile of valentines to see if any of them included special notes from any of the girls in my class or perhaps finding those little candy hearts.

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jesus’ call to love. Our Valentine’s Day traditions seem to be completely disconnected from what we read in Luke 6:32: “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them.”

Yet, in a way, my childhood Valentine’s Day practice did express love like that of Jesus. I did not give valentines only to my friends or to the girls I hoped would like me in return. My fellow students and I were expected to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom we didn’t care for, those whom we judged to be “weird,” and those we might have considered to be our “enemies” on the playground. We even gave cards to the kids who did not participate. Ironically, our valentine exchange was more a reflection of the kind of love Jesus commends in Luke 6 than it was a celebration of exclusive, romantic love.

I think it’s fine to be reminded to express love to those who are most special to us. If Valentine’s Day encourages spouses to say “I love you” to each other and friends to celebrate their friendship, that’s great. Certainly the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often. But Jesus encourages us to love, not just those who love us back, but also those who do not love us at all. We all have people in our lives, at work, in the store, perhaps even in our families or our church. Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they might respond, but so that we might live each day in obedience to our Savior who loves us.

God help us to express our love for those who are closest to us, but, even more pray that God help us to love others as he has loved us.

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