Valentine’s Day in first grade brought chocolate, heart-shaped candies, cards, and a classroom party. We created envelopes from construction paper and taped them to the ends of our desks. Everyone got candy. Everyone got cards. We all felt included and acknowledged in some big or small way.
As hormones surfaced, Valentine’s Day shifted. Girlfriends, once so content to spend time with me, suddenly brightened at cards, candy, and flowers sent by the beau of the day. While Katie Smith was getting a pink carnation delivered to her in front of the class, I sat in the back privately snubbing all the boy-crazy girls. And wishing I had a carnation.
As I grew older, my identity rooted more deeply in Christ’s love for me. And, while I enjoyed my life, longings for marriage and motherhood still pervaded my soul. Still I made the best of things. On Valentine’s Day, I gathered my single girlfriends together for an evening of scarfing down chocolate and watching beloved Friends episodes. I assumed my married friends didn’t need such attention, that they celebrated joyfully with one another. While I knew their lives lacked perfection, they at least held membership into my perceptions of a “couples’ club.”
Nearing my fortieth birthday and still single, Valentine’s Day reminded me of sadness I tried to forget. The ache of not being a mother or a wife seemed to grow within me, and I wrestled with God’s plans. One particular February, in the midst of sadness, the Holy Spirit prompted me to remember what I had. A rich life of friends, a career I flourished in, and family I loved. I had even completed my hard-earned graduate degree. God invited me to hold longings and gratitude in the same hand, which cultivated joy in a greater sense of his presence with me.
I never would have guessed that several years later, I would get engaged on Valentine’s Day. It involved a snowstorm, chocolate, and lots of happy screaming. All in front of a LOVE statue at the art museum. Oh, the irony: I'd gone from snubbing Valentine's Day to living a scene from a romantic comedy.
And now, with Valentine’s Day 2021 approaching, and nearly one year into a global pandemic, isolation and depression are at an all-time high. Whether married or single, we may feel this. Many of us miss face-to-face connections with friends, dinners out, and family get-togethers. Single people may feel this more acutely than those married; however, many marriages are suffering, too. Pressures of e-learning with children, navigating anxieties of our world, precarious job situations, and extra care-taking responsibilities are just a few stressors which may cause couples to distance from one another, and as a result experience loneliness.
We’ve been experiencing new challenges in our own home. Once the pandemic started, my husband and I moved my mother-in-law into our home. She experiences dementia and needs help with some of the basics in life. She may be ill, but her heart to help people is fully present. She has been busy crafting little valentine ornaments to give to children at the local shelter we enjoy partnering with. We may even bake heart shaped cookies to go with her gifts. As we share God’s love in this small way, I feel hope rising among the many ashes of this season.
So how do we celebrate Valentine’s Day in a pandemic? We could cancel it, along with everything else in the last eleven months. While this is an acceptable option, there could be an invitation from God to look at this day of love in a different way. 1 John 4:11-12 is a helpful reminder of what true love is:
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
Culture may try to dictate what it means to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but if we are open, God can lead us to a more expansive vision of love.
A first invitation may be for us to reignite our own love for God and receive a fresh wave of his compassion and grace in our lives. It’s been a hard year with much to grieve. This Valentine's Day, know that you are loved. The Lord sees you and has not forgotten you.
A second invitation is to show God’s love in a timely way. With so many people aching for connection, how could you overflow the love of God to a neighbor, colleague, classmate, or even someone inside your own home? This could be a text to a friend asking how they are doing. Maybe surprise your coworker with a hot cup of coffee on her desk. Perhaps it’s an extra hug for your spouse at the end of a long day.
I chuckle at my past assumptions of what Valentine’s Day looked like in marriage. This year may include a romantic candlelight dinner for three and handmade Valentine’s decorations, but there might be time to leave a note of encouragement for my husband and acknowledge all he has carried in recent months.
This Valentine’s Day, let’s multiply God’s love to help all people feel seen and loved. Perhaps we harken back to the first-grade party. Everyone gets candy. Everyone gets cards. And in turn we may be filled with a joy and hope our hearts desperately need as well.