Like the birth of Christ in His crude and unsanitary delivery into the world to deliver us from sin has evolved into twinkle lights and festive gift exchanges, so has gone the way of Saint Valentine’s remembrance to Russel Stover and heart shaped jewelry. Lest I sound like a scrooge and we all collectively eye roll, I quite love both of these holidays. Any chance to express love and affection to people in my life and don some pink duds? Sign me up and give me all the Necco conversation hearts.
What would be the culturally accurate way to celebrate our brother from ancient Rome – Mr. Valentine? He was a physician and priest who gave away his services at no cost, home full of apothecary jars paired with praying to the Great Physician for healing, rumored to have restored sight to the blind daughter of a jailer who served in the courts of emperors and imprisoned for following Christ. It’s also heard that he secretly presided over wedding ceremonies for Christian couples forbidden by the emperor. Lauding Valentine’s shared Biblical definition of love through Christ seems like a good place to start, even if we include mushy cards and dinner reservations to boot.
In our ten years of marriage, my husband and I have endured soaring victories, deep, dark valleys, and thousands of miles of mundane and monotony. Christ has kept us, and we’re confident that we hold together in Him. But it’s hard. Our battle with sin and the flesh threatens to pull apart the seams of our covenant into independent living, selfishness, and complacency. I’ve carried heartache for friends as vows unraveled, and celebrated others in the stages of a happy marriage’s wild ease. I wonder if an insideous threat to marriage is actually just complacency and distraction.
How easily I can grow lazy with my words and distracted in my communication. I’m tired, there are tiny people who clamor for my attention and cannot meet their own needs while my husband is a grown man capable of making himself a sandwich. It’s far more thrilling to meet with a girlfriend for coffee and speak encouragement over her than it is to lay down my life by considering what might bless my husband in unseen and boring ways when I can barely keep the chaos to a minimum under our own roof. Conversation turns easily to what is urgent, while neither carefully choosing words of life nor remembering the gift of our covenant marriage. Saying “yes” to him might bubble up joyfully plenty of days, but it also goes against all of my heavily-guarded kingdom-of-self plenty of days too.
So does Valentine’s Day show up as a blip on my cultural calendar, or is it one day of many life-giving expressions of love? Celebrated in the middle of a lifetime rhythm of choosing him before me, making a thousand tiny choices to love, it can be just darling to love my man. But the world doesn’t really crave the kind of love the Hallmark Valentine’s day is serving. Biblical love? The kind that looks and sounds and lives like Jesus? It’s a battle every day against the kingdom of self and it is so worth it. Even a lifetime of joyful marriage is still finished at the grave, yet it points to something, to Someone Greater. Christ is exalted when I decide His purposes for marriage are more worthy of living than my own ideas of romantic and self-gratifying ways of human love.
As I raise two daughters in a culture where self-expression and self-fulfillment (not self-denial) are two emblems of the age, teaching them that swagger and fiery passion may attract, but self-sacrificing, faithful, Christ-like love are more heated than a flash-in-the-pan romance. Our capacity to love is a broken cistern. We wax and wane in our emotions, but Christ is unchanging in His model of love. He sets Himself as a perfect Husband, and He pours out to us daily so we might walk in His ways. I dearly love my husband, and this only because I’ve been dearly loved first.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God…In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:7, 9-10
I don’t know whether your Happy Hearts Day looks like clinking wine glasses with your dearly beloved spouse or Chinese take-out with your Galentines, but I know that Christ has everlasting Love right there in the middle of it – from the 14th of February to always.