Since I woke up on Valentine’s morning in a less than romantic mood, and my long-suffering husband and I didn’t even mention Valentine’s Day until after work, I thought it best to leave the lovey-dovey posts to others yesterday. Valentine’s Day is often not the most romantic day of the year – for us anyway. It brings with it the pressure to be sentimental to order, which neither of us are good at. We’ve been better in the last few years, but yesterday it wasn’t happening. I’ll take the half price flowers and chocolate today, if they’re seventy per cent off tomorrow, even better. (Actually hold the chocolate, I’m trying to be good.)
Anyway, the days before and after Valentine’s, just like the days before and days following any declaration of love are more significant. Love is a big word. It is much more than a bunch of flowers and some chocolates, more than grand romantic gestures (though I’m not averse to those). Though saying it is important, love works itself out in actions. Putting another first. A daily discipline of choosing to love, even when the one being loved may not be loveable all the time. It doesn’t sound so romantic, but this is love. If both parties in a relationship choose to love this way it’s a win-win. Not everyone is so evenly matched, not many all the time, and at some point there will probably be sacrifices made to love another. It can be painful. The choice costs.
When we landed in Canada, eight years ago this month, we arrived ten days before Valentine’s Day. The kids started school and in those chaotic few days of moving and settling in, two of our girls brought back class lists so they could write little Valentine’s postcards to everyone in the class. It’s even more of a tradition than writing Christmas cards here. At the time it seemed such a hassle, but I’ve come to appreciate this widening of Valentine’s wishes to include sending love to friends, even if it’s mainly among younger children. Our culture tends to idealize sentiment and romance – pursues those things as if a romantic partner will make us complete. This is so unhelpful for those who are single or celibate. It’s so damaging for our teenagers. Love is so much more.
I read through a few Valentine’s articles yesterday. A piece by Tish Harrison Warren for Christianity Today, entitled God’s Message on Ash Valentine’s Day: True Love Dies caught my eye. She says,
In John 15, Jesus said that the greatest form of love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Strikingly, he holds up the highest ideal of love as friendship, not erotic love. And, perhaps more shockingly, the highest form of love is not “happily ever after,” but love that results in suffering and death for your friends.
I’m not sure I’d considered the friends part of this before, even though I’m very familiar with John 15. I think most of us would do anything for members of our family, but friends? We hear stories of true courage to the death like this on a battlefield, or in a school shoot out when people put themselves in harms way to save others. We recognize how heroic this action is.
Yet even in the every day simple choices we can follow Jesus’ example of laying down his life, in giving up our time for others, in dying to our own comfort or convenience to help others. Jesus himself calls us ‘friends’ in John 15, and He is the one who makes it possible to be His friend:
‘One will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person be would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’ Romans 5:7-8, ESV
The ultimate example is dying even for those who aren’t yet friends, who aren’t even guaranteed to love us back, as Jesus did for us.
Some days in my feeble humanity I’m done with the dying. Yesterday morning was a prime example. My flesh does not want to die for my husband, my kids or for anyone when I don’t feel like it. I want the fairytale and the happily ever after without all the hard stuff, please, thank you and good night. I know I can not muster the love up by myself all the time, I need the Holy Spirit’s power to enable me to love like Jesus. Yet the more I do, the more love is poured out.
It helps to have hope. Hope in a Saviour who is raised to life, giving us hope for resurrection ourselves. An eternal hope makes the hard choices to truly love easier to make this side of heaven. Hope of the real fairytale ending of Christ united with His church in perfect love, an ending bought with the sacrifice of a loving God.
I hope too to leave the marks of love behind as I walk through this life on the day after Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year. Making space to love the people in front of me, to be a good friend in the true sense of the word. Gradually becoming less selfish and prideful and more able to give. More like Jesus.