This past weekend, at a women’s retreat called “Strength for the Journey,” I was reminded of the true story (perhaps with every good legend’s embellishments!) of Valentine’s Day. Centuries ago, a man named Valentine was imprisoned and sentenced to death by an emperor who wanted men sold out to him and his cause. His offense? Valentine, who loved God deeply, performed weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry as they went off to war and also ministered to Christians at a time of great persecution. Sensing this man’s goodness and decency, the prison guard entrusted his little girl, who was blind and couldn’t get the standard education, into Valentine’s instruction. The little girl learned with delight, longing to see through Valentine’s eyes, worlds she had never seen. When the time came for Valentine to be executed, he left behind a note for his well-loved student: “With love, your Valentine.’ He was executed on February 14th, the one saint’s day we all celebrate.
So… great loves are to be celebrated, and Valentine’s Day is the day to celebrate them! But like most holidays, Valentine’s Day is loaded. For those who have a great romance or marriage, it’s a quintessentially happy day. For those who have cherished kids or grandkids on whom they can lavish cute cards, yummy cookies, and a sure certainty that their young valentines are so very special…it can be delightful.
But for widows, singles, childless, or those locked into tedious, disappointing, hostile or empty marriages, it can be anything but happy—filled with anguished longing, loneliness, hopelessness, morbid preoccupation with “why not me?,” and envy--feeling like a “have-not,” envying the “have’s.”
It can be a very tough day. Our society is way over-sexualized and over-romanticized; it’s as if the “good life” can’t happen apart from romance and sex. Valentine’s Day, then, becomes a painful reminder of what many people don’t have—or once had and very sadly lost,
If Valentine’s Day is not an automatically happy day for you, this is an invitation to be creative this 14th—to step out of the box (the Valentine-shaped box of candy!) and create a day of love that flows with and makes sense in your life. Visit a lonely, cantankerous parent—maybe it’s drudgery being with him… and yet satisfying knowing you showed up; have tea with a(nother?) widow in your neighborhood; give a cookie to the mailman; share a glass of merlot with a friend who shares in or “gets” your misery… and helps transcend it. Be intentional. Make time for a “favorite thing’ with a favorite friend. At any given season of life, we can’t guarantee romance or make it happen; we can choose to love—or simply, to do acts of kindness that invite closeness or cheer us and someone else up.
It’s okay to mope some (see the entry on “Listening to Your Body”). If you don’t have a love that’s easy to celebrate, you’ve a right to your sadness which could be labeled honest mourning rather than feeling sorry for yourself. But remember, the true originator of the day was a man who loved God heartily enough to die for him, and the first valentine was sent to a little blind girl that this older man loved and helped right before he died. That first Valentine’s Day was a day of mourning as well as triumph; it had nothing (and perhaps everything) to do with romance.