I remember first celebrating Valentine’s Day in elementary school. Beginning in kindergarten, each year my mom would take me to WalMart to pick out a box of Valentine’s Day cards to give to all my classmates. There were the generic ones with pink and red hearts and cartoon Cupids plastered on flimsy paper cards. These were the cheapest, and, also clearly the lamest. I would beg my mom to upgrade me to peer-approved Disney characters or Care Bears or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed cards. My mom would usually concede to my incessant pleas because for an extra $4.99 you can get your kid to stop badgering you for at least a few minutes. (Thanks, Ma. You are the best!)
Then came the task of properly assigning each card to the right student. My besties would get the best of the lot, obviously. Then came the serious business of making sure every boy received a card that was fun but in no way implied I had a crush on him. This is a very crucial part of the Valentine’s Day Card ritual. If you are careless here, you could end up being teased for an entire week’s worth of recesses. Ain’t nobody got time for that. And finally, the least favorite cards were assigned to my classmates that, well, also happened to be my least favorite. It’s a very passive aggressive but well-practiced way of saying, “you are just alright.” Sad, but true.
When the big day came, I would arrive with my cards in one hand and a bag of Hershey’s kisses in another. Only the very best milk chocolate with exquisite pink and red foil wrapping would do for my classmates.
The whole exchange of cards amongst my classroom lasted no more than 5 minutes, but for those 5 minutes every classmate entered a Valentine’s Day frenzy fueled by sugar and the need to be liked by our peers. We devoured each piece of candy giggling over every card we read, leaving a path of candy wrappers and torn envelopes in our wake.
Those 5 minutes were short-lived but strangely monumental. It mattered in a way we couldn’t quite explain. An occasional feeling would get hurt, especially if someone forgot to give a certain classmate a card, or worse yet, if someone had to live with the embarrassment of forgetting to bring cards for the class altogether. But for the most part, everyone smiled more and laughed more and exchanged hugs and possessed a delightful deeper sense of connection to everyone else in the room.
…As we grow older the rituals of Valentine’s Day morph from card exchanges and classroom giggles to outrageously overpriced reservations at fancy restaurants, heart shaped boxes of chocolates, bouquets of roses, kisses that begin with Kay, declarations of love, and popping the big question. For others, they include a girls’ night out in honor of Galentine’s Day or watching old romantic comedies in our pajamas with Ben and Jerry as our hot dates or long distance phone calls to a special someone we miss a little more on the 14th or even the refusal to participate in a holiday we swear was built by big corporations that are eager to make more money off of society’s sappy notions of romance.
But regardless of our rituals, the day itself does mean something to each of us- whether we want it to or not. For some, it’s a moment to appreciate and connect with the ones we love. For others, it’s a milestone for a new romance. For others, it’s a moment of evaluation- a heart check for how we are truly feeling about our relationship or our singleness these days. For others, it provokes old memories that either warm our heart or poke at an old wound.
On this day, we can feel thankful or lonely or content or nervous or excited or frustrated or ecstatic or disappointed or hopeful or connected or isolated. But one thing’s for sure: it’s a day that makes us feel something, because well, it’s a day built on fantasies and musings of the heart.
To be clear, I’m not writing to warn you to change your feelings surrounding Valentine’s Day if they aren’t “good ones”. Feelings aren’t the enemy here, and neither is the holiday itself. Nor am I writing to challenge you to make this February 14th your very best. That’s all up to you. You gotta do you, boo. And I’m not writing to tell you the do’s and don’ts’s of Valentine’s Day, because I’m not sure I have that all sorted out. One Valentine’s Day I was flying on a plane for work and completely missed it. Another Valentine’s Day, I broke up with a boyfriend. Not one of my prouder moments in life. Another one, I spent binge watching While You Were Sleeping and Sleepless in Seattle while eating a whole bag of tortilla chips and hummus, justifying the entire consumption by telling myself it was my dinner.
I’ve also had some better executed Valentine’s Day celebrations that included fun with friends and “I love you’s” wholeheartedly exchanged and beautiful moments in God’s presence worshipping Jesus and once again receiving new revelations of His love. The point is, there’s not a right way and a wrong way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, including the choice to not celebrate it at all.
But since Valentine’s Day does have a way of speaking to the heart, I’d like to take a stab at that as well. Friend, here’s my hopes for you as this February 14th rolls around, my earnest prayers for your heart and for your soul:
- I hope you know you are fiercely loved. I hope you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your Heavenly Father adores you, that He has always been there in the highs and in the lows; that one look from Him can calm the raging storm of your soul and heal the deepest wounds of your heart; that one word from Him can ignite hope deep within and breathe bravery into your very lungs; that one conversation with Him can deposit wisdom for your world and inexpressible joy in your current circumstances. I hope these words that I write are not merely read by you as religious rhetoric, but as a gentle knock on the door of your heart. And I hope you respond by opening that door to knowing afresh and anew, knowing more fully and deeply and wildly the sheer happiness of having a Heavenly Father that extravagantly cheers you on, boldly believes in you, lavishly loves you, relentlessly provides for you, and passionately protects you. When a woman is deeply loved, she becomes truly unstoppable… May the love of God fashion you into a force to be reckoned with on this earth.
- I hope you lean into life-giving community. I hope you intentionally reach out and towards the remarkable people God has placed in your world. Loneliness is a brutal bully no one should endure. Don’t let it insult your self-worth or rob you of your hope and joy. You were made to love and be loved, to take your seat at the table of the family of God and to experience the beautiful and rewarding chaos and riches of community. Deny the temptation to isolate and withdraw from those who love you. Plan a girls’ night out or catch up with an old friend or spend more time listening to your boyfriend or husband over dinner than you do checking your phone. Open your heart to the possibility that there are more discoveries to be made about someone close to you, more wisdom and encouragement to give and receive, more adventures to be had, and tears and laughter to be shared. I hope you go ahead and plan to make some new wonderful memories with those you love.
- I hope you believe you’re worth it in the wait. For those of you a bit disappointed with how your romantic goals are shaping up this Valentine’s Day, I want to remind you that where you happen to be in the waiting game of unfulfilled dreams is not a reflection of your worth. Just because you are waiting doesn’t mean you are lacking. In other words, you don’t have to become anyone else to be more loveable. You are simply beautiful and extraordinary exactly as you are. Yes, we should always be aspiring to become more Christ-like and to mature and grow, but not because it makes us more attractive or dateable or marriage material. You are worth loving just the way you are. Jesus thought so on the cross. And He thinks so every single day of your life. I hope you don’t lower your standards because you are weary of waiting, and you don’t shame yourself for not being in a different season of life than you are, and don’t give up on believing that in due time, your hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. Instead, I hope you rest in the knowledge that you are worth love and pursuit and that you are filled with peace, hope and uncontainable joy right where you are.
- I hope you understand you have something extraordinary to give. Your attention is valuable; your words are powerful; your acts of kindness can change someone’s world. You have something remarkable to give every day. Your smile matters. Your time matters. Your generosity matters. Your thoughtfulness matters. Your work matters. Your bravery matters. Your voice matters. You are the light of the world. You are chosen and called by Jesus to share the Good News of His love and to bring change and hope to what is broken and filled with darkness. You have more to give than you realize, so this Valentine’s Day- a day devoted to notions of love, I pray you give some away.