Valentine’s day is upon us, and I for one am looking forward to it! Like many, I always enjoy the chance to celebrate love shared with my wife. But Valentine’s Day seems to give us permission to celebrate this in a way that other days do not. I have to ask why? What is it about Feb 14 that it demands attention of lovers the world over? Why does this day hold such special significance? And what exactly are we celebrating anyway?
It is significant for me NOT because I spoil my wife with the obligatory roses and Lindt dark chocolate. Nor do we see it as a reason to find an overpriced hotel room and make love late into the night – as if we need an excuse for that anyway (pretty sure many of you are wishing I had not said that… over share?). It is significant because I see it as an opportunity to remember the KIND of love that makes our relationship. Let me explain.
A lot of the hoohaa surrounding valentines day is based on the hope of individuals who desire to be swept off their feet and showered with gifts. This supposed act of romance and love is basically an expression of worship at the altar of ME. That is –
“I, the demigod deserving of ALL attention and affection, will be celebrated, honoured and ravished beyond reason, because I simply DESERVE this sort of treatment. I need not do anything to earn it, I simply have a right to be treated this way, because I AM the most important person in the world.”
This is a reflection of some of the most common motivations observed in our culture – the individuals desire to be known, revered and adored… basically, to be treated like a god. In old-school terms we call it idolatry.
Furthermore, the measure of success relating to such attention is viewed through the lens of sexual power. On Valentines Day many a person will seek out a Valentine’s date with a view to being ravished at the altar of desire. Whilst many don’t think twice about such an encounter, for some it is the ultimate sign of a successful Valentine’s Day. For some, they even feel loved for a moment (or two… if they’re lucky). Who can blame them? Such an encounter only resembles the attitude and inference of the numerous trashy rom-coms beamed into our homes 24/7. And what of it you say? Well, when a quickie and a one night stand is portrayed as either comical or the pinnacle of personal ecstasy, humans are devalued and love is cheapened. It’s a bit like bingeing on a bag of Snakes Alive but convincing yourself you’re dining on fine Belgian truffles.
This is far from the original significance associated with Valentine’s Day. February 14 has an origin and a history, and like most things its truth and significance are found there. The legend of St. Valentine extends far beyond the often ascribed commercial value of roses, chocolates and meaningless sex. It is a powerful reminder of the essential nature of love and what love really looks like.
St. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught aiding and marrying young Christian couples who were under persecution by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. It is said that Claudius took a liking to this prisoner, and understandably so. After all, Valentinus was attributed with healing a prison guard’s blind daughter. However Valentinus made one fatal mistake. He tried to convert the Emperor and as a consequence on February 14, 269 CE he was sentenced to death, beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him he was then beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate. Valentinus was later made the patron Saint of love, young people and happy marriages.
St. Valentine is mostly remembered for his willingness to help those who were being persecuted – the outcast, marginalised and disadvantaged. He was known for his commitment to serve those with need. He was known for his willingness to live for the sake of others, even at the cost of his own life. Indeed his desire to see young love set free in marriage when the present authorities would not recognise their union was in itself an act of love. It could be said that his willingness to share his faith in God with the Emperor, who ultimately ordered his death, was motivated by love. And indeed his willingness to do these things, knowing it could well cost him his life, demonstrates love in the highest order. It seems that personal gain, adoration and pleasure were not at all part of the equation for St. Valentine.
The life and love expressed by St. Valentine was nothing like an episode of Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, Two and a Half Men or Two Broke Girls. The life of St. Valentine displays something far more meaningful.
A love that seeks to serve the other, not the self.
An active love, demonstrated by personal cost.
A love that fights for human rights and personal freedom.
A love that celebrates the sanctity of marriage and elevates the beauty of that.
Perhaps Jesus said it best –
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 (TNIV)
So… long after the chocolates are eaten, the roses are dead and the physical pleasure is gone, what kind of love will you celebrate on Valentine’s Day? St. Valentine stood for the kind of love that deserves our full attention. It was tough, gritty, sacrificial and real. He offered the greatest possible human expression of love – his life. That’s the kind of love that will sustain a relationship for the long haul. It’s the kind of love that anyone can outwork regardless of their relationship status. And that is the kind of love that I choose to celebrate on Valentine’s Day.
Over to you… How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? What action demonstrates this kind of love to someone special in your life? How can you express these attributes of love in the everyday?