A trip through any store in the last few weeks will remind you it is Valentine’s Day. For such a minor holiday (relative to those like Easter and Christmas), the stores and advertisements are sure counting on this one for sales. I read that Valentine’s Day spending nationwide is expected to reach $27.4 billion this year (NBC). But, getting back to the origins of the holiday shows there is no need for all the candy and flowers and drama. One story of St. Valentine is that he would remind Christians of God’s love. It is said he cut hearts from parchment, giving them to the soldiers and persecuted Christians. He was a martyr, who was killed because he was faithful to God. St. Valentine was arrested and condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off by Emperor Claudius II. That is far less romantic than how we see this holiday portrayed on television. But, rather than dismissing this holiday, I think getting back to the real meaning is more important, especially this year.
My memories of Valentine’s Day are from kindergarten and elementary school and making a Valentine’s box from a shoebox. Decorating the box, cutting the hole at the top and bringing it to school all excited. I looked in the stores last weekend and saw those kits with different Valentines on sheets to tear out and to fill out and attach a piece of candy. Everyone got a Valentine from everyone else in the class. Things seemed so much simpler back then.
St. Teresa of Calcutta said,
“There is much suffering in the world – physical, material, mental. The suffering of some can be blamed on the greed of others. But the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.”
The world now is not so simple. We can choose to tear each other down with rumors, gossip, cliques, judgments, exclusion. We think of this happening in middle school and high school, but it happens every day with “grown-ups” as well.
Maybe this Valentine’s Day, instead of buying into the commercial expectations, we simply give the gift of time and energy and actions. Maybe, like St. Valentine, we can simply remind people around us that they have value, that God loves them, that they are not alone. Keep it simple. Make people in your life feel valued. This does not require candy, flowers, or mug with a stuffed animal in it. In some countries, Valentine’s Day is not about romance and grand gestures between couples, but simple acts of appreciation between friends.
Every person counts. Every voice counts. Every person’s feelings count. The best gift, the greatest gift, on Valentine’s Day could be acknowledging that someone matters.
As we begin Lent this week, we think of things to give up. Instead of giving up soda or sweets, we could choose to give up exclusion, gossip and rumors. We could make a commitment to listen more than we speak. We turn off the echo chambers and acknowledge that the world has room for everyone. We could re-focus on truth. We could give up indifference – indifference to what is real and true and dismissiveness to other people’s pain.
It is challenging, to spend every day climbing uphill only to roll back down, and always fighting the waves coming in to knock you down. The constant feeling of not being good enough is hard. I am going to spend Lent with another quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta.
“Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.”
Giving my best might not be good enough for some people, but I need to trust it is good enough for God. I never know when I wrestle with these feelings if I am alone. But just in case I am not, I share this so you can be reassured also. Maybe, like St. Valentine, we could just take the time to remind fellow Christians of God’s love and their worth. A Valentine’s gift similar to those given out around the year 270 A.D. It seems so simple, but too often it is easier for people to buy something and call it good.
So I remind you, God loves you. Remember, 1 John 4:19,
“We love because he first loved us.”
It is just that simple. He loves you on Valentine’s Day, on Ash Wednesday this week as we begin Lent, and every day. That fact is way better than chocolates or a stuffed bear. And to my pandemic pods (cool 2020 word for friends), I appreciate you. Happy St. Valentine’s Day!