Love's Real Valentine
February 14th – Valentine's Day…a good day for some, a lonely day for others. Where do you sit on that see-saw this year? Why a see-saw?, you might ask. If we buy into the emotions surrounding Valentine's Day – the emotions we think of as "love" – then we're bound to be rapturously "up" one minute and dejectedly "down" the next. Oh, there might be a few days or weeks, even years, between the up and down times, but in our heart-of-hearts we know things will change. With that fear lurking in the shadows, even our general sense of peace about our relationships is fragile and insecure. So, we might well be saying, "Ugh!" to Valentine's Day, if not to the whole experience of being in love.
But this is "love" we're talking about! How can love be anything but, well, LOVE? Why is love so often so hard? And what about Valentine's Day – or any other day for that matter – when I'm not anyone's Valentine?
There are two straightforward answers to these age-old questions and they are found in the Bible.
- Love God.
- “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NIV).
To love God is to be obedient to the words:
- “Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace” (Job 19:13) and
- “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:6).
And then there are the pointed words: "Great peace have they which love thy law and nothing shall offend them" (Ps 119:165). Perhaps the best of all is the promise implied by the fact that "all things work together for good to them who love God" (Rom 8:28).
To put it in the simplest terms, loving God means putting God first, and loving God results in all the good we could possibly need or wish for.
So what's the hard part? It's when we think we have to help God by working as hard as we can to get something or fix something.
That's where the second part of the great commandment enters in: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This is a two-part commandment in and of itself because it requires us to love ourselves first, and then to love our neighbor in the same way and to the same degree. In fact, an inversion of this commandment sheds light on its meaning: we can't truly love our neighbor until we love ourselves.
To love ourselves is not selfish or self-centered. To love ourselves is to acknowledge that we are God's "image and likeness" and that God loves us, each and every one of us, and therefore we must be, are, worthy of that love. And once we're certain about our worthiness of His love, we are ready to acknowledge that God's "image and likeness" (Gen 1:26) reflects love to everyone all the time. Does that sound hard? It shouldn't because our God-given identity is loving and our God-given purpose is to love. That's where our neighbor comes into view – as the object of our love.
Now for the clincher: what's our neighbor doing all this time that we're following through on this great commandment? He and she are doing the exact same thing. This means that they are reflecting love exactly as we are, which means we're receiving it; we're feeling that love all around us.
In fact, we're never, ever, for a single moment, left out or unloved…or without a Valentine. If we don't see that Valentine because he or she isn't the one we've been dreaming of or because there doesn't seem to be anyone in our lives at the moment, we have only to look to our neighbor for the opportunity to express our love, our genuine care, and to put our heart into our daily expressions of love and compassion and tenderness to everyone with whom we come into contact. Imagine how good we'll all feel!
And imagine how many Valentine's we'll have -- and we'll give -- every year!