“Do you want to come over and make valentines?”
I had to read my friend’s message twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Sure enough, though, she was inviting another friend and me to her house for a card-making party. I was almost thirty years old . . . surely too old for cutting out paper hearts. And I certainly wasn’t the crafty type. But then there was the biggest issue: I didn’t have anyone to give a valentine to. Without a husband or boyfriend in the picture, what was the point?
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I was a fan of the holiday anymore. I didn’t necessarily consider myself a Valentine’s Grinch, but the day had lost its sheen somewhere along the way. Perhaps I’d seen one too many commercials for diamond rings each February, or maybe I’d spent too many Valentine’s Days with only a bowl of ice cream for company. Whatever the reason, February 14 now seemed to be a celebration of everything I longed for but didn’t have.
Despite my internal objections, however, my friend’s enthusiasm was contagious (and besides, she promised to make her famous maple-brown-sugar baked oatmeal). So I packed up an eclectic assortment of stickers and scraps of paper and headed to her house.
After we spread all our materials across the table, I sat and stared for a few minutes as my friends dove into the scissors and paper. Where do I even begin?
“Um, who are you making valentines for?” I asked my friends.
“I’m making one for my husband,” Catherine said.
“My boyfriend,” Luann chimed in.
I paused, stymied. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Then Catherine went on: “After that, I’m making one for my sister.”
“And I’m making some for my nieces and nephews,” Luann said.
My mind drifted back to my childhood, when I’d carefully pick out cardboard cut-out valentines for each person in my class, along with a handful of chalky candy hearts. Back in elementary school, the holiday hadn’t been about the romantic haves and have-nots; it was a celebration of love in the broader sense. How had I lost sight of that along the way?
In his classic book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis explains that although we have only one English word for love, there are actually several different types of love: affection, friendship, romance, and charity. Perhaps our limited language causes us to overemphasize passionate love to the exclusion of other loves, or perhaps we are too easily swayed by cultural pressure or couples-themed marketing. Whatever the reason, too often we forget that God didn’t create only romantic love; he also designed us to love our moms and our friends and our grandparents and our siblings and even our dogs. And he has made us to receive love as well.
It may be tempting to think that if we can’t celebrate romantic love, we should just try to squelch the longing and skip straight from New Year’s to Easter. But Lewis reminds us that we are wired for love, regardless of our relationship status: “We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.”
Just because every commercial in the month of February and every jewelry ad was telling me that Valentine’s Day is exclusively a celebration of romantic love, who said I had to buy into that? Why not make this holiday a celebration of all the love God had brought into my life—love in so many different, beautiful forms?
And so, instead of grabbing the scissors and making a valentine, I picked up a pen and starting writing a list of all the people who loved me, all the people I loved. Before long, I had scrawled enough names to fill nearly the entire page: my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, the women in my small group, and the friends in that very room.
“Who are you going to make a valentine for?” Catherine asked.
A small smile started at the corners of my mouth. When I’d first arrived, I thought I didn’t have anyone to give a valentine to. Now the list was so long I was pretty sure I’d need to run to the store for more paper.
Best of all, my heart was brimming over with many types of love. God had been showing me his love through the people in my life for so long—I’d just been so busy looking for one kind of love that I’d barely noticed the love all around me. Perhaps Valentine’s Day didn’t have to be a reminder of what I didn’t have; it could be a reflection of the love God had showered on me—on all of us. “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16).
As C. S. Lewis put it, when we truly love other people—regardless of the type of love—we are getting a glimpse of what God himself looks like: “When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.”
“Hand me the scissors,” I said with a smile. “I may not have a date, but I do have valentines—a whole bunch of them.”
Stephanie Rische blogs at www.StephanieRische.com and is the author of I Was Blind (Dating), but Now I See: My Misadventures in Dating, Waiting, and Stumbling into Love (Tyndale House, 2016).