Celebrating Real Love on Valentine's Day
By Kristyn Komarnicki
How about we celebrate Valentine's Day this year, not with red hearts and rhyming sentiments and roses but with spiritual hearts committed to discovering what real love looks like, love that is founded on and nurtured by an understanding of God's design for relationships?
What is love?
My dad asked me that question 50 years ago over a cherry Coke during a daddy-daughter date. I had no idea how to answer him then—I was 7! I have a somewhat better idea today.
"Love means never having to say you're sorry." The 1970 Hollywood film Love Story made this line famous. It used to really bother me, but now I agree with it. Love doesn't require us to say we're sorry; instead, it requires us to ask forgiveness…over and over and over again. This is incredibly hard. When I first started this practice, farther into my marriage than I would like to admit, I sometimes felt as if I would die before I got those words out. I soon discovered that something was indeed dying—my pride—and that the more I practiced, the less pride there was that needed to die off. Asking for forgiveness is essentially admitting that the other person has the power to offer or withhold something we desperately need, so it's understandably challenging. But the longer I practice it, the more realistic my view of myself has become, and I trust (even if I don't look forward to it) that the exercise of offering humility and receiving grace will continue to strengthen my relationship with my husband.
Love doesn't require us to say we're sorry; instead, it requires us to ask forgiveness…over and over and over again.
Love also requires that we tell the ones we love the truth about how they have wronged us, and to make it possible for them to ask forgiveness of us. For some of us, sharing this kind of pain with a significant other can feel just as hard as asking for forgiveness, because this vulnerability is essentially admitting that the other person has the power to hurt us (duh, but still!). Who likes to feel all this vulnerability? Nobody I know—and yet, it's the road to intimacy, and if that's what we're after, it's the road we'll have to take.
When we hold our love lives up to the life of Jesus, we will expose the lies that lurk beneath our Valentiney professions. Jesus is all about serving others and submitting his will to God's; he embodies both hospitality and holiness, grace and truth. In contrast, Valentine's Day and the industries it partners encourage us to focus on how others make us feel. It never mentions the hardships we endure, the ugliness we inflict on each other (and that life inflicts on us all), the adjustments we make for our partners, the harsh words that we never forget and always regret—or the seasoned joy that results from surviving these things.
Faithful, lifelong love is hard work and cannot be accomplished by "just the two of us." Community—authentic, gritty, truth-telling and grace-giving community—is the soil in which lifelong commitments can grow. Even with the best friends, counseling, and faith foundation, marriages are opposed. Let's stop pretending that it's just a question of finding our soul mate and sailing into the sunset (a lie that many of us find alluring, in spite of what we know to be true). Why do so many movies end at the very point in the story when they should begin, when the couple make outrageous covenant promises to each other at the altar? The entertainment industry offers us a few exceptions (I submit This Is Us and Madame Secretary as two of those recent exceptions), but I guess that most TV and film execs don't find much entertainment value in depicting the hard work it takes to make a marriage thrive.
What are we missing?
Perhaps the biggest flaw in Valentine's Day is that it ignores a large segment of our society that we should be embracing—the uncoupled. In the last few weeks I've heard two gay friends in different states lament that the church does not welcome them, let alone see them (beyond their service to the nursery)! Couples and families are "too busy" to have single people over for a meal, let alone call them family. Yet as soon as a person marries and has children they are often welcomed into the marrieds' social club and the children's play-date circuit. This is excruciating for single people, and it leaves the whole Body of Christ bereft.
As another friend, a married father of four, shared passionately at a recent event, "We need to treat the family of God as more important than our families in the flesh. Jesus said that anyone who leaves their family behind will find houses and brothers and sisters and mothers. This is a promise that Jesus made, and it's one that our unmarried sisters and brothers, many of whom are LGBTQ, particularly need to claim, and our churches are making Jesus a liar. The family bonds that Jesus promises are so much more than seeing each other for a couple of hours on Sunday. Everyone needs to have their lives entwined on a daily basis with people they love. It's the first negative statement in the Bible—'It's not good for a person to be alone'—and that statement of need actually predates the first sin. We need to look at the single people among us and remember that Jesus promised them that we would be family to them."
The family bonds that Jesus promises are so much more than seeing each other for a couple of hours on Sunday. Everyone needs to have their lives entwined on a daily basis with people they love.
This Valentine's Day, let's celebrate the kind of open-hearted, joy-infused, self-donating love that Christ models for us. Let's dare to build true intimacy with our loved ones, offering vulnerability, grace, truth and respect to each other. Sit with your significant other and exchange both words of affirmation and requests for something that's missing; ask them to help you see your blind spots, and speak gently and graciously to theirs. Let's think outside the box about what family looks like through the eyes of God. Invite a single person to dinner tonight, or this weekend—and spoil them! Ask them about their lives, and look for ways to entwine them with yours. Real love beats a box of chocolate and roses any day.
Kristyn Komarnicki is director of dialogue and convening for Evangelicals for Social Action. She leads the Oriented to Love dialogue program, helping diverse Christians build unity that is deeper than agreement.
Recommended reading for expanding your view of love this Valentine's Day!
On marriage / A Holistic Marriage-Keeping Strategy by David Gushee
On building family the Jesus way / The Kingdom Family by Tim Otto
On loving through public engagement / New Year's Resolution: Love Your Neighbor by Bret Kinkaid