Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Valentine's Day, no carnations, please.

In case you didn’t know, Valentine’s Day is three days away. I admit, this is my least favorite holiday. My dislike of the day probably goes back to junior high school. The week of Valentine ’s Day was always marked by a fundraiser in which students were invited to buy carnations for one another. Delivery of the flowers happened on the big day. You can imagine the scene – by the end of the day the social pecking order of Pleasant Grove Middle School had been put on clear display by the amount of flowers one was carrying home. The prettiest girls and the most popular boys went home with truckloads of cheap flowers. The rest of us? Well, we were just glad our moms had remembered to buy a flower in our name and been tactful enough to sign it “Someone who thinks you’re great.”

Now, I’m not against romance. I’m not. And neither is the Bible. In fact, the Bible dedicates an entire book, The Song of Songs, to celebrating physical love as a gift from God. Prudish church leaders have attempted through the years to reduce this book to a metaphor about God’s love for the church leading to some fairly comical applications of the riskiest of verses, but I’m pretty they’ve missed the point (One commentator actually tried to make a verse about the beloved's breasts about the Old and New Testaments!). The book, once you get past the archaic language, is unapologetically about romantic, physical love.

No, it’s not Valentine's emphasis upon romantic love that bothers me so much as it is our culture’s emphasis upon romantic love as the highest thing that can happen to a life. Romantic love is good. It’s a gift from God. But it’s hardly the greatest good we can experience in our lives. On the one hand, not everyone gets to experience romantic love in this life. Jesus didn’t. Does that mean his life was somehow incomplete? Hardly. Plus, even those us who’ve been blessed with a significant other ought to realize that the romantic, infatuation part of our love for each other isn’t even the primary part. Remember, while the Bible does give one book totally to the subject, it’s only one book out of sixty-six. Most of life involves other things even for the romantically engaged: faithfulness, kindness, duty, sacrifice, and more.

Romantic love isn’t even the best kind of love. While infatuation and romantic love may lead us to make commitments to one another in ways we wouldn’t otherwise, it takes more than infatuation to keep us dedicated to one another. It takes commitment and repeated choices to put the interest of others ahead of our own. That kind of love, that self-giving, others-focused kind of love can’t be summed up in a day – it has to be lived out over a lifetime. That kind of love isn’t limited to romantic relationships. It can be found among parents and children, brothers and sisters, close friends, and even if we believe the audacious claims of the gospel, between enemies.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven – Matthew 5:43-45.

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