Caution: Conversation Hearts Ahead

HELLO. UR CUTE. BE MINE. OH YOU KID. SOUL MATES.  From the platonic to the lifetime relationship-esque, with some strange and somewhat creepy in between, sayings such as these are found on the classic Valentine’s Day candy hearts we all know and hate to eat. I remember the delight and anticipation that I experienced as a child every Valentine’s Day as I opened my little cardboard box of chalky, badly printed candies. I couldn’t wait to see what funny little sayings I got that year, choke down about three of the not-quite-candies, and throw the rest in the nearest trash can (or share them with a less discerning friend).

Valentine’s Day is a huge deal in the U.S. Last year the average American was expected to spend about $143.56 for Valentine’s Day, with total spending expected to reach $19.6 billion.[1] Obviously, as frugal Mennonites, these national averages might not represent us specifically. But with our country spending this amount of money on candy, flowers, cards, dinner, and many other gifts that our culture says appropriately demonstrate our feelings for our loved ones, it might be worth looking into this holiday a bit.

The Legend(s) of St. Valentine(s)

When I began looking into the history of this heartfelt holiday, I expected to find a nice little story about a well-known saint who did some nice deeds, possibly having to do with romance, for some poor people or something, thus procuring a lasting, worldwide holiday commemorating his love for humanity. But it turns out no one really knows for sure how this holiday started.

There are several different legends about several different St. Valentines. Some stories say a St. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred for secretly marrying young couples after the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus forbid marriage.[2] Other accounts say an imprisoned Valentine healed his jailer’s daughter from blindness, leading to the conversion of the jailer and his daughter and consequently death for all of them. Still others take it a step further and say that Valentine befriended the blind girl and sent her a letter signed “Your Valentine,” which began the tradition of calling someone your Valentine. But none of these legends have been verified as fact, so the holiday’s origins remain shrouded in mystery.[3]

Hopeful Romantics

Since it appears that there is not much to be gained or learned from the basically unknown beginnings of this holiday, I won’t spend too much time wallowing in the past. I suppose what really matters is what we are doing with the holiday today. Does this romantic, rather commercialized day have any meaning or benefits for the Christian? Is the holiday exclusively for those who are dating or married, to be ignored or ridiculed by all others?

I’m going to be honest. I love Valentine’s Day. I’m not totally sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m secretly a romantic at heart. Or maybe I can’t find any reason to hate a holiday that involves flowers and sweets and cutesy things. As a cookie decorator, I always get excited when I get to start making cookies that look like hearts or roses or mugs with cheesy sayings like “love you a latte.” I love finding funny vintage Valentine’s cards to send to my friends. And I still like laughing at those chalky little heart candies. But is there something more to February 14 than candy and cards?

As conservative Christians, I think we tend to scoff at romance a bit. We deem it worldly, undignified, or just plain silly. So it would follow that we might also tend to underrate a holiday specifically celebrating romance. But I think that we should celebrate romance.

God created marriage as a romantic relationship. There’s an entire book of Scripture that celebrates the romance between a man and woman on the brink of marriage. And since marriage is an earthly shadow of the eternal relationship the church will have with Christ our bridegroom, it almost would seem that God is okay with romance. Maybe the romantic aspect of love isn’t shameful or silly, but rather something God designed as an important part of a marital relationship.

I’m not married, so this subject feels a little bit out of my wheelhouse, but I do believe that romance is good and important. I think marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and his bride that, without romance, would be incomplete. While romance should be an ongoing part of a marriage, not confined to one day of the year, Valentine’s Day is a good reminder of God’s design for marriage. Couples should enjoy and celebrate this design, and look forward to the coming marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will know the fullest form of intimacy with Christ, far beyond anything we can ever experience on earth.

Singles Awareness

So, with all this “marriage is a shadow of our relationship with Christ,” “romance is an important part of marriage” stuff, where does that leave single people? Should we spurn Valentine’s Day and shield ourselves from all things romantic? Should I spend February 14 locked away in my closet with my Bible? Should I catch me a husband next week so I too can celebrate romance?

I don’t know. Well, probably don’t get married next week, unless you were already planning to do that and your betrothed is fully aware of this. Really though, I don’t know the best way for singles to handle Valentine’s Day. Maybe it depends on the person and situation.

Personally, I enjoy using Valentine’s Day as a time to appreciate the people in my life that I love. Obviously this isn’t in the romantic way that Valentine’s Day is known for, but I generally don’t mind stretching the rules a little bit. I’m not very expressive with my emotions and affections, so for me, Valentine’s Day is a good reminder to let the people around me know that I care about them. As Christians, we should be loving people (not just our best friends, family, or crushes) deeply and authentically, and Valentine’s Day is a great time to express that love.

While I enjoy Valentine’s Day, I know that for some people it’s a really hard time. The world’s infatuation with romance can bring up feelings of loneliness and longing that we thought were securely buried under a façade of contentment and happiness. God created marriage and intimacy as a good thing for humans, and it’s natural to want to experience that. But if seeing all the hearts, flowers, and romantic sentiments leads to discontentment then it might be a good idea to step away from all that. Eating chocolate and watching romantic comedies with your single friends on Singles Awareness Day is probably not a healthy way to spend February 14. Rather, appreciate the things that you do have and find ways to deepen your relationship with the Lover of your soul.

The Great Romance

Whether you’re married, dating, single, or whatever, Valentine’s Day is a great time to focus on our relationship with God. Use Valentine’s as a time to reflect on God’s shocking, incomprehensible love for us. Allow the wonder of salvation to really sink in and rest in the knowledge that, undeserving as we are, God loves us with the deepest, realest, most satisfying love imaginable. Express your love for Him and rejoice in your relationship with the very Creator and Essence of love and romance, the God of all things in Heaven and all things on Earth.

But please, don’t eat those conversation hearts.

What Do You Think?

As I sit here at the coffee shop, eating my sugar cookie with red and pink sprinkles, I have to wonder what other people think about Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly no expert on romance, so what’s your opinion of this holiday? Is it ok for a Christian to celebrate? Should I be eating a less romantic dessert? What are some appropriate, healthy ways singles should handle the day?  Are conversation heart candies actually food?

Carmen Carmen Yoder lives in New Paris, Indiana. She works part-time at a cafe, where she enjoys making messes (which she cleans) and chatting with “the regulars.” Her spare time is usually spent reading, entertaining her siblings, adventuring, drinking coffee, or criticizing [she means proofreading] Radi-Call articles. She loves beauty, especially that of God’s creation, different cultures, fellowship, music, and laughter. She desires to live life to the fullest and serve God in any way He calls her.

[1] “NRF Says Consumers Will Spend near-Record $19.6 Billion on Valentine’s Day.” National Retail Federation, 2018, nrf.com/media-center/press-releases/nrf-says-consumers-will-spend-near-record-196-billion-valentines-day.

[2]Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Valentine’s Day.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Sept. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Valentines-Day.

[3] Bitel, Lisa. “The Gory Origins of Valentine’s Day.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 14 Feb. 2018, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gory-origins-valentines-day-180968156/.

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