23 . . . it’s the number of Valentine’s Days I’ve spent with Patrick.
There was a time when I would’ve said I wasn’t big on Valentine’s Day . . . that mushy declarations of love, both public and private, weren’t my thing. There was a time I would’ve said that I don’t buy into the commercialism of it all. There was a time when I let a little bit of cynicism and snarkiness creep in. But love . . . true, enduring love . . . isn’t built on commercialism and cynicism, and it doesn’t grow and flourish in the absence of nourishment.
23 Valentine’s Days together . . . almost 23 years of ups and downs . . . of fights and apologies . . . of laughter and tears . . . of grief and joy. . . of pushing through the hard and reveling in the wonderful . . . it’s all worth celebrating . . . on Valentine’s Day and every day. It’s worth cheesy cards and flowers and candy and date nights . . . whatever floats your boat . . . but it’s worth giving up the cynicism and snarkiness and honoring the love of your life.
A while back I decided good wasn’t good enough, and we weren’t settling for less than great in our marriage (pretty sure I stole some variation of that line from Brad Paisley’s song Remind Me). In a world that continually pushes for self fulfillment in relationships . . . that says, “As long as it’s good, as long as you’re meeting my needs and making me happy, I’m here, but I’ll hit the door running the second that changes” . . . I wanted to put in the work, and I wanted to pour into what we have . . . to love selflessly and give without expectation, both of which are impossible without God’s help.
I’ve written about this more than a few times. I’ve watched as marriages of people I love fall apart, and I’ve wondered why. It grieves me to see people hurting, and it grieves me to see it happening over and over. Why did something that started out so well, with so much love, not endure?
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” Isaiah 5:20-21
And this is what I’ve realized. It’s easy to look at what you have and who you’re with and see all the faults . . . all the cracks . . . all the mistakes . . . all the brokenness . . . to miss all that is good. It’s easy to call what God says is sweet “bitter” and to decide to walk away from it the second it isn’t fulfilling you anymore. . . to look for something or someone better . . . what’s not easy? To realize that true love isn’t something that just happens, and being “in love” is a choice. It’s not a magical feeling or an accident. It’s an action that takes a whole heck of a lot of hard work.
One of the most quoted passages of scripture . . . at weddings, at vow renewals, and so many declarations of love . . . is from 1 Corinthians 13 . . .
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.“ 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a
The English language just doesn’t do justice to the word love. There are multiple words for love in the Greek language, and the kind of love that Paul is writing about here isn’t the “Eros”, romantic, kind of love. Nope, he’s talking about “Agape”, the unconditional, God kind of love. And this passage of scripture is all encompassing for and applicable to all relationships. But do not be mistaken, it most certainly includes marriage, and yes, that absolutely can and should cover the “Eros”, romantic, kind of love which is very much an integral part of marriage, but it covers so much more. Because this is love in action. It’s the same love talked about in 1 Peter 4:8, ” . . . love covers a multitude of sins.” It’s the love that’s willing to do the work in the good times, the great times, and the really hard times. It’s love that endures the test of time, and it’s love that only God can equip us to give.
So today, I will tell you, I very much love and am in love with my husband, and he loves me, and I’m proud of that. Not in a boastful way, but in the kind of way that realizes that it’s only by the grace and mercy of God that we are able to love like this. And yes, we have all those mushy, gushy feelings (and I’m not even embarrassed to say it) . . . sometimes . . . and sometimes, we get irritated and annoyed . . . sometimes, we argue and don’t agree . . . sometimes, we’re exhausted and stressed and worried . . . sometimes, we’re distracted and busy and we just forget to stop and acknowledge each other . . . but sometimes, more and more, we remember . . . we remember that what God has given us is very very good, and we have a responsibility to nurture and fertilize and water what God has given us in one another.
On this Valentine’s Day, that’s what I want for other couples and marriages . . . for you to know that no matter how dismal your situation may look today, if you’ll turn to God and turn it over to Him . . . if you’ll let Him lead you and guide you and equip you . . . He can and will do amazing things in your marriage. And if you’re single, the “curse” of Valentine’s Day for so many, let me tell you this, that Agape love is not exclusive to any relationship, and God is the author and the perfecter of that love. He loves you totally unconditionally . . . so much that He sacrificed His son for you . . . for me . . . for all of us. So as cliché as it may feel and sound, single or not, let your Heavenly Father love you well on this Valentine’s Day and every day because no love will ever compare to or fulfill like His.
* And, as always, please read my (rather long) disclaimer . . . it takes two to tango, and when I talk about marriages and relationships, I’m talking about two people that, at the very least, have a minimal level of respect for one another and are willing to show that respect. Abuse, physical or emotional, is always a no-go, and make no mistake, love doesn’t hurt others. Loving someone doesn’t mean you allow them to harm you. “Suffers long” in the above passage of scripture means you persevere and are patient, but it doesn’t mean you are abused. You need to get help and remove yourself if you’re in that situation (there are resources to help, and depending on where you live, I can direct you to websites and organizations with more info). Wise counsel can help you determine what your next steps should be. Same goes for infidelity, especially with an unrepentant spouse. Sometimes, the only safe and wise course is separation and ultimately divorce, and if you are being counseled to stay in an abusive, damaging relationship find different counsel (and that may mean finding a different church . . . but fighting for your marriage does not equate to submitting to abuse). Also, “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus . . .”. I never want to make anyone feel condemned for past mistakes or choices. I want to offer hope and a path to healthy loving, Godly relationships in marriage and in life and most definitely, with God. Start where you are today and move forward. Jesus loves you, and if you know Him, you’re forgiven so don’t sit in guilt and condemnation for what is behind you.
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