Under the Cross: Valentine's Day Stinks
By Harrison Goodman
Not a Fan
I wasn’t a fan of Valentine’s Day as a teenager; I’m not a fan now. It isn’t the over-the-top gushy sentimentality. It’s not the obligation to give Hallmark money because I didn’t feel like writing a card myself for a day popularized mainly to get folks to buy more stuff. It’s maybe a tiny bit because the thought of angelic warriors with flaming swords being portrayed as fat babies with bows and arrows nauseates me. Really, though, it’s that Valentine’s Day brings a very fragile sense of self-worth out for everyone to see. Do you have a valentine? Are you good enough to be loved?
Valentine’s Day stinks because no matter where you are in life, February 14 points out what’s missing. There’s never been a more uncomfortable day to be single. Even if you’re not single, it’s the day when the state of your relationship stands in contrast to every romantic comedy ever made, your friends’ relationships, and even where your relationship was last year. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others on Valentine's Day. Even worse, it’s hard to shake the feeling that others are comparing themselves to you. The day can be more bitter than sweet. For each person carrying around flowers or chocolates, there are 10 people wishing it would all be over. It makes sense in a dark way that this day’s patron saint, St. Valentine, was beaten with clubs and stones, and then beheaded. It almost sounds preferable, except he gets remembered for preaching the Gospel in the face of death, NOT for being the only one without a date. Check out the "Saint Valentine" video from our series Dead Christians You Should Know About to learn more. His story is better than most of ours.
That’s the problem with Valentine’s Day. It leaves us sneakily eyeballing our neighbor and their story, then looking for worth in ourselves--in what others think of us. It leaves us measuring our relationships by something other than what God calls chaste. It leaves out Jesus altogether. None of that can stand.
It's Just Another Law
Set aside romantic comedies for a minute and consider Valentine’s Day in light of Law and Gospel--you know, the stuff you actually believe in. When you look in the mirror and see someone that nobody else would want because you didn’t get the appropriate number of flowers, or because you have nobody to give them to, you’re trying to find self-worth by works of some law, and not even God’s Law. Feeling not attractive enough, not tall enough, not thin enough, not athletic enough, not fashionable enough. . .just not enough, comes from falling short of some law’s demands. That’s what laws do. They set standards. They measure the word enough. But these laws, these standards that let us look in the mirror and measure the word enough are not God’s laws. They’re much darker. They show us our shortcomings just like God’s, but focus on all the wrong places. So while God’s Law builds up in love for God and neighbor, these kinds of law tear down in love for self.
Revisiting the Sixth Commandment
Think about what’s really important on Valentine’s Day. Are you chasing a genuine desire to serve your neighbor, or is everything you do that day focused on feeling like you’re worthy of love? These standards were never God’s. He gave you a commandment that we readily set aside on Valentine’s Day to make sure we can feel like enough: the Sixth Commandment--Thou shalt not commit adultery. This means we should fear and love God so that we lead a chaste and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. This is a commandment that serves your neighbor, not yourself. That’s the word chaste. Chastity is simple. What if God wanted you to have a healthy, happy marriage, now or someday? The things that will make it easier now, or someday, to have a healthy, happy marriage are chaste. The things that will make it harder to have a healthy, happy marriage are unchaste. The issue isn’t just about setting aside your morals to feel wanted. It’s deeper than engaging in behavior you know the Lord calls sin in order to feel accepted and loved. It’s about measuring your worth against something in yourself in the first place.
You're Enough in Christ
Valentine’s Day stinks because it points you to the mirror instead of the Cross to find your worth. Valentine’s Day gets it backward. The mirror shows you your sins. The Cross shows you your worth. More than silver or gold. The holy and precious blood, the innocent suffering and death of Christ. You are worth more than overpriced roses. You are worth the lifeblood of God. You are worthy of love because you were loved in this way: Jesus died for you. Chastity isn’t about how pure you are by your abstinence. Jesus died for you. You are baptized. You’re pure in your Baptism now. Chastity isn’t about your identity at all. Your Baptism defines your identity. Chastity is love for your spouse, even your future spouse, because you already know that you are loved. Chastity is freedom in the Gospel to sit out on Valentine’s Day if you’re single and not feel like less for it. Chastity is the freedom to love your boyfriend or girlfriend without having to worry about proving anything.
Your identity is in Jesus. Your worth is what He has paid for you. You can’t be enough, but in Christ you are. You are a gift of God--pure, not by what you have or haven’t done, but by your Baptism. You are a gift of God--worthy of love, proven not by carrying around flowers, but by carrying the Cross where God makes sure of it. Celebrate Valentine’s Day by leaning into who you are in Christ. Baptized. Holy. Worthy of love.
Pastor Goodman is co-host of the Uncultured Saints podcast (and formerly of the Largely Catechized Life videos) and counts it as a gift to speak and contribute anywhere else Higher Things will let him in print, online, or in conference. He takes every chance he gets as a parish pastor to give Jesus to sinners driven to despair by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. He firmly believes kids should be given a faith to grow into, not out of, and strives to confront real issues with real hope that endures even as Christ is risen from the dead.
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