It is Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. And in the roses. And in the chocolates. And in the greeting cards with the little seal on the back of the envelope. It is difficult to turn anywhere without seeing hearts and Cupid’s arrows.
But for some of us who don’t have Valentines, this day can be a painful quandary. For some of us, it is a day that is celebrated with Valentine number three … or four … or five. When we peel back the layers of money and the fragrance of flowers and the dreams of romance, we are left wondering if there could be a love deeper than what is portrayed on television or etched on the pages of books. We hope to find a love that will last longer than the romantic movie. We long for a love of another kind.
In the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians — a passage often quoted in wedding ceremonies — the Bible describes that different kind of love as a love not proud. At first glance, it seems to go without saying. How could love be proud? We think of a proud person as a boastful one and there just isn’t much about love that would be boastful. Unless of course, we have bought into the teaching of the culture that says the one I love must be beautiful, successful or wealthy. I love a person because I can boast of the object of my affection.
Maybe love is even boastful when we consider the ways that we express love.
“Did you like my gift best?”
“I do all these things for you day in and day out, doesn’t that show how much I love you?”
We are tempted to fiddle the day away with Tevye as we wait for our Goldie to answer the question, “Do you love me?” We are disheartened when she answers, “Do I what?!”
It should not take us long to realize that if this love of another kind is to not be proud, it doesn’t simply mean that it shouldn’t be boastful. It must also mean that the love is not self-centered. A proud person often believes the world revolves completely around him. Decisions are made based upon what is anticipated in return. Thoughts for the feelings and convenience of others are discarded for the egocentric spotlight of self-promotion. The proud person tends to manipulate rather than love — even when the actions are good and beneficial — because what is really loved is self.
St. Valentine’s Day reminds us of a love that is not self-centered. The day began as a celebration of one of the early Christian saints named Valentinus. At a time when the Roman Empire was fiercely persecuting Christians, Valentinus stood out as one whose love for others expected nothing in return. He was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers — the very individuals who were persecuting Christians out of military obligation. He also performed weddings for other Christians, who were forbidden to marry as a part of the government’s attempt to lessen the population of people of the Christian faith.
Legend has it that while awaiting death, Valentinus prayed for and performed a miraculous healing of Julia, the blind daughter of the main Roman guard at his prison. In his last act of ministry, Valentinus was not thinking of his own situation, but trying to help the very ones who were hurting him. The Roman Emperor Claudius was so moved by Valentinus’ unselfish act that he personally visited the prison and tried to convert Valeninus to Roman paganism to spare the life of this saint.
Moments before his execution, this man of God took quill and parchment and wrote a note expressing Christ’s love to the guard’s daughter and signed it “from your Valentine.” Julia, her father, and the 44 members of her household came to believe in Jesus as the result of this unselfish act.
Throughout history in people like Valentinus, or today in folks like an unselfish family member or friend, we catch a hint that there truly could be a love of another kind.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.