February 14 is indelibly marked on the minds and hearts of millions of women (and hopefully men) across America and the globe.
Most women look longingly toward Valentines Day as an occasion where their “man” or suitor will forget his brutish ways and pull out all the stops on romancing her heart.
I was recently counseling with a couple and she confided that she hoped they could resolve their differences so they could properly celebrate Valentines Day–without tension and conflict interfering with their romantic love.
I think women everywhere share that sentiment. Of course, I think we should long for deep emotional connections with our spouse all year and not just on one day, but I know I’m helped to have a day to spur me on “toward love and good deeds.”
But what does this have to do with worship and the Church?
Valentines Day has not always been focused on romantic love. In fact it’s origins are shrouded in mystery. We don’t really know to which St. Valentine to attribute the day (there were 3 men with names like Valentinus whom Rome dubbed saints and all three were martyred–how’s that for romantic love?).
Many scholars believe Valentines Day was the Church’s attempt to Christianize a pagan fertility festival. But in the 5th century, the Church banned the celebration all together–it wanted to distance itself from pagan influence.
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that people popularized Valentines Day as a symbol of love in the month of February – birds mating, signs of spring, etc… This is also when the first Valentines greeting cards were shared (ca. early 1400s).
4 ways churches should focus on Valentines Day
While there are dangers associated with tightly focusing on a secular holiday, per se, there are certainly some benefits worth considering. I suggest these four and look forward to hearing yours:
1) See it as an outreach opportunity. As far as an influence on Christian worship, there have not been too many churches who hold Valentines worship services. Many churches do however hold special outreach desserts and dinners. It’s a natural time to talk about love, marriage and God’s love.
For example, when I was at Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church, we held an annual outreach called Taste of Love. We shared the comedy of Christian comedienne Kerri Pomarolli, jazz music provided by my band and some phenomenal desserts. People came in droves.
2. Unashamedly proclaim the sacrificial love of God. The martyrdom of saints like Valentinus provides a perfect opportunity to talk about God’s love for sinners that led to the wrongful death of Jesus, God’s own son. We should proclaim this good news at all times, but Valentines Day provides an opportunity to speak into broken marriages and the longings of every girl and woman to be romanced.
I find John Eldridge’s book The Sacred Romance to be a helpful resource in learning to talk about God’s love in this way. For many men this may seem too sappy and sentimental. I get that. That’s one of the dangers of our greeting card-influenced concept of love. But God’s pursuing love is nothing short of the best love story every told–which includes adventure, war, beauty and conquest.
3. Write and sing new love songs. I’m playing a gig on Valentines Day. My preparations are causing me to realize how so many love songs equate romance with sexual intimacy. At least that’s how men think of it. Women long for so much more and men would be well served to have some new songs that paint a picture of Real Love. It doesn’t have to be “Christian” lyrics, but certainly the model of love comes from the Bible.
Steven Curtis Chapman is one guy who gets this. He writes phenomenal songs and has given the world a gift by letting us hear the songs he wrote for his wife. Check out his album All About Love. I love all the songs, but here’s one to enjoy:
4. Use the example of St. Valentine to talk about marriage. With a 50% divorce rate (and higher for 2nd marriages), the institution of marriage is in trouble. Part of the reason is that few of us understand and practice sacrificial love. No matter which St. Valentine you choose, the example of martyrdom exemplifies the kind of love God calls men to have toward their wives. The Apostle Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).
Marriages everywhere would be profoundly different if we all practiced sacrificial love. Gary Thomas has a straight forward book on the notion of sacred marriage. Protestants don’t view marriage as a sacrament, but we often undervalue its importance and would be well-served to view it as a sacred opportunity–a place to see God’s presence and pleasure.
May it be so, Lord Jesus.
How does your church approach Valentines Day? Do you ignore it? Do you see it as an opportunity or distraction?
Good read Phil!
My church doesn’t really celebrate it – to t knowledge but these are interesting ways to do it. I love the outreach aspect of what you’re saying. Particularly because while there is a lot of expressing love on February 14th, there are many sad people. I believe we are missing the mark as a society as God is always the answer to every hole. I’m wondering something – do you have ideas to celebrate this within your own family?
That’s a good question about families. We give cards to one another that celebrate our love. We will even give gifts for that reason, but I would welcome ideas on how to put God at the center of this.
One thing we have done over the years, not necessarily on Valentines, is to write letters to one another affirming the things we love about each other–affirming things God has placed in each of us. Those have longer shelf-lives than most gifts.
I’ve also written songs of love for my wife, but not my kids–yet!
Other ideas out there?