February 11, 2022

When the World Falls in Love

How to survive a day that seems to open old wounds?

Audrey Andersson

The couple behind me seemed to read my thoughts as we entered the store. “Can you believe it? January 2 and Valentine’s cards are on display already!” Their mildly indignant conversation trailed off as they went one way and I headed towards the very large, somewhat gaudy, red, pink, and white display of hearts and cards in every imaginable size. I know from experience: finding the “right” Valentine’s Day card takes time. Halfway there I stopped and turned down another aisle. Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year when all the world loves a lover or wants to be in love, yet the reality is often very different.

The $150 Valentine’s Day Card

As I turned from the Valentine’s display, images and memories came tumbling into my mind. I remembered sending my then boyfriend, later husband, a Valentine’s Day card. He lived in rural Sweden, I in cosmopolitan London. Puzzled, he phoned to ask what it was? Yes, he had heard of Valentine’s Day, but wasn’t that just an American greeting card holiday? My gesture was not going to be reciprocated. A couple of years later when I discovered Alla Hjartans Dag (literally, All Hearts Day) was celebrated in Sweden on February 14, I was somewhat less understanding!

Like all wise husbands, he got the message—I appreciated getting a Valentine’s Day card. Sometimes it even came early. Late one February 13 he arrived home and presented me with a huge bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day. The next morning, he gave me a card. Inside was a speeding fine, for the equivalent of US$150. He then reminded me of our conversation the previous night. I had arrived home from a meeting about half an hour before him. He explained, he would have been home earlier and avoided the speed trap if he had not stopped at three different stores to find flowers and a card. This was not the time to point out he shouldn’t have been speeding. That day he future-proofed all Valentine’s Days with what became known as the $150 card.

A billion-dollar Industry

The origins of Valentine’s Day are unclear. Some connect it to stories of early Christian saints and martyrs, ancient Roman festivals, and country rituals. In the 1700s, people in England started sending cards and poems. As many are not natural poets, there was always a market for those who could write romantic poetry and prose.

The tradition was exported to America, and with the birth of the greeting card industry, this was an obvious opening to sell cards with pre-packaged poems and verses: the commercialization of Valentine’s Day had begun. Today, it’s a billion-dollar business. In 2022 it is anticipated that Americans will spend an estimated $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day.[1]

Googling “roses” and “Valentine’s Day” throws up all kinds of trivia. Estimates of the global number of roses given on February 14 range from 50 million upwards.[2] This is combined with advice on how many roses (and the color) you should give to your spouse, the one you secretly admire, your work colleague[3]—the list is endless.

With that kind of investment, it’s tempting to think that everyone sees the world through rose-tinted spectacles for at least one day a year. Yet research shows that although it is the second most popular holiday in terms of dollars spent, only half of all Americans send Valentines, a figure which varies significantly around the world.

Valentine Snapshots

I carried out a very unscientific and subjective survey of family, friends, and colleagues in Australia, England, Scandinavia, the United States, and beyond to see what Valentine’s Day meant for them. As I anticipated, about half dismissed it as a non-event. The others fulfilled and shattered some of my preconceived ideas. Here are a few snapshots.

Snapshot 1: A bit of harmless fun; a greeting card holiday; nothing to take too seriously.

Snapshot 2: As I child I dreaded Valentine’s Day. In school we were supposed to bring a Valentines’ card for all the children in the class, so no one would feel left out. It never worked like that. I only seemed to get one or two, and the popular girls seemed to get ten to my one.

Snapshot 3: The year after my divorce I stood in front of the Valentine’s display and cried. I cried not because I was divorced, but I had so much love to give, and no one to give it to.

Snapshot 4: I love it. It’s a day when I can tell those I love how much they mean to me.

Snapshot 5: When my spouse was alive, I enjoyed it, but now they are gone: it belongs to the past. It’s irrelevant as far as I am concerned.

Snapshot 6: I’m single, and it is the one day of the year when I feel incredibly lonely and inadequate.

Snapshot 7: I feel Valentine’s Day is setting us up for failure. It presents us with a picture of what perfect love should look like, and life isn’t like that.

Expectations

There may be moments when the Hollywood version of the perfect romance may intersect with reality, but more often than not, reality does not reflect the rose-tinted fantasy of the grand gestures portrayed in romantic films, Valentine adverts, and glossy magazines. The commercial packaging of “love” creates expectations, which when met, may create a sparkling moment.  Real love, however, is so much more than hearts, roses, and candy on one day of the year.

God’s love story is a never-ending other-centered love story. God is love, and that love was written on every flower, tree, and blade of grass. The fullest expression of God’s love is found in our relationship with Him and with each other. It is foundational to who we are. These relationships were designed to be, using Paul’s language, “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17), God’s love. Without His love, our relationships are fractured and imperfect.

How Do You Say, “I Love You?”

We all want to be loved, appreciated, and affirmed, but that will look very different depending on who we are, our cultural background, and how we experience and process things. Deep relationships are the result of spending time together and getting to know each other. Like a plant, relationships need nurture and care. Good communication is a key component, and it has been suggested that there are five primary ways we express and receive love.[4]

For those whose love language is giving and receiving gifts, then roses, candy or some other gift is the way to say, “I love you.” Even then a gift does not have to be expensive. Something handmade or homegrown may be far more meaningful than a store-bought gift. 

With a little thought, planning, and creativity, it is possible to communicate love in a person’s love language, whether it is words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, or physical touch. What is worth reflecting on is that God provides His love to each of us in the same ways.

When the whole world seems to be focusing on love, making a special effort on Valentine’s Day can have extra significance. If that is not reinforced throughout the year, however, the gesture, words, or gift are meaningless.

Changing perspectives

Life changes our perspectives. When we feel loved, accepted, and cherished, Valentine’s Day is just a day. For someone in a difficult relationship, alone or suffering significant loss, Valentine’s Day can be a lonely nightmare, reinforce negative feelings of inadequacy or failure, a reminder of their loss and challenging. However, Valentine’s Day also offers an opportunity for a new narrative.

Five years ago, my husband was killed in an accident. As the first Valentine’s Day approached, I felt my loss more acutely. We didn’t take the day very seriously, yet it provided an occasion to do something special together. Now that Lars was not there, I recognized that I could spend the day feeling sorry for myself and focus on my loss. Alternately, I could focus on the many happy memories, and find different ways to express my gratitude for the love we shared. I could give flowers to someone who might not otherwise get them, write words of appreciation, or spend time with someone who might be alone. 

Pressing pause and looking away from our situation offers the opportunity to sprinkle love and compassion on someone else’s day who is in difficult and demanding circumstances. Valentine’s Day is also a day to reflect on God’s love for us. He writes His love in the beautiful sunrises, serenades us with the complex and beautiful song of birds, and a myriad of different ways. His love surrounds us.

The Perfect Love Story

Before the creation of this world, God knew that Adam and Eve would choose to believe a lie, resulting in the introduction of sin. This distorted humanity’s understanding of love, and introduced death and separation from Him, as well as from those we love. God provided the antidote by sending His son, Jesus, to die and give us the possibility of, once again, fully experiencing His perfect love and restoring our human relationships.

Jesus knew what it was like to be alone, not to have the comfort of a loving spouse, the warm embrace of a family, and to lose a parent. For that reason, He promises to be the spouse to the widowed (Isa. 54:5) and parent to the orphan (Ps. 68:5). There is no loss or pain, no level of aloneness that is beyond God’s ability to heal. His compassion and grace are sufficient, no matter what the situation.

Whether it is Valentine’s Day, an unwanted anniversary, a fractured relationship at home or work, or any situation where we feel alone, unloved, or unlovable, we can turn to our wonderful, beautiful Savior. His arms are always open wide. The nail scars in His hands express the completeness of His love. He will carry us, wrap His arms of love around us, fulfill our needs now, and one day restore us to the perfect reflection of His love.

Audrey Andersson serves as executive secretary of the Trans-European Division with headquarters in St. Albans, United Kingdom.


[1] NRF | Valentine’s Day Data Center, accessed January 30, 2022

[2] 30 Valentine's Day Fun Facts and Trivia | Interesting Facts About Valentine's day 2021 (theholidayspot.com), accessed February 4, 2022

[3] Valentine's Day Roses - How Much is Too Much? (serenataflowers.com), accessed February 4, 2022

[4] See Gary Chapman, Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, reprint ed. (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2015).

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