While the modern, Hallmark celebration of Valentine’s Day revolves around romantic love, the saint for whom the day is named took love to another level.
Not a lot is known about Saint Valentine. He was a clergyman who lived in the Roman Empire in the third century, before Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire as the state religion. Early Christians were persecuted and killed by the Romans for not recognizing Caesar as Lord; despite this threat, Saint Valentine ministered to persecuted Christians and continued to try to convert people to Christianity. It’s also thought that Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christians who wanted to avoid going off to war. Regardless, he was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred for his faith sometime between 269 and 280 CE.
And that’s what we know about St. Valentine. Legend has it that he left a note to a girl on the day of his execution signed, “Your Valentine,” but other than that, there isn’t much romantic about Valentine’s actual life. Like so many other modern holidays, St. Valentine’s Day was probably established by the church to combat the pagan holiday, Lupercalia.
That doesn’t mean we have to poo poo the love parade. You can celebrate Valentine’s Day with the sweethearts in your life and honor the actual memory of this venerated saint by finding ways to love your neighbors, your real-life, next-door people in your neighborhood, the people that you meet each day (cue Sesame Street music).
Get to Know Your Neighbors
I realized months after we had moved into our home that I didn’t have the slightest idea who lived next door. It was humbling to realize how very little I knew about the people around me, despite waving at each other as we pulled into our driveways and closed our doors. Perhaps the very first step for many of us this Valentine’s Day is just getting to know our neighbors.
Take up the Valentine’s Day card-giving tradition and write a note to your neighbors, wishing them a happy Valentine’s Day and introducing yourself. Maybe this includes a sweet treat or piece of candy to accompany your note. Hand deliver your gifts so there’s more likelihood of actually meeting them in person. At the very least, now you know the names and faces of those who live next door. That will make every other interaction easier moving forward.
Love the Lonely
God calls his followers to look after orphans and widows (James 1:27). This is the population of our world that is most likely to be without a community, a place in which they can experience the love of Christ through others.
Over a quarter of adults who are 60 years or older live alone in the United States. There are three I know of within shouting distance of our driveway. Perhaps they need help with yard work or snow removal. Maybe what they need more than anything is someone to listen and talk to. Maybe what they need is someone to remember they are here and that they matter. Put these people on your radar and reach out regularly.
Think, Pray, Act
I believe that when a person pops into my mind, there’s a good chance it’s the Holy Spirit nudging me to do something about it.
Sometimes it feels dumb to just call or text out of the blue, to say “Just thinking of you.” Even when there hasn’t been a “reason” for the call, every “Just thinking of you” I’ve ever gotten has been a small blessing, and on more than one occasion it’s been a perfectly timed, God-ordained, miraculous intervention.
So when the Spirit nudges, I try to listen.
Listen for the Spirit’s gentle cues. Pray for the people who pop into your mind. And overcome your fear of looking dumb; just reach out and talk to someone.
Sometimes as followers of Jesus we feel like we need to put on some kind of Super Christian cape when we interact with our neighbors, as if Jesus only came to save the extra shiny people. This is simply not the case. Jesus didn’t lead each interaction he had with a Romans-Road sermon. He simply saw the needs of those who crossed his path and did what he could to answer them, with mercy, compassion, and love.
You don’t have to do anything different or be anything other than yourself. Talk about your kids. Ask about their lives. Compliment their well-groomed lawn. Have a conversation and get to know who they are, how they are, and what matters to them.
Love Your Neighbor Valentine’s Day
Choose to use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to share the love of Christ. Make a call to one of those neighbors that lives alone. Deliver a card or a note. Make an extra meal for them or invite them over for dinner. Find ways in the days up to and after to help them out, just because. Each small step taken is one step closer to building real, authentic relationships with people that are rooted in mutual love and concern for their wellbeing.
As the hymn says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Let’s make the words of that song ring true this Valentine’s Day.