Tomorrow is a day on the calendar I once dreaded and loathed more than all others: Valentine’s Day.
I’m also very much aware that my hatred of Valentine’s Day is not limited to myself. Many people hate it, and not because of the (sappy) commercialism. It is perhaps most reviled by, understandably enough, single people, and I’m here to tell you: I completely understand. I’ve advice, advice likely to anger you at first, but I sincerely hope you take it to heart.
Yes, I am very happily married now. But I’ve not been part of that estate for long, and the long, painfully lonely years of being alone and waiting remain extremely clear. This began very early.
Remember Valentine’s Day in grade school? I’ll need to clue you in first: I’m hardly a “10” on anybody’s scale, and was the ugliest ugly duckling you EVER saw as a child: short, a long face made worse by past-the-waist hair, a nose that inspired my classmates to call me “Toucan Sam” (and I did nothing about it not only because of the cost, but because as a singer, messing with my nose is a big no-no), huge movie-monster eyes the size of dinner plates, and without the wealth to buy trendy clothes that could make up for my physical faults by increasing my
This physical ugliness was compounded by my quiet nature, deep love of reading and learning, weird taste in movies even then (NO ONE wanted to see “Captain Blood”!), and—okay—a somewhat know-it-all attitude (fed by said books and learning) despite a general good-naturedness.
Boys didn’t like me. (I don’t blame them.)
Remember the gorgeous girls in your grade getting not just the “everyone has to give one to everyone else” card, but a special card, and sometimes a flower or candy, too, as you sat there with your decorated shoebox full of standard cards? Okay, that’s probably not you. But it was me. And that’s saying nothing regarding the mockery delivered by the beautiful girls to the plain or worse-off girls, females being famously civil from an early age. The welts inflicted onto sensitive natures at this age, welts reopened on a yearly basis, can and do sting for a long time.
So, again: My hatred and dread of Valentine’s began in grade school, probably in 3rd or 4th grade, and only increased as the years went on.
Even in college, away from my grade-, middle-, and high-school classmates, Valentine’s remained a hateful thing to me—though Dad, being AWESOME and knowing how much the day pained me, made it a little easier to take by occasionally having flowers delivered to my office or apartment. Fellas I dated did their best, making the day much easier to take, but even when joyful otherwise—which I usually am!—Valentine’s Day was one of the blackest days on the calendar. In fact, I usually did my best to insist it be utterly ignored. Cards and nothing more, because I wanted nothing to do with it.
My precious, darling husband has come to mostly understand my obviously deep-seated rancor, and has always done a great job of making it a less-hateful day despite my pre-marital request that we ignore it entirely.
Some dates or places can be so tainted by bad experiences or memories, they’re almost irredeemable and always something we just do not like, no matter how our life changes over the years. Valentine’s Day is that day for me. I STILL hate it. If I could burn it off the face of the earth, I absolutely would. Just give me that flamethrower. Or a dragon.
But for some reason, the light finally went on for me this year, and I hope it helps you, too.
As hard as it was to admit, I’d looked at Valentine’s all wrong: I’d looked at it for myself. I wanted someone to not only pay attention to and romance me, but someone to do those things for. I wanted to be somehow validated as valuable, I wanted the wound of years of being the ugly duckling that never transformed magically removed and made up for, I wanted to be the one receiving flowers at her office (though by the grace of God, I don’t ever think I sat there hoping no one ELSE received anything!). I wanted to be loved and adored and called beautiful.
Barring all that, I wanted to ignore, bypass, skip over the day that had caused a lot of unnecessary hurt to an already over-sensitive heart. I wanted it gone, baby, gone.
Me, me, me, me.
Not a lovely song to sing.
Now, I know this is very, very hard to hear or consider—that our behaviour is a bit selfish. (That’s why you got the sob story first—I’ve got experience here.) Yes, I wanted someone to spoil and send cards to and bake cakes for and call “sweetheart” because it’s wonderful to do that kind of thing—who doesn’t like showering affection on someone else?—but also
because that, too, would satisfy my own desires and needs to share that love and affection. I, I, I, me, me, me.
And these are not bad desires and needs, not at all! I’ve no doubt that God instilled that need to love and be loved within us; they’re part of His character, and thus part of ours. So they’re not bad!
But I was looking at it all wrong. Years of rejection and hurt had warped my perspective, twisted it into a self-focus that only made the hurt worse. It had become all about me—even my desire to love someone. Does that make sense?
Again: I know. This sounds so cruel. But trust me, I spent a VERY long time waiting, praying, and waiting some more and hurting much of the way. There were long, lonely nights when all of my friends were out and I was not, and quite a few of those were Valentine’s nights. It’s no fun even with a stack of engrossing books by our side. It is AWFUL. We look at our bleeding, stomped-on hearts and it’s difficult not to give up hope entirely; we’re sometimes bruised so badly it is no wonder we think mostly about ourselves in that deep haze of loneliness, pain, the feelings of being rejected and abandoned. So I’m not blaming, I’m not casting aspersions, I’m not picking on anybody—I was there not really so long ago, and I remember how it feels.
So. Here is what I’ve decided to do—my plan of action after that light bulb went off in my head a month ago…when I was already beginning to feel that familiar dread.
I will throw myself into making the day wonderful for someone else—because blessing other people unfailingly makes both the bless-ee and the bless-er feel better! Right?
Instead of actively hating Valentine’s Day, I will actively do what I can to make it a better day for those around me. I encourage you to do the same thing: How can you—yes, you—make a day half the population hates fun and just plain better for other people in your life? After all:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phillipians 2:3-4 (both ESV)
Again: In my experience, doing wonderful, kind, loving, or just plain fun things for other people unfailingly leaves me feeling more joyful than I did before. More importantly, wondering what can make a friend’s or coworker’s day—even Valentine’s Day—better just happens to take our mind off ourselves and our own hurt. (And we all love doing things for other people. It’s so fun!)
I know some of you are sitting there grumbling about how it’s “easy” for me to say this, but I assure you—it’s a complete paradigm shift for me that I’m still accustoming my mind to, and it has been percolating away for several weeks. I haaaaaa-aaaa-aaaa-te Valentine’s Day. Yet when I look back, the best Valentine’s Days I remember are those on which, miraculously looking outside of my own hurt, I saw someone else—friends, coworkers—suffering for the same reasons and impulsively did something for them—I’ve anonymously sent flowers (when I could barely feed myself, but the reaction was worth it!), hurriedly dug up a card to give (always have a stash for all occasions, ALWAYS!), bought them a favourite candy bar, or just asked if they wanted to go see a movie with me instead of being alone on you-know-what.
Every time, the person responded exuberantly, happily—and I understood, because I’d have felt the same way knowing someone was trying to ease my pain. Seeing their happiness occasionally almost brought me to tears, because I knew where their happiness in response to my reaching out was coming from.
Those are my best Valentine’s Days. The ones on which I simply noticed someone else and did something about it—no romance at all. (Much less pressure, by the way.)
When we stop looking at our own pain and consider what we can do to lessen others’ pain, and brighten their day…Well, just try it. Right now, actually. Think about someone you are friends with, or work with, or see on a daily basis—maybe the gal at the coffee shop—who might need a boost tomorrow, too. What could you do for them tomorrow?
It truly is the thought that counts. Perhaps you could buy an inexpensive bouquet of flowers and simply pass one or two out to everyone you think could use the cheer, telling them “Happy Valentine’s Day!” (try not to choke on those words). Perhaps volunteer at an animal shelter, take cookies to your local soup kitchen or seniors’ home. Whip up a yummy treat and give it to your neighbor, or surprise someone by having something delivered to their office or classroom—know any plain, lonely little girls like I was? Perhaps you could have something small dropped off at their school for them, or offer to take her (or him) on a trip to a museum or ice cream shop or the movies (with Mom’s & Dad’s permission, of course). Snap up a few non-romantic Valentines or a few of those four-candy boxes of chocolate at the drugstore and watch for people who might need one.
I’ve been there. I’m still kind of there.
But I want you to imagine how you would react if someone did one of those things for you on Valentine’s Day—not out of pity, but out of understanding or simply wanting to make you happier, make the day more bearable. How would you feel?
Don’t you want to bring that same joy to someone else’s life?
I thought so.
Good luck—Please, do your best to focus on someone ELSE tomorrow. Believe me, it’ll make the day infinitely better! Let’s turn Valentine’s Day into something more closely resembling the saint it is named for—A day on which we bless those who need it, bring joy to them by simply being a friend and showing we see, we understand, and we care.
What do you think?