Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and I am pretty sure there won’t be a whole lot of whoop-de-do going on around here! When you’ve been married for forty years and during most of those years finances were always tight, you come not to expect much. But that is okay—truly! Bob always said he didn’t like being coerced into a materialistic declaration of love by the card and candy companies—it meant more when he brought me something for no reason at all other than he simply loved me. And he did. He would surprise me and come home every now and then throughout the year with flowers or candy or a card just to say “I love you.” It never hurt my feelings at all when I didn’t get a Valentine from him for I knew that he loved me. He showed me over and over in our daily lives and with those little surprises.
There are certain Valentine Days over the last fifty-nine years that do stick out in my mind—times when I thought, “This has got to be my best Valentine ever!” I remember the first real Valentine I got from a boy. I was in third grade, I think, and a nice boy named David gave me a little red heart-shaped box of chocolates. I had no idea up to that point that he “liked” me, and as little girls do, I voiced my thoughts to my best friend. “I don’t ‘like’ him, but I sure like the chocolates!” And as little girls do, she went and told him what I had said. It hurt his feelings, I am sure, and that was the end of that. I felt really bad about it. I learned a good lesson that day about what not to say to even your best friend, and he learned a lesson on the cruelty of young puppy love. Ouch.
A couple years later I got my next “Best Valentine Ever.” An evangelist and his wife came to our church for a week and during that time they had a little contest for the kids. They displayed a table of prizes and said whoever learned the most Scripture verses could have first pick of any of the prizes; second place would have second choice and so on. I had my eye on a red Bible. So did David—the boy who had given me the box of chocolates. It was a fierce competition but in the end I won, winning that red Bible by learning something like 105 verses. Poor David. It was February 14, 1962 and I wrote on the dedication page “My Best Valentine Ever!”
My next precious Valentine came a couple days early. Laurie was born six or seven weeks early on February 1, 1971 but did not leave the hospital until the 12th. I remember thinking at the time how blessed we were to have this tiny but healthy little baby home at last just in time for Valentine’s Day. Robbie one-upped her, though, when he came to us exactly on February 14, 1976, eight days old and straight out of the hospital. I thought “Now this is our best Valentine’s gift ever!”
Those Valentine gifts were special and I will remember them always. My memories of other Valentine gifts are not as strong, but long after the flowers have faded, the candy’s been eaten, and the cards stuffed away in a drawer, what lasts is the love behind the gifts. Ah, love! What confusion we have when it comes to love!
Someone has said, “Love is a wildly misunderstood although highly desirable malfunction of the heart which weakens the brain, causes eyes to sparkle, cheeks to glow, blood pressure to rise and the lips to pucker.” That is humorous, but I’m not sure I would call it love, to tell you the truth. Puppy love, maybe? Love is portrayed everywhere today as a physical reaction, or at best an emotional one. If I were to rely on feelings, I would say love is like a pair of your favorite old comfortable slippers—a soft, cozy, comfortable, safe place in which to rest at the end of the day, molded just right over the years to fit you perfectly. You might have your own picture of what love is to you. Fireworks, maybe? A pot of homemade chicken soup and plate of chocolate chip cookies? Moonlit walks on the beach?
What the Bible has to say about love is not based on either the physical manifestations or the emotional fluttering of the heartstrings. God has given us a description of the nature of love in I Corinthians and it is not “What do I get out of it?” but “What ought my conduct and communication be with others when I say I love them?” The King James Version puts it like this:
Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away. (I Corinthians 12:4-8 KJV)
Now, I love the King James Version. I don’t believe it is the only one we should use, but it is the one I prefer to read, study, and memorize. In this particular passage, however, I think we lose the impact a bit of what the Lord is telling us when we try to read and understand the King’s Olde English. This is such an important passage for our everyday lives, for our relationships and for our happiness that I think we need it spelled out in plain 21st century English so that we truly understand and soak into our very beings what it is saying. Here it is again in more modern day language (New International Version):
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)
And again in the New Living Translation:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! (I Corinthians 13:4-8 NLT)
When I read these verses the thought always goes through my mind, “Does the love I show my husband and others measure up to this?” Am I patient? Am I demanding or easily angered? Do I bring up past grievances? Am I respectful? Am I kind? Do I think the best of others and try to build them up?
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible sheds some light on these verses. Charity (love), he says, is “slowness to anger or passion; longsuffering, patient endurance, forbearance. It is opposed to haste; to passionate expressions and thoughts, and to irritability. It denotes the state of mind which can bear long when oppressed, provoked, and when one seeks to injure us…” The word kind, he goes on, denotes “to be good-natured, gentle, tender, affectionate, courteous… It wishes well. It is not harsh, sour, morose, ill-natured. The idea is, that under all provocations and ill-usage it is gentle and mild. ‘Hatred’ prompts to harshness, severity, unkindness of expression, anger, and a desire of revenge. But love is the reverse of all these. A man who truly loves another will be kind to him, desirous of doing him good; will be ‘gentle,’ not severe and harsh; will be ‘courteous’ because he desires his happiness, and would not pain his feelings.” Barnes continues, “Love does not envy others the happiness which they enjoy; it delights in their welfare; and as their happiness is increased by their endowments, their rank, their reputation, their wealth, their health, their domestic comforts, their learning etc., those who are influenced by love ‘rejoice’ in all this. They would not diminish it; they would not embarrass them in the possession; they would not detract from that happiness; they would not complain or repine that they themselves are not so highly favored.”
Why is it we are so often more polite, more patient with perfect strangers than we are with those we profess to love the most? What a shame. True love is an action. It is not merely physical attraction or emotional feelings– what I am experiencing. It is not concerned with me—it is concerned with the one I love. It is showing through my conduct and my communication honor and respect, patience and kindness, gentleness and selflessness. It is working hard for the relationship and for the good of the other. It is supporting, encouraging, standing behind, protecting, pressing on when the going gets tough.
I wish all these thoughts would pop into my mind every time I am tempted to retort in anger or put someone down or be impatient. There is no neon sign that will flash STOP! in the heat of the moment; no menu of Love Is-isms to flutter down in front of my eyes to remind me. The best thing to do is to memorize this passage in one of the modern translations and then to meditate, and meditate, and meditate and MEDITATE on it until it becomes so ingrained that it becomes natural to interact and respond with God’s love.
I Corinthians 13:1-3 (NLT) says, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” It’s not the gift that counts on Valentine’s Day, or even the thought behind it. It is not flowery words or poetry or even a heartfelt love letter. It is not a romantic dinner or date night or what comes after. It is the everyday actions of godly, loving conduct and communication that truly say, “I love you!”