Today is my first Valentine’s Day as a married guy. This got me thinking a few things, like what do I mean when I say “I love you” to my Valentine? And where did this holiday of candy and cards come from? I began researching a bit by stripping away the layers of commercialization and pieces of paper with lollipop slots, and underneath it all I found an adventurer. His name was Saint Valentine of Terni.
I must admit there are some conflicting accounts about the life of this man, but there are some commonalities that are historically agreed upon. The biggest one is that he believed love was costly and worth it.
Born sometime in the 3rd century into the Roman Empire, he became a priest in the Catholic Church. Like any priest, one of his duties was to conduct marriage ceremonies. This simple task was opposed by Emperor Claudius II.
Claudius had been facing military defeat and low amounts of enlistments of young men. He came to the conclusion that one of the reasons for the low interest and resolve of the young Roman men was that they were too attached to their wives and families. His solution was to make it illegal for young men to marry, and in effect block them from emotional connection that would make them regret dying. Keep in mind that marriage in the Roman Empire was not held as something holy or pure. Instead, polygamy was legal, and cultural views on sexuality were loose.
Valentine saw this governmental move to run counter to God’s desire for men and women to become one in marriage, so he took the risk and continued to marry couples in private.
Of course, the government came knocking eventually and he went to prison. But even there he continued to operate as a vessel for God’s love. One popular legend is that he healed the jailer’s blind daughter and then led the entire family out of spiritual blindness into a relationship with Jesus. He also wrote this girl a letter of encouragement signing it “From your Valentine”.
Soon after, he was executed. First he was clubbed, then stoned, and then beheaded.
That sounds severe, and it most definitely was. I mean how crazy is it that Valentine paid with his life for the sake of love when the love wasn’t even for his personal benefit?
It is especially crazy considering the value our culture places on love. To him, love was a daily choice. Now, we take love as that butterfly feeling the first time someone flirts with you. To him, love was costly. Now, love is not about my giving, but instead my receiving. To him, love was built on commitment to never give up. Now, we see love as a commitment to stay until the other person doesn’t make us happy anymore.
Valentine’s life was simply following the way of his Master, Jesus. Jesus came and gave up His life to reveal love to us so that instead of receiving justice, we receive freedom.
Do we realize the cost of love is complete? If it is anything short of that, then it is simply a cheap substitute.
The beauty of love is that it is worth it.
Jesus’ requirement of his followers is complete surrender. But the life he offers in replacement is a life we could not begin to imagine.
Love is worth it, because ultimately Jesus is worth it.
I have seen this to be true in my own life. When I first started to follow Jesus, I could have never dreamed of the adventures He would take me on in the last six years. I have served at churches around the country, and now the world. I have been entrusted to disciple men, I have seen God come through and bring healing in ways I would have never believed a few years ago, and I have married a princess of The King.
Together. Ali and I have been a part of creating a community in Shanghai. We have went on incredible adventures over the last three years, we have talked on the phone for hours, we have prayed before the sunrise, and we have had disagreements and learned how to communicate much more effectively. But most of all, we have begun the journey of seeing the beauty of sacrificial love together.
This brings me back to my first Valentine’s Day as a married guy. It has only been three months of marriage, but I am infinitely aware of the fact that the temporal feeling of love will ebb and flow over the coming years. However, what makes it true love is the daily decision that I lay down my life for her as Jesus has done for me.
Father Frank O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland (the church that to this day houses the bones of St. Valentine), recently said, “If Valentine were here today, he would say to married couples that there comes a time where you’re going to have to suffer. It’s not going to be easy to maintain your commitment and your vows in marriage. Don’t be surprised if the ‘gushing’ love that you have for someone changes to something less ‘gushing’ but maybe much more mature. And the question is, is that young person ready for that?”
By God’s Grace, I pray that Ali and I will be continually ready for that, and that He would create in our generation a resurgence of beautiful and sacrificial love.
This is what I mean when I say “I love you Alibear!”. – From your Valentine