In the third century, the Roman Empire was becoming difficult to defend and the Emperor, Claudius II, needed more soldiers. He tried to recruit new men, but faced an obstacle in the young wives of his soldiers, who begged their husbands to stay at home rather than fight. So Claudius decided to forbid marriage. Gloom descended on the city but there was a priest who disagreed with the Emperor’s decree and married young lovers in secret. Morale in Rome was restored but Claudius realised that his plan wasn’t working. It didn’t take him long to find out why and on 14th February AD 270 the priest was executed. His name was Saint Valentine – ‘the friend of lovers’.
We have lost the reference to the saint and 14th February is now known world-wide as Valentine’s Day. Celebrating it is becoming unavoidable and ‘compulsory’, which can be very hurtful for those who are single and offends those who wish to defend singleness as an acceptable lifestyle. Valentine’s Day is also becoming increasingly sexualised, losing the innocence it once had. A further concern is that much of the commercial and media attention is shallow. Beneath the surface is an expectation that, at best, romance will turn into humdrum marriage and at worst, it will all end in tears.
So what should we do? It’s tempting to treat the occasion as corrupted and ignore it entirely. Although this is the easiest solution I think it is wrong because of the biblical emphasis on redemption. If we dig beneath the chocolates, the flowers and the cards, Valentine’s Day is ultimately about romance, which is a precious gift from God, the high value of which is seen throughout the Bible. In Genesis God created human beings as men and women, complementary companions, and throughout the Bible we see that relationships are good. A whole book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, is all about romance. God uses the language of romance to describe his attitude towards his people and Jesus is depicted as the Church’s bridegroom. God’s affection for us is so strong that only the language of romance is adequate to describe it. God gave us romance because He is love. And that’s a good enough reason to try to redeem Valentine’s Day and romance.
We should rejoice in romance, affirming the goodness and ultimate value of love between individuals. Romance is also a serious thing. For a couple to enter into a romance is to start that cautious walk together that may lead to the lifelong spiritual, psychological and physical union of marriage.
We need to encourage restraint in romance. This may seem to fly in the face of affirming romantic love. But we protect the things we value. Because we think romance is good and valuable it needs to be guarded. The Bible is clear that romance should be protected by boundaries; it is too important to be treated lightly and, under the wrong circumstances, is capable of inflicting enormous harm.
We must push hard for a reality in romance. A number of myths and lies surround romance, including:
- Romance will solve everything: Romance can be the start of a relationship, beginning a new life of deep companionship together but to expect it to solve your personal problems is to invite disappointment, if not disaster. If you think that romance is the answer you are asking the wrong question.
- Everybody needs romance: To suggest that we are unfulfilled unless we are in a romantic relationship is to turn romance into a religion. Many people spend much if not all of their lives without romantic relationships and are happy and fulfilled.
- Romance requires the perfect lover: The media have fed us unrealistic expectations based on women who are flawless supermodels and men with the sombre brooding charm of a Mr Darcy or Twilight’s Edward Cullen. Let’s get real: romance is more about what you are deep down than what you look like on the surface.
- Romance ends with marriage: Of all the myths to do with romance this is perhaps the most harmful. Romance does not have to wane when marriage begins; it changes but it need not end. It may need more work, it may be quieter, it may need more persistence and – almost certainly – more forgiveness. But the romance can, and should, continue.
This year as we celebrate ‘Valentine’s Day’ remember that love actually is more of a choice than a feeling, Of course, there is a feeling we call ‘love’, and it’s a wonderful feeling, too. People write songs and poems about it; Hollywood film stars appear in movies about it, and it sells millions of pounds worth of magazines, valentine cards and paperback books. But recently I read this “There are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there aren’t many songs about just being in love, and all the ups and downs of it, how you make it last forever”. Love in a marriage or any long term relationship needs to experience romantic love but it is built upon the foundation of committed love where we make choices to work at the love we have, even when we don’t feel we are in love. Let’s use this years Valentine to renew our commitment to work at “being in love” so that the relationship we are in now can by God’s grace last a lifetime!