Can Valentine’s Day Distort Love?


And the Lord said now that I made a bird
I’m gonna look all around for a little ol’ word
That sounds about sweet like a turtle dove
And I guess I’m gonna call it love.

Most pop music traces the ups and downs of love. Take Jimmie Rodgers, for example. His 1957 song, “Honeycomb,” soared to the top of the music charts. With a folk-rock style and velvet voice, Rodgers sings about the ecstasy of love.

Valentine’s Day is nearly here. In one way or another, many of us will once again celebrate the bliss of romance. Flowers will be delivered, red cards will be mailed and boxes of chocolate will be devoured. Couples of all ages will enjoy a few hours when they dine at local restaurants.

Many of us will want to sing along with Rodgers, “Honeycomb, won’t you be my baby?”

Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful festivity, but, sometimes, it can be misleading. It affirms an unspoken assumption about love in our culture.

What is love?

Well, it’s an emotion. From a warm glow in our hearts to the tingling up and down our spines, love describes how we feel about someone.

Now, this is not entirely wrong. We do have deep feelings about our spouses, our parents, our children and our friends. We cherish and nurture these relationships.

But when we reduce love to an emotion, we miss the mark.

Love is an action verb. Love is what we do to honor and bless the inherent dignity of another human being. It is how we respond to the recognition that each and every man, woman and child are precious in the eyes of God.

We might not have a strong attachment to a homeless woman and her children. We might not savor our relationship with our unemployed neighbor. But when we provide shelter, food and a listening ear, we do, indeed, love them.

One afternoon, I stopped by Bob’s house. Bob was a pillar in the church where I was serving. Affable. Pleasant. He had a terrific smile. At 72 years old, Bob was a lifelong bachelor.

His 20 or so cats were his constant companions, although he had never allowed them inside his home.

My heart sank when we walked into his kitchen. It was filthy. I opened the door of his refrigerator, and a swarm of gnats flew out.

We in the congregation saw Bob and spoke to him every Sunday, but we were all shocked to discover that his mental health had so drastically deteriorated.

I called Johnny. “Johnny, Bob needs a refrigerator.” That afternoon Johnny took a refrigerator from the church to Bob’s house.

I called Frankie. “Frankie, Bob is living in a firetrap.” The next day Frankie and a few others hauled away a truckload of old magazines and newspapers.

I called Mary. “Mary, Bob is in bad shape, and I think he’s hungry.” She prepared him a meal and took it to him.

I called Beatrice. “Beatrice, Bob needs to be around people.” That Sunday, Bob joined her family for dinner.

In these and so many other ways, that congregation cared for Bob. They cared for him until he died of cancer a few months later.

They would simply say that they were doing the right thing.

I didn’t see Cupid hovering nearby, but I think I would call it love.