Who was Valentine? And how the grass is greener where you water it

It was a grade-3 Valentine’s Day party. We had highly processed chocolate, some red balloons, and an awkward exchange of Valentine’s cards:

Roses are red / Violets are nice
Kiss me once / I’ll kiss you twice!

Ba da boom.

I’d like to say that our poetry and romantic prowess improve with age, but I’m not sure that’s accurate.

But the whole February 14th thing makes you wonder:

  • Who actually was Valentine?
  • And how do we grow a stronger love?

First, Valentine

There’s some very fuzzy info out there. As far as I can tell, two people named Valentine are traced to the 3rd century—one a bishop, the other a priest, both killed for their faith. They may be different people, or the same person with conflicting stats. It’s hard to be sure.

Some say the priest was in the habit of marrying young couples no one else would marry. Kind of like the guy in Romeo and Juliet who married the star-crossed lovers despite the speed-train romance and potential for social collateral between the Montagues and Capulets. From what I could find, there’s not a tonne of evidence to back up this theory as Valentine the hero-love-priest. That doesn’t mean it isn’t out there; it just means I couldn’t find it.

According to historian Michael Haykin: “Our Saint Valentine was an Italian bishop who was martyred on February 14, 269, after a trial before the Roman emperor Claudius Gothicus (reign 268–270). According to the meager accounts that we have, Valentine’s body was hastily buried, but a few nights later some of his associates retrieved it and returned it to his home town of Terni in central Italy.”

I’ve heard it said that a reason February 14th is linked with both Valentine and romance is not only because it was the date he was killed for his faith (see above), but also because of a belief dating to the fourteenth century that birds were supposed to mate on that day. Who knew?!

And what about choosing a Valentine? Some trace this custom to the 1400’s in England.

But can any of this help us grow a stronger love?

One of the expressions I don’t like is “falling” in love. It suggests we don’t have an active role in the love we have or express, as if we’re running through a field and passively fall down a hole.

I get the idea: We are “swept” off our feet; we have a feeling, as if moved by an outside force. But as psychiatrist Scott Peck says, “True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision.”

So here’s what I suggest: Choose the one you’re with.

Start to invest in the love that is right in front of you. Our world is drowning with unhelpful images, philosophies and attitudes about love and relationships.

But romantic love is intended to be patterned on the loyal, committed love we have toward God.

Are you someone who is always thinking that the grass is greener on the other side? If so, Neil Barringham has a word of wisdom: “The grass is greener where you water it.”

So here are 5 quick tips to help you water it:

1. Pay attention

Your significant other is communicating with you whether they’re using words or not. And attention requires effort, especially in these times of distracting, blurrying busyness. Pay attention.

2. Have fun together

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says we were made “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” That’s true in the context of relationships too. Joy and laughter make great fertilizer.

3. Focus on the good

When we start dating someone, we see all their wonders. But over time we can zero in on flaws. But guess what, you have them too. Don’t let your eyes be continually drawn from a beautiful piece of art to a few cobwebs on the frame. Be thankful for the good.

4. Discipleship

If you’re a follower of Jesus, everything you do is for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), including your relationships. Pray for your other half, worship together, and serve together as the hands and feet of Jesus. Those who serve together grow together.

5. Start now

Want more quality time? Schedule more quality time. Want more romance? Be romantic. Want a stronger relationship? Initiate a more trusting, intimate connection. Married? Frame your wedding vows as a daily reminder of your mutual commitment under God.

Love always

The records of history may be a bit vague about Valentine. But as a clergyman, he would have been very familiar with 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often read at weddings. When the apostle Paul wrote it, he was talking about the love we share with others as the hands and feet of Jesus. It continues to offer enduring wisdom:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

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