Valentine’s Day can cause as much angst as joy. If you are in a relationship, prices are exorbitant on this day and there can be pressure to cave to commercialism. If you are not in a relationship, you might feel like you are a loser. Valentine’s does not really seem to live up to its essence of being about love when you really examine it. I have never really liked the day much personally, whether I have been partnered or not. I would like to focus on love today though.
I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s recent release entitled The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life. In it, Ann writes about real love and what it means. I have often said to my friends that I think we do not clearly comprehend what real love is. I have been in love in my life. I have also been infatuated, swept off my feet, the object of obsession, and have completely lost myself and my bearings in various relationships. I am not an expert on the topic by any means but I do think I know what love is not at this stage of life. As I often do, I look to Jesus to see how Love is revealed in his life.
I said to a retreatant one time that the Spiritual Exercises are a love affair between that person and Jesus. If you think about the love of your earthly life, one of the strong points that holds any relationship together is the time spent getting to know one another. Sometimes it is hearing life stories–which is really what the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises is about. Jesus reveals himself to the retreatant through the Gospel stories and the colloquies. In stories we learn a lot about the other person–their kind acts, their struggles, their compassion, their passion, their values, and their fears. This helps us to fall in love with the real them. The same is true for Christ. The more we spend time with him, the more we fall head over heels in love with who he truly is.
Real love, Voskamp says, is a shelter, a safe place. She is right. Jesus makes us feel safe and secure. Our partners should too. More importantly, we should make ourselves feel safe otherwise we never believe we deserve love of any kind. Voskamp struggles to believe she is worthy. So do I many times. I suspect so do you. What if today we stopped judging ourselves and treated ourselves like the Beloved? What if this moment we silenced the voices in our own head that said we were not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, just plain old enough? What if today we stood in the security that God loved us right here and now? We did not have to strive to be loved. We would not have to compete. We would just know deep within us that we are Loved.
Dying creates an interesting dynamic regarding loving. People want to tell me that they love me. They give me beautiful gifts like the fabulous chocolate heart in the photo, resting on a stunning purple journal. These are thoughtful blessings chosen well to please me. There is no angst or pretense with these gifts or the words that accompany them. There is no competition or expectation. These presents are not given for any other reason than Love. I am grateful for such expressions of caring and for those people who make themselves vulnerable by saying they love me. A sanctuary appears in many moments of such tenderness.
I am learning more and more to love myself as I edge towards the Finish Line and to express my love to those in my life. I was busted the other day by a new person in my life who in essence gave me permission not to worry about breaking hearts. I am well aware of how much certain people care for me, awakening to the impact of my life on more people than I ever imagined, and scared to hurt people by dying on them. Voskamp’s words rumble around my spirit, trying to nudge me into creating a sanctuary for the Love that must exist for me in the time remaining. I need to enlarge my heart and be open to what will present itself to me. I also need to find a good balance of guarding my heart out of love for myself. I cannot be all things to all people. The line is so fine that I expect this will take time to figure out. As I told a friend recently, despite us not spending much time together, I count her in my closer circles. She is a safe place for me.
This Valentine’s Day Love seems ultimately present in my heart in new and profound ways. I have received it in the tears of friends, carried it in my heart in the absence of those who wish they could be here with me, had it whispered to me bravely and fiercely, and had it lavished upon me through prayers and deeds. I have tried to give it by sharing my innermost thoughts, by saying yes instead of the easy no, by being gentle with myself, and by simply living each and every day in the uncertainty of this surreal adventure. This is real Love, not infatuation or fleeting desire. This is marked by the Divine and tested in fire. This Love stands as a strong shelter for me.
What memory do you have of a Love that is a strong shelter?
Do you think you know what real love is?
Spirit of Love, touch our hearts and show us what it means to be real. No false scripts here please! Leave your indelible mark upon us so that we may build strong shelters for Love. Amen.