No XOXO?: What to Do When You’re Nobody’s Valentine

    All the anticipation was there. I had my Power Ranger’s Valentine’s Day cards carefully laid out on the floor – each card having the name of one of my closest friends. Of course, some people would get a card from me who I never spent time with on our school’s pirate ship-themed playground. But then again, when I was in the 2nd grade you had to make sure nobody got left out. I remember even as an 8-year-old carefully counting the cards to make sure there were enough for the next day. But even to this day, I remember one of those cards carried a little more meaning than the others. On the front of that card stood the name, “Amber.” Don’t get me wrong, I was not about to fess up to liking a girl at that age. No way, José! Nothing would bring a 2nd-grade boy more ridicule than fraternizing with the enemy. After all, they played those silly hand-clapping games and braided hair all day. But yet, there was a part of me even then wondering – no, hoping – that she would give me a Valentine’s Day card as well.

    Well, the next day came. I dropped a card in everyone’s Valentine’s Day bag – perhaps lingering a little longer at her bag to see if she would notice. I remember at the end of the party, I grabbed my bag and shuffled through the twenty-something cards from my other classmates. I didn’t care about all of them. I just cared about one. Sure enough, there it was. I remember feeling the exhilaration that I actually had a Valentine. Of course, looking back at it, this little girl gave a Valentine to everyone in the class. But as a 2nd grader, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I had a genuine V-A-L-E-N-T-I-N-E.

    Valentine’s Day is a big deal to our culture, and it’s become even bigger than when I was in the 2nd grade. Last year, Americans were predicted to spend an average of $146.33 each on Valentine’s Day – that’s right – $19.6 billion.  What kind of messages are people trying to send with that kind of money? Well, people use Valentine’s Day in a variety of ways: some use it to confess their feelings for a friend, some to remind their husband of their love, while still others might use it to try and make up for a year’s worth of inattentiveness to their wife. 

    With all the lovey-dovey chocolates and flowers that get passed around in February, it’s easy to get an idealized picture of love. But the roses don’t always turn up red on Valentine’s Day. One group of people who go overlooked on this day is a group I actually belong to: singles. That’s right – no spouse, no girlfriend, no hand to hold, no XOXO, and absolutely no Sweetheart candies with cute words on them. Singles are a huge part of our population, and if you go to a church like mine, they might make up a large percentage of your church’s population. That leads to my question: what can singles like me (or perhaps like you reading this) do on Valentine’s Day?

God Knows Your Difficulty

    I don’t think it should come as a shock that Valentine’s Day is such a big deal to so many people. The day at its very least reveals something about humanity – we are desiring creatures. We not only long for people and things, but we also longed to be longed for. Hence why on that Valentine’s Day in 2nd grade, it was not enough for me just to give that girl a valentine. I longed for a card from her. But what happens when that desire to be longed for goes unmet? I think everyone knows the horrible feeling. It’s like a papercut to the heart – not enough to kill you, but enough to make you shudder whenever you think about it.

    For many single Christians, February 14th initiates a panic where their brain tells them to stop worrying about that “crazy little thing called love.” Instead, they are to manage any heartache as best they can when Cupid comes around the corner. Most hope to go through the day escaping any notice, pleading to God they will not hear the dreaded, “God’s got someone out there for you,” speech for the 14,000th time (#WhatMightBeTrueIsNotAlwaysHelpful). Thus, Valentine’s Day can function as a day when many single Christians are tempted to doubt God’s good provision and careful attentiveness to their life. After all, does he really feel the anguish you feel? 

But that’s where the Bible has a good word for those who long to be longed for. Solomon writes,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)

Now you might read that and say, “Duh! When I don’t get something I want, I hurt.” But that is not exactly what Solomon is getting at. I think many of us tend to think God looks at us the same way a group of 40-year old’s look at a young teenager who just got broken up with. As if God just grimaces/smiles, thinking, “Yeah, she thinks that her whole world is crashing down. She’s got a lot to learn.” I don’t think that’s the case based on this proverb. Solomon is saying there really is something anguishing about having your heart want something so badly while constantly having that desire go unfulfilled. Some evolutionary biologist might tell you this anguish is just a neurological response your body goes through in response to a lack of stimulation. Not the Bible – it says the pain you feel, that junk is real and wasn’t meant to happen! You were created to find all your longings fulfilled by the God of the Universe, but that all changed because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion and sin entering the world. We went from being a perfectly satisfied human race to satisfaction leeches, latching onto anything and everything to suck meaning, identity, and life out of things. Thus, unfulfilled hope is now a part of our lives, and it doesn’t just affect your body, it affects every part of you: body and soul.

    Single Christian, when you run to the Bible during this time of year, know that God’s Word does not deny your heartache. But instead, we run to the Word of God who became flesh and tasted of the anguish this fallen world contains. And he will carry you through (even if your anguish remains temporarily) to the day when he wipes away every tear.

You Gotta Work at This Gift

    I remember as an 11-year old, Christmas day rolled around and my Dad got us a completely unexpected gift – an electric guitar. It was a candy-apple-red Squire Strat. I had not even mentioned wanting to play, but when I saw it, I thought, “Oh great! Let’s do this!” As I soon found out, I was horrible at guitar. I had no music background, and couldn’t play even the simplest of songs. Even after a year of lessons, I quit, only to pick up the same instrument years later. Today I have been playing guitar for 20 years, and I’ve become a professional through lots of hard work, practice and study. Looking back on that Christmas day, that was a cool gift my Dad gave, but it was a gift that required work and intentionality to be able to use it properly.

    Being single for 34 years of my life, I have found the single life is much more like an instrument than many would think. Paul, in writing to a church to sort out their relationship issues, says to the singles in the congregation:

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:5-7)

    If you just read that as I did, you will notice Paul just called singleness a “gift.” Now, this is where many will throw up their hands and say, “David, I don’t have the gift of singleness that you apparently have since you can see it as a gift.” First of all, I don’t think I have the gift of singleness. I long for a wife like a penguin in Miami longs for an iceberg. Second, I think from this verse, Paul has two kinds of singleness in mind: 1) a permanent singleness and, 2) a temporary singleness. I think there is a permanent singleness that can be a gift from the Lord. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “I wish that all were as I myself am (single). But each has his own gift from God…” Paul had that gift. Some godly people undoubtedly have that as well. Not everyone who is single has that gift, though.

    But Paul also assumes the gift temporary singleness here as well (“But each has his own gift from God…”). Each of the people in this congregation had a gift – some of the gift of marriage, others the gift permanent singleness, and still others the gift of temporary singleness. However, some of those walking in that gift of temporary singleness were experiencing burning passion, which functioned as a sign that they should try to transition from their current gift (temporary singleness) to another gift (marriage). 

    Here’s what that means single Christian – even if you are not in your preferred relationship status, you are amid a gift right now. You are walking in a gift even if you don’t have the gift of permanent singleness. For this season in life and until the Lord brings you a spouse, you have more free time and fewer responsibilities than a married man or woman in the same position. For one, this means your current state is not cursed by God. But also, it means that something is not just automatically wrong with you. You’ve been given a great gift, even if it’s a temporary gift with an expiration date. 

    But how do you use that gift, and how do you come to not view it like a piece of fruitcake you got as a gift at Christmas (the most re-gifted gift ever)? I think this is where it can be helpful to view our gift of temporary singleness like the guitar my Dad gave me all the years ago – it’s a gift that takes work and intentionality. If you are not careful and intentional, I know firsthand how easy the heart can become embittered by the very thing God desires to use to bring beautiful fruit from your life. The result of such bitterness is poison to the soul, as well as the wasting of a gift more precious than we can possibly imagine. So that leads us to the question: how do we work at this gift? Let’s start with Valentine’s Day…

Redeem Your Valentine’s Day

    If you want to make your singleness as great of time possible, there are things you might want to both practice and avoid. Let’s start with the negative on Valentine’s Day.  What kind of things might you want to avoid? The Hallmark Channel, staying home by yourself gorging on Romantic Comedies, listening to Taylor Swift albums, and stalking Facebook (looking at your ex’s profile or watching all the other Valentine’s moments of your friends wishing that was you) just to name a few. None of these things are wrong per se — I mean, like a good Taylor Swift song as much as any 14-year-old girl. But there are certain seasons of my heart where wisdom would have me stay away from these because of what my heart will do with those good things.

    Now for the positive — what are some things to do on Valentine’s Day? From experience, we know anytime the human heart has a desire that goes unfulfilled, it quickly moves into loathing, self-criticism, and self-pity. I think one of God’s great antidotes to self-pity and bitterness is for us to go on the offensive by showing loving kindness through service and self-sacrifice. That’s why I would urge you to make your Valentine’s Day about self-sacrifice. 

    My favorite suggestion? Grab some roses from the store and turn Friday, February 14th into a day where you give Valentines to people in your church who have lost their Valentines: widows. I’m speaking about those in your church who don’t get out of their house or nursing home. Maybe even take them out to a movie date. Make your night into a night of listening. Visit several of them — some visits might go well, others not so well. But in visiting, you get to ask good questions, weeping with those who weep and mourning with those who mourn. Listen to them, read a Psalm to them, and pray for them.

    For those longing to be longed for, know that is a good desire God has planted within your heart. However, until the day he or she comes and God grants you the gift of marriage, or until the Lord takes you home, take advantage of the great gift he’s currently given you. Care for it, work at it, pray to the Lord you will use it well, and fight for joy by giving of yourself to serve others during this season.