In February, 1976, Michael and I, 19 and 18 years old, attended a Valentine’s banquet at one of our local churches. We went with friends, and it was simple and similar to banquets I’ve attended many times over the years. I don’t remember much about the food or decorations. I do remember wearing a white eyelet halter gown, the same one I had worn to my senior prom about eight months earlier.
I also don’t remember who spoke at the banquet, but I do remember what he spoke about. The message was on the three different words used for love in the Bible. There’s eros, for erotic or sexual love, and phileo, for brotherly love or the love of friends. And then there’s agape love – the highest form of love; the unselfish love that seeks the other person’s best interest, even if it means sacrificing yourself. This is the love God has for us and that we should learn to have for one another.
Now by this time, Michael and I had been dating about five months. We had already professed our love to each other (he said it first, by the way), and we were talking about one day getting married (though it wouldn’t happen for more than two years). But on the ride home from that banquet, Michael said the most incredible thing to me. He said, “I love you with agape love.” Now maybe that doesn’t sound like the most romantic thing ever said, and maybe no one has ever said those words to you. But I still remember them distinctly, even forty years later. The other thing I remember about that conversation was that I didn’t say anything in response. I couldn’t. While I loved Michael, I knew I didn’t love him with that same agape love that he was professing. Maybe I was young, or immature, or maybe I was in shock and didn’t understand the meaning of these things — but I just said nothing. Thankfully, as time passed, our love grew, and I was able and am still able to say that I love him with agape love. But back in 1976, I wasn’t able to return his love in quite the same way.
As this weekend marks Valentine’s Day, I am reminded from every direction of couples and love and gifts and all the other forms of saying “I Love You” that we see in the stores. Michael was always a great one to give gifts at Valentine’s Day — not just to me but to our daughters as well. I do not recall a Valentine’s Day when he didn’t send me flowers – usually a dozen (or more) roses for me and a single long stem rose was sent to each of my girls. He would usually go find one of those heart-shaped boxes of candy for each of us, and of course, he would bring one to his mom as well. We didn’t necessarily try to go out on Valentine’s weekend because so many others would be doing that; besides he was pretty consistent about us having a date night most weeks, anyway.
As I look around, I don’t feel jealous of the candy boxes and floral deliveries. Of course, I love both, but it’s just not the same. It doesn’t make me sad or blue. I can order flowers myself and pick up my favorite candy anytime. What I can’t do is create the time for Michael and I to spend together again. We can’t have another date night, watch TV together at home while falling asleep on the sofa, or take a ride together to no place in particular. I type these words, not with tears, or even a lump in my throat. But just with the acceptance of what life now looks like. It would be easy to shake my fist at all the commercialism and wish that the weekend for couples would quickly be finished. But, in fact, I always enjoyed Valentine’s Day in years passed. So why should my children and the rest of the world not get to enjoy their lives as part of a couple too.
I will add, though, that more and more I’m seeing that the most important things in this life fall into two categories — loving God and loving others. When my final day and my final breath comes, nothing else will matter except the relationship I have with God. And as I go through each day, the fact that God loves me should radiate out of my life and be seen in the way I love others. So may I encourage you, especially as you go through this Valentine’s weekend, to make sure that others around you know that you love them. Because I can buy my own flowers and candy, but I cannot spend time together with my love again. I will not find his mushy sentimental Hallmark card on my pillow when I wake in the morning. I cannot hear his voice or hold his hand. But don’t feel sorry for me. You just be sure to do these things for the ones you love.