There was no official Valentine’s Day in the dim past of my youth. In fact, when I first came across some yellowed-with-age Victorian Valentine’s Day cards on a visit to an antiques store during our Bible school days in England, they seemed just a quaint old-fashioned relic of a past era, but the idea of sending someone an anonymous love note appealed to my own romantic senses 😊. These days, I’m told, ‘anonymous’ is not a good thing!

Looking back, I now understand that my father, although unacquainted with St. Valentine, was a deeply romantic man, often picking up his Gibson guitar to serenade our mother with the songs of their courtship. Nobody knows those old songs anymore, yet they ring in my own melodies of love when I sit at my piano. Mom and Dad were never embarrassed to hold hands in front of the whole wide world, including their own congregation, something that even as a child I knew was preciously unusual and early on I decided, ‘one day when I am married, my husband and I will do the same.’

Better writers than I have tried to describe this most radical of emotions, some with more success than others. I say ‘radical’ because there is this recognition that we need love, true love, to be whole, but like our shadows, when we try to grasp it greedily, it disappears tantalizingly. We also can’t force someone’s love, no matter how much our own hearts may yearn when we see those who live within its comforting embrace. Sadly, in our culture we have also diminished the word itself to embrace everything from a lipstick color to a magnificent view of earth from outer space!

Someone called the Bible God’s love letter to us, and so it truly is. It is also a manual, a teacher of how to love God and those He created in His own image. This small column is not the place to deeply examine any single facet of this multi-defined, sometimes messy and painful, yet always glorious emotion. But as I read the Word I see a recurring pattern – if I give love, I receive love! In fact, the apostle Paul tells me if I’m going to love someone, I must make sure I really love them; I mustn’t give an impression that isn’t true. I mustn’t say one thing and then do another (Romans 12:9). I also read that if I live my life in God, my love for Him and people becomes more perfect because I’m living like Jesus in this old world.

I do understand that saying ‘I love you’ is sometimes uncomfortable or inappropriate, but these days I try NOT to just say, ‘Love you.’ Love is not a throw-away line like a careless goodbye wave of the hand. It is a life-gift, offered with the humble understanding that it is better to give than to receive.