When Lent & Love collide

by Kristin on February 14, 2013

in Belief, doubt & hope

A couple of evenings ago, as my daughters and I decorated dozens of heart-shaped butter cookies, the 12- and 15-year-olds informed me that Valentine’s Day is one of their favorite holidays.

“It’s all about LOVE!” they said, indignant that I dared to ask why they liked it so much. “And it’s the only holiday that happens on a school day, when we can be with our friends.”

This morning there was extra excitement and drama in the air as they added Valentine touches to their freshly painted fingernails and wrapped up cookies to take to friends and teachers. Let’s just say there was a lot of pink going on. I observed the scene with some fascination, vaguely beginning to remember when Valentine’s Day meant more to me, too.

Now, of course, it isn’t cool to make much of the “Hallmark holiday.” It’s been two decades since I secretly hoped for flowers on the 14th, and although Jason and I did make a bit of a deal celebrating our first Valentine’s Day together (it was 2006, and we had only been officially dating for about a month), we haven’t made a habit of it. We’d rather spend the money going out for a nice dinner on an “off” night, without all the hoopla and the crowds—the awkward aura of couples trying too hard to conjure up extra meaning out of an ordinary day.

This year Jason is out of town for Valentine’s Day, which of course doesn’t matter since we don’t really do anything to celebrate anyway. Right?

Well, sort of.

To be honest, there’s a part of me that’s feeling a tiny bit sorry for the woman whose love is off in New York spending Valentine’s Day with clients. I’ve been feeling those twinges of self pity all week, and I’m not a fan of self pity. I am, however, a fan of how I’ve responded to the twinges: Rather than swatting them away, trying to pretend that February 14 has no broad, cultural significance, I’ve embraced Valentine’s Day more than ever, thinking up ways to celebrate the love I feel for a variety of people in my life who aren’t my husband. It was an excuse to invite a friend to dinner, to make plans to have lunch with someone I haven’t caught up with in months, to have a phone date with a dear friend who lives in another state, and to write a couple of emails to people I’ve been thinking about. All of those connections this week brought me (and hopefully them, too) a lot of joy.

Just as I was really getting into the spirit of spreading all this love, a small collection of Facebook and Twitter statuses almost ruined it for me. Some were just the typical, hipster, anti-Hallmark-holiday sentiments that I’ve heard variations of for many years, but others had more bite. Yesterday, which was Ash Wednesday, I saw a Tweet from someone who wondered how many Christians were spending more time thinking about Valentine’s Day than Ash Wednesday. I felt a stab of guilt—obviously we had made Valentine’s cookies, not Ash Wednesday cookies (whatever those might be), and I had mailed a Valentine’s Day card to my grandmother, not a “Happy Lent” card.

But then I felt myself growing angry (the way I often do shortly after feeling guilty about something I shouldn’t feel guilty about). Lent is personal, while Valentine’s Day is communal. Lent calls us to turn inward, while Valentine’s Day is about turning outward. Both days are capable of inspiring deep, powerful meaning, just as they are capable of prompting shallow, empty, rote behaviors.

Most importantly, God is not asking me to weigh my Ash Wednesday observances against my Valentine’s Day observances. God is calling me to love, and love is a very complex thing, fed as much by a season of inner examination as by outward practices of caring for others.

In fact, when I look at my week as a whole, it seems completely fitting that it was a week that held both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. For me, it has been a week of brokenness, loneliness and tears, as well as a week of connection, understanding, and time devoted to people I love. It’s been a week of cookie cutters and frosting, of a messy kitchen and laughter around the table. I have felt the heaviness of a worried Mama’s heart balanced by the lightness that comes from conversations that make you feel heard and loved.

In other words, it was a week of brokenness and love. Call the holidays what you will—arbitrary, symbolic, sacred, silly, whatever. They are just days on a calendar, waiting for us to animate them with meaning through how we choose to live our lives.

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    • kt_writes

      I’m glad this exploration made some sense! Thank you for reading (and for letting me know that you did!).

  • themoderngal

    A very important part of Lent is giving — and giving of yourself fits that definition perfectly. You gave of yourself by making connections with your friends and daughters when you could have treated the day like any other.

    • kt_writes

      As I was writing this post I was thinking about the meaning of Lent—what it means to me, what it means in the church traditions I’ve been a part of, and what it means in other traditions. I was particularly wondering about Catholicism, so I’m glad you commented! “Giving” is not something I automatically think of when I think of Lent, but I’m going to be thinking of it more in that framework now! I’m curious, do you know what the theological basis is for that? Is it directly tied to the repentance, or is it sort of its own thing?

      • themoderngal

        I think it’s more along the lines of deepening our relationship with Christ. Fasting and repenting get all the attention, but we’re supposed to make a better effort at praying and giving too. We read Matthew 6 on Ash Wednesday, which is a good complement to that. The traditional way many Catholics practice the “giving” is through the Rice Bowl program http://www.crsricebowl.org (there’s a great explanation of fast/pray/give there).

        Check out the text below this Lenten calendar for a little bit more … http://bustedhalo.com/features/fast-pray-give-2013 (that site is run by the Paulists priests in America — their mission is communicating in contemporary culture, and I’m a big fan!)

        And thanks for asking about it! I love being able to share more about the ways Catholics practice Lent — so often it gets chalked up to “giving something up for Lent” with no regard for the meaning of it all.

  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com/ Grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    dang girl, you are so flipping deep! I love it! I thought the two days back to back were an interesting turn of events as well, but I didn’t know how to articulate that….or even dwell much on the anomaly. …but I love what meaning you’ve given to it…that it’s important to animate those days with meaning, not idly let them come to you and feel disappointed when it doesn’t deliver. (at least, that’s what I got out of this =)

    • kt_writes

      Deep—ha! One day you will meet me in person… But it means a lot that you get into what I’m thinking through here, and that you add to the conversation. “…it’s important to animate those days with meaning…” YES.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

    Late to this, but I loved this post, friend. I felt the tension this week too. Thanks for your beautiful take on it.

    • kt_writes

      Friend, I’m late to everything these days. I’ve decided it just has to be OK. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • Margaret Feinberg

    Profound post Kristin. Love connecting the significance of Valentine’s day with the start of Lent.