For all its fluffy, gushy hoopla, Valentine’s Day is a significant day. Sure, the card/flowers/candy companies have inflated it more than a little, but Valentine’s Day is not merely sentimental. If you’re like me, the day is a mile marker of sorts. When I look back on Valentine’s Day five, ten, or twenty years ago, it’s interesting to reflect on what it meant to me at different stages of my life.
Eight years ago, for example, I sat in a swanky restaurant with a man I had only just met. I thought he was crazy to ask me out so soon—on Valentine’s Day, no less!—but ten months later we would be engaged. Valentine’s Day is now our “first date anniversary.”
Fifteen years ago I was a sophomore in college, and very single. Both of my roommates had serious boyfriends, so they were out having a romantic evening. My night, on the other hand, involved some form of wallowing.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a fourth grader. That year, I wrapped a shoe box in red heart wrapping paper, dotted it with more heart stickers, and cut a hole in the top. I then assembled twenty-four Bugs Bunny Valentine’s cards for the annual card and candy exchange. Back then, I wasn’t concerned about finding a boyfriend so much as gathering a stockpile of candy.
The personal significance of Valentine’s Day changes over the years, and for kids it’s usually quite simple: Valentine’s Day is fun. However, as our kids grow older and Valentine’s Day begins to MEAN something, that significance is accompanied by cultural messages about “love.” As a parent, I want to be a part of that learning process.
In our culture, “romantic love” has a rather self-centered bent to it. Romantic love is supposed to complete us. Marital love is supposed to make us happy. “Love” and “self-fulfillment” are nearly one in the same. In fact, our culture (through books, movies, reality television and more) implies that without romantic love we are somehow incomplete (thank you, Jerry Maguire). In a desperate effort to fill that void, people often justify personal compromise and bad decision-making. Alternatively, “love” can also carry less weight than it should, with people demonstrating flippant relationships like one-night stands and “friends with benefits.”
Before my kids absorb those distorted messages about romantic love, I want to counter those messages with truth, and Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity for those conversations. So, as Valentine’s Day approaches, here are some fun topics for conversation that can help your kids develop a more Christ-like understanding of love. These questions are appropriate for different ages, and they are only the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they can inspire you, and your family, to go a little deeper with Valentine’s Day:
• Besides romantic love, what other kinds of love are there?
• Is romantic love the most important kind of love? Why or why not?
• In what ways does God show His love for us (1 John 3:16)?
• How can we show our love for God?
• The Bible says to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). How can you love your friends, or your siblings, as yourself?
• Jesus also teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)? Who are the hard people in your life, and how do you think you can love them?
• The Bible says it is not enough to love people with our words, but to SHOW them our love (1 John 3:18). Why do think your actions are more powerful than your words?
In John 13:35, Jesus reminds the disciples that they will be known by their love. In a world of conditional love, cheap love and self-centered love, it’s never too early to start teaching our kids about Jesus’ “different kind of love.” And more importantly, it’s never too late to talk about God’s love for us, and how to bear witness to it. God’s love is a whole lot harder, and much more self-sacrificing, than mushy Valentine’s Day love, but it’s also the only kind of love that is perfect, the only kind of love we were fundamentally created for, and the only kind of love that will actually fulfill us.
I want my kids to know that truth, on Valentine’s Day, and every day.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom. She is a regular contributor to Her.meneutics, and has also written for Propel, (in)courage, Relevant, Gifted for Leadership, The Gospel Project, and Christianity Today. To read more of her writing, visit her blog at SheWorships.com.