What We Get Wrong about Valentine’s Day
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he makes a rather remarkable comment: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Cor.7:8). He desires that people would focus their time and energy on building the Kingdom.
But the way churches prioritize marriage and coupling, you’d think that he said the exact opposite.
The church places so much emphasis on marriage and family that many single people feel out of place, and that singleness is a condition to be remedied. Church small groups and social gatherings often revolve around couples, and churches probably teach about marriage 20 times for every mention of singleness.
So, how do you handle Valentine’s Day in a way that honors singles and doesn’t exclude them? Well, first of all, you have to ask yourself if St. Valentine’s Day is a holiday that needs to be recognized at all. If it is—and many would suggest that its Christian roots make it extremely relevant—maybe it’s helpful to stick to the actual story.
The Story of St. Valentine’s Day
Claudius the Cruel was a third-century Roman emperor with enormous political and military aspirations. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his armies to be as enthusiastic about his military campaigns as he was.
He eventually saw the apathy of the soldiers as a problem with families. Because the married people in the military worried about what would happen to their loved ones if they were to die, they weren’t as valiant as they should be. Claudius’ response was to make marriage among young people illegal.
Obviously, the Christian church saw the idea of marriage much differently. And a priest named St. Valentine took it upon himself to marry young couples in secret church ceremonies. After hundreds of such wedding ceremonies, authorities caught and imprisoned St. Valentine. When they finally dragged him before the court, the order was given that he should be beaten to death with clubs and decapitated.
Legend has it that he became close friends with the blind daughter of one of his jailers—a man named Asterius. It’s said that his prayers healed her and Asterius eventually became a Christian. The story also suggests that he signed the last letter he wrote to her before being put to death, “From your Valentine.”
What Valentine’s Day Should Mean
The world has latched on to St. Valentine’s Day as a celebration of romance, to be observed with Hallmark cards, chocolates, and flowers. But the story has a point that is so much more profound than any celebration of relationship.
St. Valentine was an uncoupled priest who took a personal stand against the Roman empire. He took advantage of his small area of influence and stood up for his convictions. His example is one that we (married or single) could all benefit from recognizing. There comes a time when we need to stand by our convictions, even in the face of opposition and suffering.
If you feel the need to recognize St. Valentine’s Day, don’t use it as an opportunity to talk about marriage or to hold events like couples banquets. Find the common thread that runs through the story that everyone, regardless of marital status or station, can remember and celebrate!