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Originally published Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Valentine's Day overlooks love's most enduring forms

Valentine's Day can be expanded to embrace all those who love life and hope that our tomorrows will be better than today. Why not tell that special girlfriend, brother or neighbor that you love them and give thanks for them being in your life? An unexpected gift on this day will express just how much you value friendships. It is no surprise that friendships often outlast our romantic relationships.

Special to The Seattle Times

Today is Valentine's Day. Few women ever forget this holiday. We like romance, being held by that special someone and being told we are loved. Many partners have gotten in big trouble on this day because they forgot to give the gift that says, I love you.

If you are reading this on Valentine's morning and have forgotten to get that special something, or find this column taped to the bathroom mirror, you still have time to redeem the day.

They say Valentine's Day is the day for lovers. That is all well and good if you have a lover you like. Otherwise, the day can be a bust. Too often the expectations of flowers, chocolate and a romantic dinner go unfulfilled. A day that celebrates love should not be a disappointment for so many. Perhaps we need to reframe what Valentine's Day is all about.

I think Valentine's Day can be expanded to embrace all those who love life and hope that our tomorrows will be better than today. Why not tell that special girlfriend, brother or neighbor that you love them and give thanks for them being in your life? An unexpected gift on this day will express just how much you value friendships. It is no surprise that friendships often outlast our romantic relationships.

I remember in elementary school giving Valentine's Day cards to everyone in my class. In those days, we could not give cards just to those we liked. We had to give cards to everyone. I did not like half the boys in my classes, but I gave them cards, too. They did not get the prettiest cards, but they got cards nonetheless. I think there is a lesson in giving gifts to those we are not that fond of.

Jesus said the best way to get back at our enemies is to love them and give them what they need. Hearts of stone can turn to hearts of flesh with the smallest gesture of kindness. Our detractors do not expect us to be kind or really listen to them. Yet when we hear stories from those who bristle at us, we often hear words of pain, sorrow and fear that have nothing to do with us. Love can win over our staunchest enemy.

While loving others on this day, remember to love yourself. Loving oneself is a sign of wisdom. When we love ourselves into wholeness, there is more of ourselves to give away. If you would love to receive a bouquet of flowers today, buy one. Be kind to yourself by treating yourself to a good book, a bubble bath and a fabulous cup of tea.

While tangible signs of affection from others are hoped for today, let us remember that the greatest love we can experience is from God. These days, marriage vows have only a 50 percent success rate, even when they include "til death us do part." But the love that comes from our creator is with us before birth and even beyond death. What confidence to know that love will be with us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in times of wealth and in poverty.

In these stressful economic times, with the stock market still sinking and unemployment at a 30-year high, we must cling to those values that are rock solid. Love is simple — not jealous, envious or rude.

Real love has nothing to do with dress size, quantity of hair on one's head, or the value of one's 401(k). Love desires us to be our best selves and for us to be happy.

I am fortunate to know what real love looks like and feels like. I am also holding out for dark chocolate today. Happy Valentine's Day.

The Rev. Patricia L. Hunter is an associate in ministry at Mount Zion Baptist Church and an employee-benefits specialist for American Baptist Churches in the USA. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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