I’m not a celebrator by nature. Where some people see fun and laughter, I tend to see mess, money, and effort. With these Scrooge-like tendencies, I’m like the elder son, dutifully plowing my furrows with no time to party. [Though when you live in a place where holidays are commercialized beyond recognition, this can feel like a very virtuous stance.]
So when I left the states 13 years ago and moved to a developing country, I was happy to leave behind the relentless promotional parade of cards and colored candy.
No more festive red hearts, green shamrocks, yellow chicks, orange pumpkins, brown turkeys. Farewell Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day, Administrative Professionals Day.
Now, for better and for worse, western holiday culture has reached [or infected?] this country. For better, that means a few places have Christmas trees and decorations in December. For worse, it means Valentine Day displays like these:
Don’t get me wrong. I love chocolate. I love flowers, and I love love. But I don’t enjoyed seeing ads with their nagging reminders that if I care [of course I do!], I need to do something special [meaning expensive].
But is really so bad to overdo a holiday that began in honor of a Christian saint? Would I rather live in a country where Valentine’s Day is actually banned, like Saudi Arabia? There the religious police tell shops to remove red roses and wrapping paper and anything else that might suggest the forbidden holiday, teddy bears included.**
I think it’s far better to reclaim the holiday from commercialized decadence and pious Scrooges by remembering where it all began. Because when we trace love back to its source, as Paul did in Ephesians 1, we hit the celebration jackpot.
We’re the focus of God’s love
Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as
the focus of His love,
to be made whole and holy by His love.
Doesn’t it feel wonderful when we’re the focus of another person’s love, attention, and efforts? It’s even more amazing when that person is God. Before He started creating, He had already thought of us and chosen us for His care.
Did someone say presents?
He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving
by the hand of His beloved Son.
God doesn’t just answer my prayers. He gives me good things on His own initiative, and not because I deserve them but because He wants to. His gift-giving is lavish and extravagant too. He never says, “Sorry, I’m not going to give you anymore presents; you’ve already received your quota.”
He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need
letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making.
We can ask God for anything but even if we forget some crucial request, it doesn’t matter. God has it covered. He’s looking out for us even when we aren’t aware of it. He’s thought of every contingency.
Design for my life
He set it all out before us in Christ,
a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him,
everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.
Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up,
He had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living,
part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.
God had His eye on me long before I knew Him. I’m part of His grand plan. That’s why I don’t have to plead and beg God to give me what I need. He’s keen to work out His purpose with me.
What a magnificent divine Valentine of how God loves me and you. In fact, a once-a-year reminder isn’t enough for me. I need this message to soak down deep into my heart every day.
It’s the balm that heals my fiery wounds. It solves the riddle of what my significance is in this world. When I know deeply and surely that God loves me fully, without any effort on my part, then my grasping ambition to make something of myself dissolves. My life purpose is to be His beloved child.
What I am left with is freedom–the freedom to flourish, to be whom God has made me and to love Him in return. That is where my life begins. That is where my day starts.
It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation),
found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.
This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming,
a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us,
a praising and glorious life.
Now that’s something to celebrate!
Links and Notes
**Though I may have Scrooge-like tendencies, here is my annual Valentine’s Day breakfast:
In our early days, since we couldn’t afford to buy fancy chocolate, I decided to serve chocolate mint chip ice cream and screwball cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was the only one who managed it for all three meals. The other family members always dropped out after breakfast. Lately, I’ve tweaked the tradition with the best fudgy brownies. But if you’re a purist, screwball cake is the way to go.
Seriously, any holiday that gives me an excuse to have chocolate for breakfast is never going to be banned in my house.
Valentine’s Day in Saudi Arabia
“Last year the Organization for Promoting Virtue and Discouraging Evil [or Prevention of Vice, take your translation pick] arrested at least 140 people for celebrating the day.”
“Valentine’s Day is forbidden because it celebrates the life of a Christian saint and “encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women,” according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, a Saudi religious scholar.”
“Every year, the Saudi religious police clamp down on shops, asking them to remove red roses and gifts wrapped in red or that in any way allude to the banned celebration of Valentine’s Day, named after a Christian saint who is said to have been martyred by the Romans in the third century…red-colored or heart-shaped gift items are legal at other times of the year, but they become contraband as February 14 nears.”