That first year of college, I walked into the main lounge of my dorm and smelled the roses before I saw them. Sitting on the counter was vase after vase, dozen upon dozen of red roses and baby’s breath – it was the early 90’s when everything came with a side of baby’s breath. What were we thinking?
I felt this pang of longing – of not belonging – because there were no roses waiting for me. Never mind that I don’t like roses. I certainly don’t like growing them. I don’t like the structure of a rose bush or the fact that they get black spot fungus. I don’t like pruning them – heaven help me with all the pruning. There isn’t a self-sufficient thing about roses. I’m just not a fan.
I don’t like getting them. I don’t like the structure or the smell or the wilting. Of all the exotic, gorgeous flowers in the world that we can put in a vase and plop on the table, roses don’t do it for me. I like variety of texture and color, so the idea of 12 identical flowers makes me yawn.
The only time I like roses is during the Tournament of Roses parade when FINALLY, roses are put to good use.
But at 19 years old, I wasn’t thinking about whether I liked roses. I was thinking about being left out and wanting to be like everyone else. I wanted some large, on-display expression of love. I wanted the world to know that I was lovable.
The greeting card, chocolate and floral industries have set an impossibly high standard. We feel the public pressure to meet that standard. In decades prior, our public displays sat on a work desk or table to tell our small circle that we are, in fact, loved. Now, we post, tweet and share our perfectly framed photos and pinterest-worthy efforts. We, likewise, feel the disappointment when there is no valentine or our mate doesn’t love us quite right on that day. We’ve set the bar so high that we are bound to be disappointed. We combat our disappointment with snark or a morose cynicism of all things red.
One year, out of obligation, my husband and I both went out hunting for the elusively perfect valentine’s cards. We ended up in the same grocery store line. There we stood one behind the other, laughing at this ridiculousness. It was the LAST year we made valentine’s day a big deal in our home. However, we didn’t stop making acts of love a big deal.
In fact, when we de-emphasize the showy, public displays, I think it can make us more aware of the small acts. The kindnesses. The honor. The forgiveness.
Because I’m pretty sure that St. Valentine (whoever that was) would be horrified by what we’ve done in his name. All the hearts and flowers and public showering of affection in the name of getting it right isn’t in line with the things we know about him.
- He was martyred – the ultimate public act of love for his God.
- We know nothing else. There are no highlights. No cupids. No roses or chocolate.
- He is remembered among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”
Acts known only to God. There it is. The standard by which we should measure love. When we think about love, we need to think less about a dozen perfect roses (even if that’s your thing) and more about the acts known only to God – the things done in the daily, in the secret, in the quiet of ordinary life.
At a recent wedding we attended, the priest said these words in his homily,
“As much as you love each other today, and will remember this day with joy, if you serve one another and strive to help each other, you will love each other more than you do today.”
All the old married couples started instantly nodding their affirmation. They know that it’s those small things that matter. Serving and striving to help don’t typically make for popular Instagram posts. They are the acts known only to God. But they are the truest acts of love.