Walking Our Faith: Giving your heart away on Valentine’s Day (column)
It’s wholly appropriate that Valentine’s Day also shares the beginning of Lent this year because both holidays mark our willingness to enter that most daring of adventures, to give our hearts away and to risk falling in love.
On Valentine’s Day, we express our love with flowers or chocolate or a special dinner. None of these are really necessary, but we do it as a demonstration of our love.
Those of us who attend an Ash Wednesday service will receive a cross of ashes on our forehead, a reminder of our humble beginnings, but also an external sign of our love for God.
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to believe we are loved, because we find parts of ourselves unlovable. Yes, we love presents and beautiful things, but more so, we need to know we are loved just as we are. Especially when we feel unworthy of that love.
When our need for love is too great, it can cause the other person to pull away in equal measure to our desperate need to move closer. We confuse our neediness with our desire to give more of ourselves. Ultimately our love is rejected. Which is why Valentine’s day is often bittersweet.
But on the first day of Lent, we are invited to enter a different love story that is by turns more complex, more rewarding and bewilderingly accepts us as we are, grasping insecurities and all.
It begins with this verse: “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16)
During Lent we follow Jesus on a journey from his baptism in the river Jordan, to the cross where he gave his life. But before that moment we share three short years of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, the center of which is: love.
God says: Before you were born, I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I know every part of you. I know your comings and goings, I know where all your secrets are hidden, even those you have never shared with anyone. I know all the good you’ve done and all the bad. I know you better than you know yourself. And even when you cannot love yourself, I love you. And I will never stop loving you.
It is terrifying to be loved this much. Because we wonder how it is possible and when it will end. And most of all we wonder what we could ever do to be deserving of such love, and how inadequate would be anything we could give in return. And in our inadequacy, we are sure that this love will abandon us once our unworthiness is revealed.
One evening Jesus is sharing a meal with his disciples when a woman comes in, weeping. She kneels at Jesus’ feet and pours the contents of a precious alabaster jar, containing expensive perfume, over his feet and wipes away the mixture of her tears and perfume with her hair. Jesus’ disciples are angry with the woman for wasting such expensive oil that could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus responds that the woman sees what others do not.
While Jesus and his disciples debate the merits of her actions, I watch the woman kneeling, clasping an empty jar to her chest, knowing she has poured out all she has and I see myself in her.
There have been moments when I knelt before Jesus and offered him all that I have in my heart and of my talents, then wept when my work was rejected. Because my intention was to serve God through my work, I felt the rejection was God’s rejection of me. If the work I offer God is rejected then will my love be taken and not returned, or worse, found to be lacking?
During Adoration as I contemplated the Blessed Sacrament, I reimagined the scene of this woman kneeling and anointing Jesus’ feet. I placed myself next to her because I wanted to better understand what courage and humility were needed to enter that setting to publicly perform such an act of love. What desperate need drove her to pour out her most prized possession? As I knelt beside her, I asked Jesus, what do you tell her after she has given everything? I felt Jesus say, “Her heart is safe with me.”
As I sit back, I consider the miracle of God’s love for us: As we pour out our hearts, we are filled with God’s love. Even when are unable to experience God’s love for us, we must hold onto the promise that our story is not over yet. What we have given will be returned and though we may not recognize it yet, eventually we will understand God has always loved us.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of “Love in a Time of War” and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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