Long red licorice laces were carefully bent into heart shapes on the kitchen table before any little body raced down the stairs for their morning Cheerios. Small brown paper bags all neatly decorated with stickers and filled with goodies were sitting on the counter, ready for the special deliveries that lay ahead. Three young souls were going to dare to hand heart-shaped candy along with sentimental, cutesy cards to each and every one of their classmates. It was a day to be brave: It was Valentine’s Day.
Like it or not, no one was to be excluded from the gift giving at school in the coming day. It was an “all-or-nothing” mandate from the head of their classes: the teachers. Every child would give to each member of his or her class and every child would receive. It was the only way to share — especially on this special day of friendship.
Primary teachers always made Valentine’s Day special for my kids.
They also made it a bit scary. Depending on the kid.
It was easy — even fun — to hand pink-heart-shaped cards to your sweetest group of friends. It was tricky — but still fun somehow — to hand a “Be Mine” card (with slightly sweaty palms) to that someone special that made you giggle. It wasn’t so easy, on the other hand, to approach the loner who was so painfully shy no one was sure if they have a voice, and actually reach out to make contact. Even more challenging were the steps on the way over to that kid who pushes on the playground, with a token of kindness in your hand. It was a day of courage.
The teachers’ wishes implied that everyone deserved a Valentine card and gift. They made sure that all backpacks were equally filled with friendship wishes and sugary treats at the end of the day. And they accomplished what they set out to do.
Their motives were good — but the hollow sentiments offered to the “opposites” in my kids’ world were only momentary. It was an effort to help everybody learn how to give and receive a small token of kindness (you could say it was a lesson in grace) in a world where not everyone always does. And that reality unfortunately lives on past elementary school.
Those Valentine’s Day memories felt like a sort of parable for my everyday life.
Trying to live as Jesus asks us to live is a tall order. And a bit scary. The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ teaching to give to others, love our Samaritan neighbor, and go the extra mile.
Some of us have heard the mandate so many times we may not always truly hear it. It’s just that now, as I read through Luke and think about Valentine’s Day, I’m put in a tricky place … by the Teacher.
Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never — I promise — regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.” (Luke 6:32-36, The Message)
I really do want to live out those words. I want to look at the people around me — the ones that pass through my life in so many various ways — and grab the initiative to be kind and generous to the lovable and to the not-so-lovable.
We could each come up with dozens of ways to stretch ourselves and help others in our own corner of the world. And though our ideas-turned-into-actions may actually surprise some of those on the receiving end, I hardly think our offers will be turned away.
Everyone does deserve a treat or a card with some kind words on it — in some form or other. So even though I may not get anything in return, I’ll do my best to be brave and remember my Teacher’s words — on the 14th and beyond.