Valentine’s Day is over, which means in my home we can finally breathe a sigh of relief that this year’s school- imposed Valentine’s Day torment is also over. Yes, I confess that I am a Valentine’s Day scrooge. I have nothing against people telling or showing others how much they care. But every year since he was three, my son has been obligated by his day cares and schools to provide valentines for his entire class – even when he could neither read nor write. The idea is to make sure that everyone gets cards, of course; the schools do not want anyone feeling left out. But instead of stirring up feelings of love and friendship in my son, this practice does little more than promote whining and hostility in him. He has to work for a week to get all the cards addressed and signed around homework and other obligations. And in the process as I have to cajole him all week long, I find myself violating almost all of Paul’s famous descriptives in 1 Corinthians 13 of God’s love. Love is never irritable? Oh dear. Love is never resentful? Have mercy on me, Lord…. Because this practice does make me resentful. I resent having to spend money on an exercise that is absolutely meaningless to my son and all his friends. They do not get to know each other better through the exercise. They do not spend any time thinking about what they appreciate in their classmates or about how they could share more love with the world. They do not grow in their knowledge of love or how to show it. What they do is groan and wail until the Valentine’s Day party, when they search for the valentines that come with candy, rip off the candy, and throw the 30 little pieces of cardboard away. A week’s torture becomes an afternoon’s sugar rush, and then we move on none the better for it.
Setting aside the fact that the holiday has always been motivated more by Hallmark’s marketing department than by religious fervor for St. Valentine or God, I still wish that if we are going to teach our children to celebrate this holiday, we could do a better job teaching them about meaningful love. In our nation where divisiveness and rancor now threaten to destroy our ability to reach consensus or compromise on any political issues, we desperately need to be teaching the next generation how to love their neighbors better. But there are so many better ways to do it than by asking parents to spend money on candy and cardboard. What if the children each drew a name from a hat, like secret Santas, and had to do an art project in school which depicted all of that child’s best qualities? What if the whole class got together to make valentines for children in homeless shelters or refugees? What if they took some time to describe love, like Paul did, and then discussed how they could become more loving of their neighbors, even when some of them, or circumstances, make them feel resentful and irritable and unkind?
Both in and outside of school, our children are being barraged with examples of people being competitive, judgmental, and hurtful day in and day out. Bad, unloving behavior is exhibited by our leaders, noted in the news, celebrated on T.V. and in the movies, and exhibited at sports arena everywhere. Is it any surprise that bullying is a growing problem with the examples adults are setting? We cannot expect Hallmark to solve this problem or to teach our children how to appreciate others. The only thing that will turn the tide is for adults to start modeling better what loving our neighbor looks like and why it is important. The Church has not always done a good job of doing this. But I believe we can and must. I know my church is trying.It is our greatest mission.
It’s hard to be patient and kind, and not insist on your own way, with some people especially. But the rewards our society will experience when we strive to live this way and teach this behavior to our children will last far longer than any cards or candy ever will. How do you teach the children in your life about loving others?