Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday this year, which I think is kind of special. Although this day is historically documented as giving honor to one or two early Christian martyrs bearing the name Valentine, not many people view it as a religious holiday in our modern times and culture. Valentine's Day has become heavily commercialized, and there is an obsession to buy gifts, similar to Christmas. Americans reached deeply into their wallets and shelled out close to $19.6 billion for this day of love in 2018 and had record spending plans in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2021, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the customary dinner outings of couples who would celebrate with date nights in restaurants or just gathering with friends and family. "Love is different in the quarantine bubble," as the NRF stated on its website, but I doubt that COVID-19 is going to quench the spirit of those determined to remain romantic at heart.
Like many, one of my favorite Valentine's traditions is eating chocolates, particularly chocolate coconut bites and chocolate-covered almonds. I also enjoy munching on the heavily sugared sweetheart candy. The sweetheart messages "Hug Me," "Be Mine" and "My Girl" bring back fond elementary school memories of receiving Valentine's cards from boys, which some say are similar to "likes" on today's social media posts. As I grew up, I was never a lady who made much ado about receiving flowers on Feb. 14 from the guys I dated. I've actually joked with my friends that a perfect Valentine's gift from a male suitor would be a custom-made, leather Wilson football. My rationale? I'm a diehard football fan, and a football is easier to take care of than flowers.
But all kidding aside, I have come to celebrate Valentine's Day a little differently the past several years due to the special Valentine's services sponsored by the women at my church. We take this time to fellowship and laugh together with our congregation while also giving thanks to God for His unconditional love toward us. This year, I volunteered to speak on our theme, "Loving You," with a focus on 1 John 4:7, which says, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." While I've read this verse many times, for my remarks, I specifically concentrated on "born," which, in Greek, means "regenerated," and "knoweth," which means to "be sure." This Scripture teaches that regenerated love through God is key because it will remain steadfast in us through His Spirit. It is what enables us to love not only those closest to our hearts but also our enemies, and, as Jesus said, to "bless those" who curse us. It is not a popular conception to think about Valentine's Day as an extension of our love to others with whom we find it difficult to coexist, but I believe this is especially needed now, as the pandemic has further exposed deep-seated racial, social and political rifts in our nation. I certainly would not expect a box of chocolates from a man who ascribes to the radical ideologies of the Proud Boys, but the God in me commands me to love them and every rioter who stormed the Capitol building in January. This is not an easy undertaking, but it is a manifestation of what regenerated love means.
Throughout 1 John, we see the themes of light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death, and love and hate. For Valentine's Day this Sunday, I will take some time to reflect on the latter while remaining in my tight quarantine bubble. At this stage in my life, it is essential that I truly mean it when I say "I love you." While meditating on 1 John, I'll also channel my inner 7-year-old and treat myself to some sweetheart candy. When I come across a "Be Mine" heart, I'll giggle about how amusing it would be to actually get a Wilson football.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.