Oh, day of days. This Wednesday is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Two days that on the surface seem to be in great contradiction. An oxymoron of celebrations. Ashes and hearts. Fasting and chocolate. Bread and water fasts and candle-lit dinners.
We look at the calendar and want to negotiate: “Just pick ONE, will you?”
But, wait. Are these two things really that contradictory?
Think of any love story that makes you smile. Any rom-com that leaves you teary-eyed. How, as a young man, grandpa drove hundreds of miles each weekend to take your future grandmother out to dinner. The guy who sold his beloved guitar to buy his girl an engagement ring. The mom who gave up her college friend reunion so she wouldn’t miss her child’s dance recital. The parent who passed up the big promotion so they could keep spending time with the family.
You’ll recognize one theme throughout all of these moments (and it’s not that someone gave flowers or chocolate). It’s pretty simple. Someone showed extraordinary selflessness, because they loved.
“Love each other as I have loved you. No greater love has any man than this: to lay down his life for his friend.” – John 15:12-13
Jesus issues a challenge to us. “Love Like Me. Lay Down Your Life.”
What else is Lent, than this? The perfect example of Love played out before our eyes. The theme of the greatest love story ever told – so perfect that history cannot contain it.
Starting this week, we spend forty days with our beloved. We walk with Jesus. We watch him intentionally leave everything behind as he walks toward his cross to save us. His family, his friends, his work, his privacy, his time, his sleep, his tears, his sweat riddled with blood, his voice, his hunger, his thirst, his will, his breath. His body.
Jesus once said to St. Teresa of Avila in a vision, “I would create the universe again just to hear you say you love me.” Ah, what wouldn’t He do for us? He gives it all away. For you. For me. He wants to be in relationship with us. He loves us unto death. He longs for our love in return. He wants to hear us tell him, “Jesus, I love you!”
The way we demonstrate our love for anyone is by what we are willing to do. What we are willing to work for. Give. Offer. Sacrifice. Suffer. All those little opportunities to lay down our life matter – what we do, how we speak, the plans we are willing to change, the things we give up, how we choose to make someone feel valued and loved. Simply said, it is putting the good of the other ahead of ourselves. Over and over again.
It’s easy to remember – the ultimate reminder of this kind of selfless love is that ashen cross on our foreheads.
This is what we have to live up to on Valentine’s Day. Otherwise, it is all just fluff. Just a box of candy.
So really, this alignment of days is perfect. We are not so far off, after all. This day is a sweet and solemn gift.
In my life, I see this kind of love every day. It is the greatest gift of my vocation. I watch my husband lay beside our daughter when she is afraid of the dark. I see him change the oil in the car, dig a spoon out of the garbage disposal, fold laundry, run the raccoon out of the trashcan. I remember those days when he drove three hours a day to work every day, in a car with no A/C, to provide for our family. He forgives me when I make stupid mistakes. (He has plenty of opportunity!) He is patient and kind. He listens to me when he’s tired and I am verbose. He can make me laugh in any situation. He seeks my happiness above his own. He loves me. For real.
If he brings me Valentine’s flowers, I’ll set them in the middle of the kitchen table. If he buys me Valentine’s chocolates, I’ll smell them and save them till Thursday. 🙂 Regardless, I will know. I’ve known since that day in college when he dropped everything to rescue me, a gal he hardly knew, from my broken-down Honda on the side of the road. His love is rock solid.
It is a beautiful thing, my friends, when you look at someone you love and are reminded of Jesus. That is my husband. I see him lay down his own life, over and over again, out of love. I know he bears whatever crosses God gives him out of great love for Jesus, and as a living prayer for me and our children. As with any vocation, he is to me a blurry reflection of heaven.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
So I wear the ashen sign of the cross on my forehead like a heart-shaped locket over my heart.