by Angie Shannon
During my grade-school years, the bulletin boards were covered with red cupid silhouettes announcing Valentine’s Day. I took great care in selecting boxed Valentines for my classmates, addressing each tiny envelope in anticipation of the big day. In retrospect, it occurs to me that we had the kind of parents and teachers who made sure we had enough Valentines so that no child would feel unloved on that day.
Fast-forward to college, I attended Valparaiso University where Valentine’s Day was more like a season; it started the day we returned to campus from Christmas break. Women who did not get that much hoped-for engagement ring at Christmas looked forward to Valentine’s Day to make up for it.
There were women who were okay about not having a significant other. I recall there were women without partners whose pain felt palpable. Come this Valentine’s Day, dorm and office lobbies will be full of fragrant flowers, beautiful cards, stuffed animals and chocolates professing sentiments of ardent “like” if not love.
So, what is a single young woman do this Valentine’s Day? Gather a bunch of your girlfriends and watch “Waiting to Exhale” and be the sour sisters?
Buy your own box of chocolates and bemoan your miserable state? Sidestep Valentine’s Day altogether by pretending the day does not exist? Get self-righteous, then console yourself and share a toast of “Hate-orade” with the green-eyed monster?
A more excellent way
Sadly, many of us know women like these. If we are honest, at one time some of us have been those women. Yet, as women in Christ, we know that God provides some perspective on our singlehood if we but listen. As Apostle Paul reminds us, there is a “more excellent way.” The way of excellence is love (1 Corinthians 12:31). Scripture tells us that God is Love. Because God created us and we bear the likeness and image of Divine Love. Whether we are partnered or single, we are lovers!
Naturally, we become frustrated when we are unable to love in a partnered relationship. Out of frustration, one of the biggest mistakes a woman can make is settling for a significant other who is less than loving. I have seen more than one beautiful, talented, intelligent young woman’s self esteem give way to the society’s white noise that says: “You are not good enough.”
There is no good outcome when we are in bad relationships other than to exit them—immediately! Know with every fiber of your being that God loves you and as Christina Aguilera says, “You’re beautiful.”
Confidence in God’s love leads us to make better choices. A loving and right relationship is a foreshadowing of what God’s infinite love is really like. A right relationship is based admiration and respect.
Valentine’s Day will come and go but as women of faith, we stand securely and confidently knowing that our self-esteem is not tied up in flowers and candy; it is rooted in God’s love that is sure and unfailing.
The realities of dating today
I have read many books by Christian relationship and dating experts. They tend to tout the glories of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:10. There is nothing wrong with being the woman so described, but the implicit message is “let the man find you.” Then they tell you to become the kind of person you would want to be in relationship with.
Before you run out and join a Zumba class, take up ceramics, and get a makeover, take a moment for prayer and self-reflection. Without a sense of who you are—that is God’s Beloved—you will end up as a virtuous fashionable, good-looking, physically fit, and interesting woman—but still single. It is an understatement to say, that dating and courtship rituals have changed since the writing of Proverbs. They’ve changed rapidly with the advent of on-line dating, speed dating, and reality shows featuring single men and women. This is not to devalue what the writer of Proverbs says about the virtuous woman. But how do we read Proverbs while Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” is blasting from our mp3 players? Today the church must address the realities of dating today.
I consulted with Alan Roger Currie, international dating expert and author of the book Mode One about male-female relationships. He consults mostly with men about interpersonal communication in dating. He says that a healthy sense of self-esteem is foundational when dating. That self-esteem coupled with the ability to be real or authentic in articulating your wants, needs, and desires is your strong foundation. Are you looking for a relationship somewhere along the spectrum between friendship and marriage? Are you looking for a friend to enjoy social events? Are you looking for a long-term relationship?
Be very honest with yourself. Envision the kind of relationship you want. Consult with God in prayer.
I have advised women of all ages to pray that God guides you to the person that is best for you both. This is no exercise in daydreaming. This is a practical exercise in identifying what is essential to you.
Not about flowers and candy
Whip out pen and paper and “get to getting!” Is kindness a non-negotiable? Write it down. Respect? Intelligence? Write that down too. Is smoking a deal-breaker? On the list it goes. Your list is not a recipe for the perfect partner. Even the happiest of couples will tell you that person does not exist. The point is to be aware of your wants, needs, and desires. As you seek a partner, you will be better able to celebrate things you hold in common and identify the things that intrigue you both. It may be that God surprises you. My cousin prayed for a man that would “take her breath away.” Her first date with the man that became her husband ended abruptly because his cologne was so pungent that it literally took her breath away! God has a sense of humor!
Rooted in love
Valentine’s Day will come and go but as women of faith, we stand securely and confidently knowing that our self-esteem is not tied up in flowers and candy; it is rooted in God’s love that is sure and unfailing. Whether you are single or partnered, it is time to celebrate Valentine’s Day in broad expansive ways. After all, love is multifaceted. We have huge webs of relationships as sisters, friends, mothers, aunts, cousins, godmothers, nieces, coworkers, church-members, and more. Reclaim the day to practice love in all its expressions.
Take time on Valentine’s Day to share God’s love in acts of service, kindness, and generosity. Give blood that week. While not as romantic as a candlelight dinner, it is life giving! Buy carnations and take them to a local nursing home. It will bring a smile to many faces. Make and write a heartfelt sentiment to a loved one that you have not seen in a great while.
Decide to heal a broken friendship. Pamper yourself and enjoy the company of friends, male and female.
Know that God loves and affirms you. God’s love for you is limitless unbound by space, time or present circumstance. This love endures and will carry you through the whole of your life.
1. Imagine a healthy relationship with a significant other. What does it look like? Describe examples of healthy relationships in you have seen or experienced. Have you found yourself embittered over relationships or not having one? How did you get over the anger?
2. We often hear parts of 1 Corinthians 12:31–13:12 read at weddings. How does this text speak to you as a way of excellence?
3. Scripture reminds us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Reflect on the ways in which God strengthens, affirms and calls you as beloved.
The Rev. Angie Shannon is a single ELCA pastor who will celebrate this Valentine’s Day in acts of loving service and enjoying friends.
This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of Cafe.