Know what I’m hoping for this Valentine’s Day? A bigger heart. No, not a chocolate one wrapped in red foil, but the real thing. I like to think of Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to open my heart to a more expansive sense of love.
The first official St. Valentine’s Day was established in AD 496 as a religious feast day in memory of one or more priests named Valentine, possibly a 3rd-century priest martyred in Rome by Emperor Claudius. According to legend, Valentine got himself in trouble by conducting illegitimate weddings. The emperor had forbidden soldiers to marry because he believed married men made poor soldiers, but Valentine continued to conduct weddings for soldiers who wanted to marry their beloved ones. He was jailed, and ended up falling in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before he was martyred, he gave her a note that read “From your Valentine.”
In the 14th century, St. Valentine’s Day came to be celebrated as a day honoring romantic love, inspired by the love poetry of Chaucer and other poets. It has since expanded to include expressions of affection to friends and family.
We all need affection and support, and there are different types of love that can be shared and enjoyed. Romantic love is nice for those who have it. Love for friends and family is wonderful, too. Yet there’s also a love that opens its arms in a much wider embrace. A love that shines its warmth and light on everyone. A love that always satisfies and never disappoints. It’s the unconditional love that comes from God.
I’ve learned a lot from the Bible about how to feel the presence of divine Love in my daily life.
The Hebrew concept of chesed in the Old Testament is translated into English as “mercy” or “lovingkindness,” but no single English word fully captures its meaning. Chesed conveys God’s steadfast love and care toward each one of us as the offspring of our Father-Mother God, who assures us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3, English Standard Version).
The Greek word agape is used in the New Testament to portray pure love as the very essence of God, and the nature of each individual as the expression of that love. One dictionary defines agape as “spontaneous self-giving love expressed freely without calculation of cost or gain to the giver or merit on the part of the receiver.”
Agape is beautifully described in what is called “The Love Chapter” in the Bible (I Corinthians 13). “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (Verses 4-7, New Living Translation).
Sound like a pretty high ideal? Perhaps. But I’ve found that I’m learning to express that kind of love by consistently thinking of myself as the reflection of divine Love, created for the very purpose of expressing love for all humanity. This, I feel, is the true nature of each individual.
I find that I’m happiest when I treat others with unconditional love and appreciation, because then I feel my oneness with God, the source of all love and all good. And this kind of love is incredibly freeing. It doesn’t require that the other person act in a certain way before it’s felt and offered. And it brings gentleness and healing to all kinds of situations. I’m discovering that one of the best ways for me to feel and express love is to silence the inner critic and see others through the eyes of unconditional divine Love, God. The divine Mind, God, also lovingly corrects whatever needs correction.
This approach was a life-saver years back when I was feeling overwhelmed by the criticism and coldness directed at me by a woman in an organization to which we both belonged. For years I really had to make an effort to see past this negative picture and try to see her good qualities. And I found quite a few. As I consistently treated her with kindness and respect, she finally confided some of her struggles to me, and the barriers came down. When I saw her recently, she greeted me affectionately with a kiss, and even asked me to help her with something, which I gladly did.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy summed up the power of unconditional love to break down barriers and open up new possibilities. She wrote, “Love is the liberator” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 225).
Every day presents new opportunities to live love. Not necessarily always the chocolate-heart kind of romantic love. But definitely a love that satisfies.