When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was not so much about romance, but about family love. We’d awaken on the morning of Feb. 14 and come downstairs to breakfast and find a little heart-shaped box of chocolates on our plates from Mom, and a card beside the plate from Dad – often sent from some faraway place where Dad, as a traveling salesman, had thought far enough in advance to send it. I even remember a poem from one of my cards. It said:
You’re an angel of a daughter, who gets sweeter every year,
And your halo never slips a bit, well, almost never, dear.
I loved that sentiment because it was so like my dad to hold up my truest goodness, while also giving me a little space to grow.
Through the years, Valentine’s Day did become a little more about romance – a boyfriend – or later, my husband, surprising me with a bouquet of flowers or a pot of spring jonquils, so welcome in the depths of winter. But always it meant family love to me. I made heart-shaped pancakes on the morning of the 14th for my children and grandchildren, and always found a little way to surprise them with a special treat. But this past year, Valentine’s Day came just before Christmas in my heart.
About five years ago I went through a divorce, and the Valentine’s Days of the intervening years had felt a little unsettling. But those were good years because they forced me to find a deeper connection to divine Love, God. The Bible tells us, “For thy Maker is thine husband” (Isaiah 54:5). And I have taken to heart some counsel from Mary Baker Eddy, one of my favorite writers, about the topic of love. She instructs: “True prayer is not asking God for love; it is learning to love, and to include all mankind in one affection. Prayer is the utilization of the love wherewith He loves us” (“No and Yes,” p. 39).
What an amazing thing this is – not just finding someone special to love and make us feel loved, but finding all mankind held in one tender embrace of affection. I have been celebrating the awareness of an expanding, universal affection these past five years, which has made me feel more secure, more peaceful, and more inclusive of everyone on Valentine’s Day, and every day.
Then, this summer I met a dear man who is a delightful companion and spiritual supporter, and a romance flowered very naturally through the fall. We were married quietly just after Christmas. But another profound celebration of Love came just before that. I had called my former husband (the father of my three daughters) and his mother, to let them know about my upcoming marriage. We arranged to have tea and cookies at their home one afternoon so they could meet my fiancé.
When we arrived, they welcomed us at the door with such warmth. They led us into the living room, where a fire was blazing in the fireplace. There were brownies and hot tea on the table, and I put out the warm molasses cookies I had brought. Then began a couple of hours of such love and grace that my heart could hardly hold it. There was genuine interest and affection all around, and I felt I finally had an inkling of what Mrs. Eddy meant by “learning to include all mankind in one affection.” This may well have been the largest sense of universal affection I’ve ever felt.
As we left their house that chilly December evening to go back out into the cold, my former mother-in-law hugged me and whispered in my ear, “He’s a very good man, congratulations.” And my former husband hugged me and kindly assured me, “He’s a keeper.”
What can account for such generosity of spirit, such tender and unimaginable affection in circumstances that could have been otherwise? Only divine Love, only God’s universal embrace could possibly account for it. And that embrace is holding each one of us this Valentine’s Day in such tender care that we are in a position to feel it tangibly and deeply and to pour it out with healing balm on all those we love – a spouse, our friends, our family, and all humanity. Universal, divine Love cannot fail to meet every need to love and be loved.