Welcome to the 14th of February – one of the most pressure-filled days of the calendar year. The shopping catastrophe that is Christmas, the overbearing attention that fills your birthday, and the anticlimactic New Year’s Eve don’t come close to the absurd demands we put on ourselves for that most hallowed of all romantic days of the year.
Couples better not forget it and must ensure they top previous years’ efforts, while singles run to their bedrooms, crank up the country music, and scrawl their hopes, fears, and dreams into brightly coloured journals in the hope that “Next year will be different!”
Forget the idea of the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day - the real horror is the unyielding weight of expectation that descends, only to abruptly collapse under the strain.
If only there was some way we could refocus our attention elsewhere – away from where we’ll celebrate, how much we’ll spend, what we’ll do, and how we will look.
If only there was someone who looked in to our hearts, and found us cringing under the spotlight of life’s expectations.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Oh what blessed relief – what joyous surrender is the reminder that none of it matters. That beyond the superficial and transient nature of a single day set aside for “romance” there is a God who has lovingly cultivated a relationship for us where we can sink into the promise that we are loved, beyond measure, beyond our expectation, and most definitely beyond what we deserve.
Loved so much, in fact, that “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8)
Christ’s death on the cross saves us from an eternity apart from our creator. A separation we brought on by our rebellion and idolatry. In Christ, God lived the life we could not live (the life without sin) and died the death we should have died (the death for sin).
But God did not only display His almighty love and sovereign control with the coming of His Son. The Old Testament is bursting with examples of God’s love intervening to work His mighty purpose in the lives of ordinary, nay, downright sinful human beings.
It may not look it on the surface, but the story of Esther is a perfect example of God taking the mistakes and failings of people who are prone to wander, and redeeming them all for His will. Mordecai and Esther purposefully hid her Jewish roots to increase her chances of survival in the harem of King Xerxes.
Instead of honouring the values that marked the people of God Esther entered into 12 months of beauty treatment to create the perfect doll for Xerxes, which all came down to one sensual night with the king. While we cannot know for certain the thoughts and motivations behind her actions, one cannot help but imagine the strain that weighed on Esther’s mind over this period – the anxiety that must have welled up within her, the thoughts that drove her every day. Thoughts that ring eerily true for us today.
Have you ever felt that strain? Have you ever looked back over your actions to see your path slowly, but steadily, separate from the path God had set out for you? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, if we are willing to learn from it, but it can also be painful. What pain is experienced when we wander? What pain do we bring upon ourselves when we focus our lives, our every facet, on the outward appearance seen by the many, those who lust after the “perfect”, and which is only a small part of what God sees when He looks for us.
Xerxes was captivated by Esther – her beauty apparently so ensnaring that not only did he make her his wife, but immediately elevated her to queen. Heaven forfend that she had a lousy personality, or she may very well have joined Vashti in her exile.
Today’s reality is distressingly vulgar – the world defines beauty by external standards. We spend our lives choosing the right filter for our photos, the right status update to ensure our public identity is clear – hipster, nerd, beauty, go-getter, etc. We ignore the ever-present love of God in favour of our own self-image.
Qualities that matter – that are not only important in our own lives to God, but qualities that are the bedrock of interpersonal human relationships – are dismissed; character, Godliness, faithfulness, the fruits of the Spirit, all dropped by the wayside in favour of physical appearance alone.
So how can this Valentine’s Day be different?
Instead of letting the pressures of striving for human and physical perfection, instead of dismissing God and holding on to the fleeting immaterial, instead of a day representative of a thin veneer of outer beauty to the detriment of inner growth, why not use today to start stepping out with the Lord.
Again then, how can this Valentine’s Day be different?
Start focusing on inner beauty. Redirect your attention to growing your own heart, rather than the superficial and short-lived outer beauty. Instead of days and moneys spent on the outside redirect your time towards God – by praying, reading the Bible, getting into relationship and community with gospel-minded friends, and serving others. In this way we build up our relationship with God, encounter and deepen the love relationship that awaits us, and cultivate a spirit that serves others around us better.
More than ourselves, however, focus on the inner beauty of others. When we focus on one’s physical appearance, we automatically overlook the majority of people around us. But if a relationship is to succeed, beyond the first blush of romance, you want a person of character, godliness, maturity, wisdom, prayer, joy, and hope. A man or woman of God, vibrant in spirit and humble in attitude.
So this Valentine’s Day, whether you are single or in relationship, take some time to look at the beauty that really matters. Step into relationship with God, and seek what he looks for, look for the heart.
By Guy Mason With Joshua S Hill