Valentine’s Day has never really been high on my list, and not just because of the usual sentiments (it sucks when you’re single, and it’s expensive when you’re not). Maybe it has something to do with living in Minnesota, where the average temp on February 14 is still solidly below freezing and our sports teams playing at this time of year are typically already eliminated from the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely something of a romantic. And there have been V-Day highlights, to be sure. Like when I worked up the courage in fourth grade to ask a friend to hand-deliver a Valentine to Cecelia, who then sent one back (!) with the letters URAQT emblazoned all over it. As soon as I figured out what URAQT meant, I was thrilled.
There have also been lowlights, however. Like the time I decided — on Valentine’s Day — to break up with my then-gf (not Cecelia). But because you can’t break up with a girl on Valentine’s Day, I spent a bunch of time and money with a girl I knew I was going to break up with as soon as it was safe to do so.
More common for me is a Valentine’s Day that comes and goes without too much fuss either way. Last year, Valentine’s Day fell on the second Thursday of the month, which also happens to be when I help organize a young professionals event at my parish. I was surprised to find that it turned into one of the more meaningful Valentine’s Days I’ve experienced.
It was motivated not by romantic love, but by a love of God and neighbor. And it revealed commitment — not to a significant other, but to a mission and a group of people I’m passionate about. And there was sexy, steamy, hot-blooded… well actually there wasn’t any of that. The analogy goes only so far, let’s be honest.
I’ve been helping to organize an event for young professionals to gather for prayer and fellowship for the past six years. We always meet on the second Thursday of the month, and last year, that ended up being February 14. I didn’t have a hot date for the *special day,* which was unfortunate for my love life but fortunate for my responsibilities to the event. Having something to do that day made Valentine’s Day fall into the background.
We call the event Vespers, and it has a two-part mission: give young professionals an opportunity to encounter God; and help them better integrate their faith and their professional lives. I’ve discovered a passion for this event and its mission and I’m not overstating things to say it’s been one of the proudest accomplishments of my life to have seen it grow and flourish and benefit those who attend.
You could even say that Vespers has been one of the great loves of my life. So there was something fitting about how it exonerated me of the need to find a date on that Valentine’s Day. The ironic juxtaposition also taught me something about how I can best use my bachelorhood.
While I generally enjoy being a single man with disposable income, I never set out to live much of my adult life as a bachelor. Much like many of my college friends — to varying levels of naiveté — I planned to find the love of my life as soon as possible after college, get married, start having a bunch of kids, and live happily ever after.
Things haven’t gone exactly as planned, but I don’t live with regrets. There are definitely times when I grow frustrated with the process of trying to find that special someone — and Valentine’s Day can certainly be one of those times. I’m tempted to wonder if I should somehow be trying harder to find someone. Perhaps I need to up my online dating game, or go to the farmers’ market more often, or apply to be on The Bachelor.
But with prayer and reflection, I haven’t gotten a sense of urgency to meet someone. Instead, I’ve been prompted to make the most of this unique opportunity that being single affords: to grow in virtue; pursue the good things I’m passionate about; and find ways to solve problems, build things, and otherwise help others realize God’s plan for their lives.
In other words, I’ve heard a call to continue doing exactly what I’m doing at Vespers.
Having Vespers fall on Valentine’s Day last year helped put things in greater perspective for me: some things in life just simply matter more than others.
Being single can be tough on Valentine’s Day — it’s a day for couples and everybody knows it. But as much as I want romance in my life, it didn’t matter last year that I didn’t have a date, because I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing: serving others, and in a way that uses my particular gifts and that I’m passionate about.
So if you’re single this Valentine’s Day, and you’re tempted to be discouraged by that fact, it might be a good time to recalibrate. Think about the opportunities before you right now to grow in virtue and serve others — then invest further in those experiences. Perhaps there’s something new you could be doing to listen to the promptings of your heart, and this can be a time to take that first step.
Even though the official Valentine’s Day marketing team would like to convince me otherwise, I may not be able to control when I find the love of my life. But there are plenty of things I can control. On February 14 of this year, I’ll be focusing on those things instead. You’re welcome to join me.