Valentine’s Day is upon us and I for one love this holiday. It’s a holiday all about telling the people closest to us that we love them and showing them in extra, tangible ways. I’ll admit, I’m a bit hard on people who are Valentine’s Day cynics.
Relationships take tending. They don’t grow on their own. The only thing they do on “their own” is die. They start easily enough because they seem to begin when we are most eager to please. We are looking to love, so we become lovable. We are looking for companionship so we become a good companion. We are looking for connection and so we work at connecting. But then – once the newness has worn off and life has taken over and fights about money or the kids become more common than date night -well – it can be easy to become the type of person that says Valentine’s Day is a hoax and your partner should just “know” how much you love them.
We can do better than this.
I’m the type of person who believes in celebrating life every opportunity you get, especially when life gets hard. It’s counterintuitive, but the time we need to celebrate Valentine’s Day the most is when we feel like celebrating it the least. And so, I’d like to take the time to just be really honest with you all and talk about what to do when the person you love the most hurts you the worst – so that we celebrate our love and our relationships not in spite of our pain, but sometimes, because of it.
Let me explain that last line, first.
We all have a lens that we look through that determines how we feel about our life. One incredibly helpful idea I learned this year is that our thoughts determine our feelings – not the other way around.
Way too often, when we are hurt by someone we love, we act out of those hurt feelings. That, my friends, is allowing our feelings to lead us around by our noses. It’s absolutely important to acknowledge your feelings, but acknowledging that your feelings are riding on the bus is vastly different than throwing your feelings the keys to your bus and letting them drive.
Are you with me?
One thing I’ve learned this year as my husband and I have faced some of our toughest issues yet is that I need to be careful about the thoughts that are creating my emotions. Because what we think and feel are expressed in our actions, and how we act forms who we become.
So lets take this Valentine’s Day for example. My husband and I have been facing what feels like an exhausting and demoralizing problem for quite some time now. There are many days that I’m tempted to let my thoughts run amuck and form wildly unhelpful emotions. I want to think that he doesn’t care and that he won’t ever figure this out and then I just feel alone and frustrated and angry.
But I have a better choice. A choice where I remind myself of truth (both about myself, my husband, and what I know God has promised me), and I allow those thoughts to dictate my feelings. This doesn’t take away the hurt of difficult situations, but it DOES do something even more powerful. It gives me a sound mind and a clear head to view those hurtful situations. It almost gives me the power to step back and remove myself from myself. We’ve all been in those situations where our emotions are running wildly away from us because they are Keanu Reeves in Speed and are hurtling us straight towards an explosion.
It can be so hard to will ourselves out of that mess of emotions. Ironically, we tend to stay stuck in pain because it takes zero work to stay stuck in emotional turmoil and a freaking ton of work to take our thoughts captive and say, “Hey. I’m driving the bus.”
We are only victims of our emotions if we allow ourselves to be. And sometimes, especially when we’ve been hurt by a loved one, it feels better to wallow in victimhood then rise up, roll our shoulders back, and face the situation with the power and clarity that God promises to us.
And so, this Valentine’s Day, even though life has felt messy lately (and honestly rather painful), I choose to celebrate this year’s day of love because what I KNOW about my husband and myself and our life together trumps everything. I’m tending those thoughts that grow kind and loving and gentle and forgiving and grace giving emotions. Those are the emotions that I want to fill my life and heart and overflow into all my relationships, regardless of the situation.
I recently heard someone say that, unfortunately, it’s the moment that we recognize a problem that things get harder. I know that sounds so obvious, but think about that for a minute. It’s easy to stay in denial or blissfully unaware of problems when the task of dealing with those problems is so. much. harder. But when we decide that enough is enough, when we decide that we want something better for our lives together, then that powerful decision is often times the beginning of things getting a whole lot harder.
This could not be more true than in a marriage. It’s so easy to push stuff under the rug because you just don’t want to deal with it or argue over the same old thing one more time. But the reality is that a relationship that includes two people who are willing to bring things to the surface and yes – sometimes fight about said issues – is a relationship that has a (pardon the pun) fighting chance. It takes passion and determination and guts and grit and will to go to the mats with your partner over an issue that you believe so strongly in. It requires a belief that somehow what you are fighting for is worth it. It requires the sacrifice of the false sense of comfort that saying nothing can lull us into it. Honestly friends, fighting for what is right in a marriage – fighting FOR your marriage – is one of the hardest things we ever face. It can feel defeating and depleting and just plain depressing. And in the face of all that, sometimes we choose to do nothing, say nothing, because stepping up and speaking out isn’t easy.
But we as humans – in or out of relationships – aren’t here to go along with the status quo. You and I are ALL here to create something better – with our thoughts, our words, our actions, what we physically create and how we treat each other. That is our task.
And so, we fight for something better.
It’s called growth. And and the only way to grow our relationships through hard times is not by avoiding conflict, but by facing it and allowing it to change us.
So what do we do when the person we love most, hurts us the worst? Especially during this season that is supposed to be all about outwards expressions of love and commitment? For me, my focus during this current season of life is to trust and participate.
I trust that I am on this earth for a reason. I trust that I am who I am for a reason. I trust that God loves me and is with me and gives me access to everything that he possess. I trust in the vision I have for my life and the life of my family. I trust in the belief that life is a sacred and profound gift and that it is my privilege and honor to participate in it in an active and meaningful way. And so I trust, and I participate. Not just in the good times, but all the times. And perhaps, with even a bit more zeal and passion in the hard times. Because in those hard times we have to trust, and we have to participate, or else we crumble.
In seasons where my marriage faces crisis, I participate in creating something better in my life and the life of my family by knowing who I am. By knowing what my core values and beliefs are. By staying true to my “bullseye.” I create something better by fighting for what is true and good. By speaking up when things are not as they should be. By clinging to the belief that if I’m not participating in making things better, then I’m complicit in making them worse.
In hard seasons I participate in creating something better by forgiving. I remind myself that my entire existence is grace, and I therefore am charged with carrying and offering and living a life of grace. I participate by knowing that forgiveness doesn’t mean agreement. It means that I do not hold the burden of judgement in my hands.
Oh friends. If you take nothing else with you from this post, can I just encourage you when you have been hurt, to trade your rod of judgment for hands folded in a posture of forgiveness and grace?
The judgement we carry in our head and our hearts towards one another will do nothing but destroy us all.
And finally, I participate in creating something better (especially in difficult seasons) by not waiting for things to be perfect. I truly believe that life is light with occasional passing shadows. In dark seasons, I don’t wait for the clouds to pass, I actively look for the rays of light that are always breaking through. I look for the good – in both my life and the life of my husband – and I train my eyes to see it. I look for it. I find it. I speak it. I cherish it.
This Valentine’s Day, I plan on participating in life and love, not because it’s perfect, but precisely because it is so very not. I’m not going to wait for the picture perfect marriage or the picture perfect life (they don’t exist) before I start trusting and participating in making both of them, better.
ps Today in school, my son and I learned about St. Valentine. I was so moved learning about this man who so believed in love that he was willing to die to defend it. It reminded me that love isn’t something you say – it’s something you live.