I have never been a huge fan of the type of love we see promoted through the celebration of Valentine’s Day. For weeks in advance, we are exhorted to show our love through the purchase of expensive gifts, unbelievably marked-up flower arrangements and the enactment of a thoughtful (and expensive) night on the town. My husband and I always laughed about it and made a pact that we would celebrate a week later, when roses are marked down and restaurants no longer have fixed menus. The type of love we see in Valentine’s Day commercials and fluff news pieces seems very disconnected from what we have experienced.
Pope Francis wrote beautifully of spousal love in his apostolic exhoration Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”):
“In joining their lives, the spouses assume an active and creative role in a lifelong project. Their gaze now has to be directed to the future that, with the help of God’s grace, they are daily called to build. For this very reason, neither spouse can expect the other to be perfect. Each must set aside all illusions and accept the other as he or she actually is: an unfinished product, needing to grow, a work in progress.…
“Fostering growth means helping a person to shape his or her own identity. Love is thus a kind of craftsmanship” (Nos. 218-221).
Each day in my marriage, I open a new space for my husband to grow, and he does the same for me. And we grow together through conversations about work and friends, kids and politics. We grow together through the small daily gifts we give each other (a night off bedtime duty, an errand performed for the other, late-night laundry, a listening ear). We grow together in our delight in the joys of raising a small amazing human (and our commiseration over the troubles caused by that same human). We grow together through years of quiet and unrelenting self-sacrifice, of giving one’s entire life over for the good of the other person, the good of the family we have created, and the good of the world.
It’s good to celebrate this love, and maybe even to celebrate it with grandiose gestures and expensive gifts every once and awhile. But we can never lose sight of those daily gifts of love, both given and received, that are at the core of our marriage. These gifts of love, over time, become the food of transformation: transformation of ourselves, of our children and of our community. Our love is creating something beautiful. Thanks be to God.