When I was a teenager, I hated Valentine’s Day. My very logical parents insisted that it was just a “Hallmark holiday” that could be comfortably ignored. For them, it existed to dupe people into wasting money on things they didn’t really need. Even though I could appreciate the logic of their arguments, the truth is I’m also a hopeless romantic. I was just sure that my Valentine’s Day would be eminently better if someone surprised me with a huge box of chocolate and an armload of roses. Ultimately, I realize that I did not want chocolate as much as I wanted the validation of being publicly claimed and “cherished” by a sweetheart.
Valentine’s Day is also an extremely popular time of the year to become engaged. In fact, more people become engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year. Valentine’s Day spending is frequently driven by our cultural fascination with romantic love and marriage. To be married is to be fulfilled, or so our culture tells us.
And what about within the Church? As someone who did not get married until age 28, I can assure you that walking into the average congregation as an unaccompanied single person is uncomfortable to say the least. If you’re a stranger, then you wonder if you’ll even be noticed. If you’re in your home congregation, you wonder exactly how long it will be until someone asks about your love life and if you plan to get married anytime soon. I won’t try to touch on the loneliness of not having post-Church Sunday lunch plans.
Paul’s View on Marital Status
In 1st Corinthians, Paul addresses one of his congregations on the virtues of being single vs. being married. Lest I be accused of proof texting, I should point out that Paul’s advice was given in the context of his confident belief that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Even so, I think his thoughts on people’s relationship status are worth considering for us as individuals and as the Church. Specifically, he says,
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs; her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. (1 Corinthians 7: 32-34)
The Church’s Response to Paul’s Advice
If we take Paul’s point, there are real benefits to being single and to being married. Although married people may have a built-in companion, they also have burdens and concerns that single people do not have to take on. Single people are free to command their own time and resources in a way that married people frequently cannot. And while singleness can be lonely, it does not have to be. Similarly, though much less frequently acknowledged, marriage can be lonely. But it does not have to be.
Regardless of one’s relationship status, I earnestly believe that all people have the same basic needs. We all need fellowship. We all need community. We all need emotional intimacy. And we all need a place to contribute our gifts and our energy. To borrow Paul’s language, we all need things to be concerned about. So perhaps a faithful response to the culture of Valentine’s Day is this: we should honor people in our congregations and community regardless of their relationship status and work to offer them a place where their needs can be met.