decided to get an early start on preparing for Valentine’s Day, so last week I stopped in at Schauer’s Hallmark Store.

It’s apparent that many Americans get into February 14. The folks behind the counter estimated that they have over 1,000 Valentine’s Day cards in stock. Approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Greeting Card Association. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities the figure goes up to one billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines. 

Many of the cards at Schauer’s store were more on the whimsical, funny or cute side. One published by Unicef had two birds on the cover with the words “I love sharing my nest with you.” Many featured cartoon characters like Charlie Brown, Yogi Bear and Calvin and Hobbes. Puppies and kittens made the covers of many.

Several of the cards were sexually suggestive. The cover of one card said, “To my sexy, sweet, beautiful wife.” And if that one is too tame for you, you could pick one out which said on the cover, “The heat, the chemistry, the excitement. . .” and on the inside added, “We’re like fireworks together.”

Some cards focused on aspects other than the sexual or romantic side of love. “How lucky am I?” said one card. “I’m in love with my best friend.” A few of the cards included God as a third party in the love relationship: for example “No matter what’s going on, knowing you, me and God are in it together makes me look forward to life and what’s ahead for us.”

Honestly, I thought that whoever would buy the card which declared, “My wife. . .you take my breath away. . .you are everything I could ever want. . .I adore you,” is either delusional or on his honeymoon. 

Author Rita Mae Brown said it best when she wrote, “I believe our concept of romantic love is irrational, impossible to fulfill, and cause of many broken homes. No human being can maintain that rarified atmosphere of ‘true love.'”

Indeed, I have cherished those “romantic” times—in a marriage, with friends, in church, with my kids—when I have felt very close and warm and secure. Or, like they say about a New Age hot dog, “one with everything.” But that rarified atmosphere is just that… rare.

Author and counselor Sheryl Paul wrote in a Huffington Post article entitled Love Is A Verb, “A significant portion of my work is dedicated to debunking our beloved and dysfunctional cultural myths about love, romance, and marriage. For many people, as long as they’re chasing after the unavailable partner where there’s no risk of real love and, thus, no risk of vulnerability and loss, they can trot along somewhat happily, fully subscribing to the dominant cultural myths.  

I went through adolescence and became an adult in the 1960s when the words love and peace were tossed around a lot in the culture. The Beatles sang, “It’s easy. All you need is love.”

I really do agree with the Fab Four that what we need in our relationships more than anything else is love. What I disagree with is that it’s easy. The following quote comes from Touchstones, a daily devotion book written for recovering alcoholics but which on most days hits me square in the soul. 

“We have to give up ideas that a friendship is an intense connection or a conflict-free blending of like minds. A meaningful friendship is a long-term dialogue. If there is conflict or if we make a mistake or fail to do what our friend wants of us, we don’t end the friendship. Our dialogue continues over time, and time—along with many amends—builds the bond. With it develops a deepening sense of reliability and trusting one another.”

All we need IS love, but it’s far from easy. That’s why in my church we don’t use a heart as the symbol for God’s love. We use a cross.

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