When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was a big deal. Once school resumed after Christmas break, we all, teachers included, set our sights on the next mile marker in the long winter slog. If we could make it to Valentine’s Day, it wouldn’t be that much longer until spring break. After spring break, the end was in sight.
I haven’t been in school in a long time, and my children have never attended a government school, so I don’t know if public schools still celebrate Valentine’s Day. Since it, like Christmas, has a Christian connection (even though the exact nature of that connection is debated and the cultural observance is secular), I can’t help wondering if Valentine’s Day parties have been outlawed the way Christmas parties have. Can you even say the word “saint” in a public school classroom anymore? It appears that in some quarters, at least, Valentine’s Day parties are going the way of other holiday celebrations.
Whether or not your child’s school is having a party, if you are a parent, especially a Christian one, the date of February 14 provides an excellent opportunity for teaching some lessons that go far beyond how to write a formulaic poem and make construction paper hearts. Here are five suggestions for timely topics to discuss with your child this Valentine’s Day.
1. Talk About Martyrs
Although the details are debated, one version of the story of Saint Valentine identifies him as a priest who lived in Rome during the third century under the rule of Claudius II, a persecutor of Christians. As the story goes, Claudius believed that families deterred men from joining his army, so he outlawed marriage. Valentinus assisted those who were being persecuted and went against Claudius’ decree by marrying couples in secret. When his crime was discovered, he was arrested, tried and killed.
For children, Valentinus presents a vivid portrait of a martyr and an opportunity to talk about the fact that there are still persecuted Christians and martyrs today who are willing to risk all for their faith. After having this discussion with your child, you might consider choosing a modern-day victim of religious persecution to remember in your prayers. Persecution.org and Voice of the Martyrs are two places to find out more.
2. Talk About Love
The world’s celebration of Valentine’s Day tends to focus on our cultural obsession with romantic love to the exclusion of other kinds of love that are just as, or more, important. The ancient Greek categories for love (storgē, philía, éros, and agápe) can provide a means of talking about all the ways human beings are in relationship with one another. Ask your child to think of people in his life who illustrate the different categories of love, perhaps drawing a picture of each. Talk about how what the culture often calls love is often more focused on self than on others. Then read 1 Corinthians 13 for a description of selfless, or agápe, love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
3. Talk About Saints
The word “saint” has different meanings in different faith traditions, but one thing that is generally consistent is the idea of a saint’s being someone we look to as an example of faith. Read Revelation 7:14-17 and discuss the saints your child has known—the people among your family and friends who have demonstrated great faithfulness in life and in death.
4) Talk About the Government
The Christian church to which I belong teaches something called Two Kingdoms, which is the recognition of a Christian’s dual citizenship in both the spiritual and the worldly realm. The story of St. Valentine is a good illustration of how the goals of government are sometimes at odds with the practice of individual faith. It is at such times that we answer to a higher authority. Talk to your child about how we are thankful to live in a country in which our freedom to practice our faith is guaranteed in the Constitution, but how even in the United States some are antagonistic towards religion, so we must always remain vigilant in defending our right to worship as our conscience prescribes.
5) Talk About Marriage and Family
There was once a time when the traditional family was supported and upheld by the governing authorities because it was seen as a building block of civil society. Those days appear to be over, and it does our children no good to pretend otherwise. The story of St. Valentine provides an opportunity to talk to your children about why, hundreds of years ago, a man risked his life to assist those desiring to get married. Why was it so important to him? What does marriage offer to the individual and to society? These days, there are all kinds of people acting as though they are married when they aren’t. How has our culture suffered as a result?
Maybe this all seems a bit heavy for Valentine’s Day. Wouldn’t it be easier, and more fun, to just buy a big box of chocolates and call it a day? Well, sure. But I’m not suggesting you skip the chocolates. What I am suggesting is that between the almond cluster and the vanilla crème is an excellent starting point for sharing some valuable lessons about life and love with the children in your care.