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The Status of Romance in America and the Surprising Path to Our Best Lives

Jim Denison | Denison Forum | Published: Feb 14, 2024
The Status of Romance in America and the Surprising Path to Our Best Lives

The Status of Romance in America and the Surprising Path to Our Best Lives

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Would you like your marriage and other significant relationships to be stronger and more loving?

The answer is found in a place many of us would never think to look.

A birthday party and a funeral at the same time?

Americans are spending more on Valentine’s Day this year than ever before—a record $25.8 billion. However, this does not mean that romance in America is healthier than ever:

  • More than half of today’s spending ($14.2 billion) is on “significant others,” from pets to friends and co-workers.
  • “Galentine’s” parties have been held leading up to Valentine’s Day for women who are not in romantic relationships.
  • The Chinese food restaurant P. F. Chang’s is offering free “DUMPlings” for anyone who’s been recently dumped and needs some heartbreak comfort food.
  • A majority of single Americans aren’t looking for romance today or at any other time.

Paradoxically, today is also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Many people will abstain from consuming meat and will wear crosses on their foreheads made with ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday fronds.

Combining the two days feels a little like holding a birthday party and a funeral at the same time. The one is filled with romance, dining, and chocolates; the other connotes fasting, deprivation, and discipline.

In actuality, the two are essential to each other in ways that are transformative for our souls and our culture.

Who was St. Valentine?

St. Valentine was, by some accounts, a Roman priest and physician who was beheaded by the emperor Claudius II on this day in AD 270. Other sources identify him as the bishop of Terni, Italy. According to legend, he healed his jailer’s blind daughter, then left her a note on the day of his martyrdom signed “from your Valentine.”

He is venerated today as the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, and, of course, engaged couples and happy marriages. But his example points less to a one-day celebration of romance and more to a lifestyle of spiritual focus and sacrificial service.

Ash Wednesday points in the same direction. It is the gateway to Lent, the season each spring that prepares us for the Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

Lent is forty days long (Sundays, which are weekly celebrations of the Resurrection, are excluded) because Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days in preparation for his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:2). In addition, the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years in preparation for entering their promised land. And, according to tradition, Jesus’ body laid in the tomb for forty hours before the Easter miracle.

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Where the two “holidays” intersect

Here’s where the two “holidays” intersect: we live our best life when we live in ways God can most fully bless.

We need his Spirit to make us the people we long to be (cf. Galatians 5:22–23). Our role in this partnership is to live with intentional, holistic, biblical obedience, following St. Valentine’s example and engaging in spiritual disciplines as suggested by Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. This is not to earn God’s favor (that would be legalism) but to position ourselves to experience all that his grace intends to give.

In healthy marriages, couples celebrate their love for each other not just on Valentine’s Day but every day. In healthy spiritual lives, Christians celebrate their love for Christ not just on Sunday but every day.

In both cases, we give up what keeps us from focusing on what is best for our souls: “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1a). And we embrace what is best for us and for those we love:

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (vv. 1b–2).

These verses require three questions:

  • Is there a “weight” in your life you need to “lay aside” for Christ?
  • Are you running with endurance the “race” he has set before you?
  • How fully are you “looking to Jesus” with your attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions?

Acting into feeling

Marriage counselors sometimes ask their clients, “If you were more in love with your spouse than you are, what would you do next?”

When their clients answer, they encourage them to put their response into practice.

“Act into feeling rather than feeling into acting” is the concept.

So, I’ll ask:

If you were more in love with Jesus than you are, what would you do next?

NOTE: In her book A Great Calm, my wife Janet discusses “3 a.m. moments,” those times your mind races or you receive a call you never wanted to get. When the storms of life rage, where do you turn? Please be encouraged by Janet’s devotional and request your copy of A Great Calm today.

Image credit: © Getty Images/Liudmyla Supynska

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes DenisonForum.org, First15.org, ChristianParenting.org, and FoundationsWithJanet.org. Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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The Status of Romance in America and the Surprising Path to Our Best Lives