Valentines’ Day has always been tricky for me. I was barely four years old when I caught my dad sneaking inside the house carrying a box of chocolates in a Barbie-pink box with a bow. They had to be for me. After all, everything in my room was pink.
“These are for your mom.” He patted me on the head. “One day, when you’re someone’s sweetheart, you’ll be get one, too.”
In college, my beau handed me a white box tied closed with a large red bow. After all these years, finally flowers! Roses or carnations? I didn’t care which. I unfurled the ribbon and . . .
Inside was a copy of US News and World Report. He’d gone creative and bought me a gift to appealed to my mind, and not something fleeting and superficial like flowers and candy. So he said.
Newsflash, sweetheart. I am fleeting and superficial. Life may be like a box of chocolates, but I never received any chocolates.
After my husband died, I received a sympathy Valentine card: “Thinking of your loss on this day filled with love.” I scrunched my forehead. I had no idea they made Valentine cards for widows. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I wasn’t sure a sympathy card at Valentine’s Day was a good idea.
“They make cards for everything,” a single friend told me. “I received a Valentine Card announcing it was Singles Awareness Day— SAD.”
“No, you didn’t.”
She nodded. “Oh and that’s not the best part. They jotted a personal note: “Remember, Jesus, is your husband.” She shook her head, rolled her eyes and sighed.
One of the refreshing about my friend was her transparency. Of course, Jesus is a father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow. His love is better than any human love, but can a woman not honestly acknowledge her disappointment that she is still single without being accused of self-pity? How can we weep with those who weep if we make them feel unspiritual for being heartbroken?
The Difference Between Transparency and Self-Pity
Go ahead and sing along with LeAnn Rimes: “Jenny’s got a job, a cat named Jake, Thirty- one candles on her birthday cake . . . Thought by now she’d have a man, two car seats, and a minivan . . . But it still ain’t here.” Godly transparency acknowledges your life circumstances sometimes disappoint you.
In Scripture, expressing sorrow, regret and even grief about something or someone is called a lament. The Psalms are filled with verses of lament-crying out to God with aches, pains, and tears. Psalm 88, is particularly dark. It doesn’t end with a, cheer up, Jesus loves you, refrain. Instead, the Psalmist speaks of agonizing isolation. “You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend” Psalm 88:18.
Honesty before the Lord and brothers and sisters in Christ is a good thing. But when does honest transparency turn to self-pity? Here are a couple of things to consider:
- Self-pity marinates in suffering to the point of questioning the goodness of God. Does your disappointment find you questioning God’s character? Can you trust him even when your circumstances cause heartache?
- Self-pity cannot empathize with others. Those who are engulfed in self-pity speak of their hurts to the exclusion of others (who have needs just as pressing). Those drowning in self-pity lack the patience to hear about another’s pain, or they feel their own pains are significantly worse or uniquely cruel. But Scripture says that no temptation has overtaken you that is “common to man.” 1Cor.10:13.
- Self-pity cannot rejoice with others. When the last of your single girlfriends comes over all aglow and shows you a sparkly diamond on her left hand, are you truly able to rejoice with her or are your struggling with envy?
- Self-pity is prayer-less. Can you cast your cares upon Jesus because he cares for you? 1 Peter 5:7. Have you spent more time worrying or talking to others about your disappointments than you have praying about them?
- Biblical lament communicates honestly to God draw near to Him. Rather than questioning the character of God, the sufferer brings his questioning emotions to the throne of grace to find mercy in time of need. Hebrews 4:16.
If February 14 is going to be difficult for you, be honest about it to the Lord. He is a big God and can handle your angst when you lay it before him. Find a trusted friend, who will empathize with you, pray with you and for you. Again, the goal is to draw near to God, and not sink deeper into your pain.
One of the most therapeutic things you can do when you are struggling with disappointment is to find another who needs your care. I have a friend who was well in her 40s and still single. Valentines Day was hard for her for many years. Until one of her high school students suggested they host a Valentine’s Day dance for a nearby nursing home.
“How’d that go?” I asked her.
She laughed. “The invites were for 7 pm. The Seniors started arriving at our gym, all dressed up at 4. We had far more women than men, so we asked the football team to knock off from practice early and grab their tuxes. You know they did? They were so sweet about it.” She paused, smiled and her eyes filled with tears. “Never been more proud of those kids. Never heard such laughter coming from so many elderly. And guess what? I never once thought about how crappy it is to be single on Valentines’ Day. I drove home and started planning next year’s bash in my head.
As a married woman, I was blessed to have a husband who reveled in the idea of being to romantic. As my dad had predicted, more than one box of chocolates finally made it to my hands. Flowers too. Cards. Dinner reservations—the whole enchilada.
But now, just after making it through another Christmas without him, I am by no means ready to face the pink and red trinkets that fill every Wal-Mart shelf. But this year, as I lament my loss, I’ll be asking the Lord not to waste my pain. Who, Lord, would you have me encourage?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV).
Gaye Clark works as a cardiac nurse in Augusta, Georgia, and as part time correspondent for WORLD magazine. She also volunteers with iCare, a local faith-based organization that provides assistance to trafficked victims. She is also the widow of Jim Clark. She writes in her free time about sex trafficking, Christian living, and lay-ministry. She has two adult children, Anna and Nathan.