Yes, I know. That is single-handedly the worst and scariest Valentine’s Day card. Ever.
Though it might seem ironic, I love all the Valentine’s Day hoopla. That’s right: I love going to CVS in the month of February. I love the cheesy gifts, the dozen roses, and the candy hearts. Yes, I’m that person who makes all the plush toys sing in the seasonal aisle. For many years, I found myself agonizing over which Hallmark greeting card to buy in the card aisle: Funny? Sappy? Romantic? Heartfelt?
However, now at age 28, I genuinely wonder if we are really getting anywhere with Hallmark. In my own life and in the lives of friends, I’ve watched relationships begin, grow, deteriorate, end, or work out. So, having witnessed and lived through those experiences, if I had to design a card for Valentine’s Day, it might look like the one described in the introduction.
‘There is no fear in love’
I can’t remember the first time I heard someone say, “Hate is not the opposite of love. Fear is the opposite of love,” but I do remember thinking it is so true. I was recently surprised to find out that the idea has biblical origins. From 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
That was in the Bible? What about 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient, love is kind…) — isn’t that the quintessential biblical reading about love?
It might be among the most popular, but the verse from 1 John might easily be the most underrated.
After observing successful and unsuccessful relationships, I began to take more and more interest in what led to the end result. A number of times, relationships ended due to fear, making me consider if fear really is the opposite of love.
This Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to ask yourself not only who you love but also what you’re afraid of when it comes to relationships and loving someone more fully. These fears are applicable to romantic relationships, but they are also applicable to friendships and family relationships, too. To start, consider a list of three common fears I’ve compiled.
Fear that it’s just not the right time. This fear is sometimes motivated by the idea permeating society that there is a decade of our young lives in which we must make it or break it career-wise. If we somehow waver from our career path, we’ll start a snowball rolling that will become a devastating professional avalanche years down the road. Before I go on, I want to clarify: I do think there’s a difference between putting off starting relationships, or even getting married, in order to develop a career or develop financial stability versus walking away from an existing good thing because of attachment to ideas about a career. Before walking away, it might be good to ask some deeper questions: Why don’t I feel I can move forward with this person? Is it something about him or her (and I fear being honest)? Something about me? Am I too attached to going “all-in” for my career? Am I attached to “how I always thought life would go”? Society has sent us a lot of messages about the “right time” to be in a relationship but perhaps our professional achievement-driven society isn’t always good at giving relationship advice. If you find yourself worrying more about checking off a list of “should-haves” and walking away from relationships, it might be time to reconsider if those are truly personal goals you wish to achieve before you enter a relationship or worries rooted in societal messaging.
Fear of commitment. Fear of commitment might come from being vulnerable to another person. Maybe we have been hurt by others (or witnessed others being hurt) and fear being vulnerable. If avoidance comes up, it is likely followed closely by fear. It might take a while, and even counseling and prayer, to name those fears and also confront them.
Fear of relationships ending. Okay, I’m officially a Debbie Downer on Valentine’s Day, I know. This is about staying on the treadmill of life because lifting weights seems a lot harder (it is). Most people can easily point out what this fear looks like in others, but it’s much harder to confront in ourselves. It’s easy to wear rose-colored glasses or to believe things will somehow work out. It’s easier to not work hard in relationships. If the relationship has truly become a treadmill, lacking growth or the opportunity for growth, it’s time to get off. If it is a good relationship but needs some heavy lifting, it’s time to start pumping kettle bells. God created us as relational human beings. He called us to thrive, not become someone we are not or let our relationships stagnate.
So, whether or not you agree with the above list, you might agree I would be Hallmark’s worst possible employee. But, it begs the question: What are your fears when it comes to furthering your own relationships? Once I asked myself that question, and began to work on the root of my fears, I began to see improvements in my relationships. If you realize a fear you have, what should you do about it? If you are in a relationship and feel comfortable, have a conversation about your fears. If you aren’t at that comfort level yet, talk with a friend, spiritual director, campus minister, or another confidant. If you aren’t in a relationship or don’t intend to be, asking yourself these questions is still important. Confronting our fears will not only help to improve our romantic relationships but all the relationships in our lives.