Valentine’s Day is not a big deal in our family. I don’t expect anything special from Smartypants. A simple and sincere “I love you” suffices to warm my heart, but this should be every day anyways.
When it comes to celebrations of love, consistency and integrity speaks more to me than anything that can be bought or packaged. With two rambunctious children now stomping all over any prior romantic notions I had, the outward gestures of romance just don’t really do it for me. I just want to know that my man is by my side through thick and thin, a true best friend who is committed to love despite the glaring flaws we see in each other. A true partner who stands firmly beside me, irregardless of circumstances.
I like romance, but I need love. Love with integrity.
In the midst of preparing valentines with the kids earlier this week, I wanted to help them think about love beyond how much they would “love” to dig into that tempting pile of heart-shaped gummy candy on our family table. I wanted them to grasp that love is directed outward, extending kindness that impacts other hearts in ways you may never see or know.
Instead, the ambience around the family table was anything but loving and kind. Tigerlily was following Momo around, grabbing things out of his hands. Tug-of-wars escalate into blatant war. Screams ensue. Finally, Momo couldn’t take it anymore and pushes Tigerlily, yelling “you get away from me, mei-mei!” More screams. More tears.
It was, in fact, a perfect opportunity for all of us to contemplate love. Because there is no better way to grasp our need for love than when we see the lack of it. Anger and selfishness choking kindness. Hearts aching. The sting of rejection. Valentines scattered on the table, underscoring the hypocrisy and tension between words and action.
Inspired by a teacher’s lesson I came across on Pinterest, I pulled out some construction paper and cut out a heart. We headed out to the backyard so that I could take their eyes off of all the gummy candy on the table.
I gave Momo the heart. Smooth and pristine.
I told him to crumple it up without ripping it. Squish it with all his might. Stomp on it if he’d like.
Then I had the kids spread out the heart again on the floor. I told them to smooth it out the best they could.
And so they did. But the folds and marks remained. It just wasn’t the same heart.
Such are the unique scars of every heart, old and young. When hurt strikes, it changes the heart. Maybe a few lines aren’t noticeable. But the cumulative impact of hurt leaves the heart rough and worn, the fibers stretched and weak. Healing can take place. Hope does not die. But that heart is changed.
Tigerlily is too young to grasp what I was saying. But I could see that Momo understood. I think he realizes in some inexplicable way that his heart has already been changed by hurt too. He may not be able to explain it, but I know he feels it. It is all part of growing up.
The heart is meant to experience both joy and sorrow. Pain and hurt can point us to necessary change, growth, and a better hope. Without it, we would not realize what a broken bunch of people we are.
I don’t intend or hope that my children avoid hurt. I don’t aim to keep their hearts smooth and pampered. But I do intend and hope that they would grow to see the value of their heart and the hearts of others. That words and actions do indeed harm, even though there may not be visible evidence. With time, I hope they develop a humble perspective that looks past physical appearances, abilities, wealth, and societal labels — all the things that tend to define us on passing glance — and instead, recognize the worth that exists under all those layers. There is so much more to a person than the outward sum of his parts.
I am the last person to have anything to say about lessons in kindness. I have much to learn myself. It’s not difficult to be kind as long as my toes don’t get stepped on. It’s not hard to learn social rules and “behave” when people are watching. Yet the nature of our hearts are most revealed by how we treat and think of others when nobody is looking or when our behavior has no personal consequence.
Just as I could care less for acts of romance on Valentine’s Day, I could care less if my kids know how to act kind. Instead, I am praying for integrity in their kindness, as well as mine. I hope that their kindness will eventually stem from a sincere appreciation for the hearts of others. I’m still praying for that kind of heart transformation in myself.
As they are challenged to treat other people’s hearts as treasure, they need to hear loud and clear what a treasure their heart is too. Incredibly unique. Not meant to be bartered or bought by cheap gifts and empty flattery. Created and known by a God who wrote the book on love and redemption. I need to remember to tell them this every single day. No lesson on kindness will take root without first experiencing the transformative power of love.
When we can all see the intrinsic treasure in others and ourselves, then that will be a celebration of love like no other. No roses or dinner reservation required.