This week is Valentine’s Day, the bane of singles and Scrooges everywhere. I’m just as single this year as every other year — and, indeed, even older than in previous years, which is scary — but for the first time I’m actually a little excited.
It’s not because a friend has set me up with someone she promises could make great conversation with even a zebra. Nor is it that I’m meeting up with girlfriends for a night of fondue, chocolate and When Harry Met Sally. I’m not even getting a pedicure or massage.
None of those things would be bad things to do, and I’m sure that I’d enjoy them, but almost all such plans — when scheduled for the evening of Valentine’s Day — end up feeling like eating a microwave dinner in a hospital ward while your family’s enjoying a homemade Thanksgiving together.
They’re substitute plans. And their inferior status would be instantly apparent were you given the choice between them and an evening with someone you like, who dotes on and delights in you. Basking in the warmth of another’s love is infinitely better than trying to pamper and love yourself, no matter what all the self-help books say.
That’s not to say we should abuse, demean or berate ourselves, but self-love isn’t what sustains the world; self-giving love is. Except in rare cases, not a one of us would exist if not for the love between two people. And once their love for each other had given rise to our existence, we would not have survived long enough to learn basic self-sufficiency if not for others’ continued, sacrificial love for us.
Nor does self-love produce nobility or great accomplishments. Think of any of the great things people have done through the centuries, and chances are love was involved — for one or even many people.
For Christians, the reason for this is that all life began with the self-giving love of the Trinity, which spilled over into the creation of a good, beautiful world and the people in whom God put His image. We exist because of the overflow of the divine love that C.S. Lewis called a “dance.”
But in the typical perversion of good that is rife in our fallen world, Valentine’s Day takes that penultimate virtue — self-giving love — and advances a celebration of its grotesque inversion: self-centered “love.” Thus the rampant commercialism loathed by the single and the paired alike, and the emptiness felt by those who somehow miss out on whatever benefits the day is supposed to bring.
So why am I excited about this Valentine’s Day? Because three months ago, I got an idea for a prayer event I’m calling Pray for the Johns Day. For a while now, I’ve been part of a group that fasts and prays every week for God to bring healing to relational brokenness, particularly where it’s keeping people single and unmarried. Over time, my own prayers have focused more on men, especially that they would become the fullness of who God made them to be.
When I did an interview last fall with a woman who started a safe house for foreign-born victims of sex trafficking, it got me thinking about men even more — the ones whose demand for physical intimacy drives the commercial sex industry. When I asked God how I should pray for men, the answer seemed to be what has become Pray for the Johns Day.
The idea is to ask God for two things: that men would turn away from buying sex and repent, and that they would turn to whatever good works God may yet have for them to do. Since such prayers — and the transformation for which they ask — make no sense apart from love, it seemed most logical that Pray for the Johns Day should coincide with Valentine’s Day.
I’m excited to see how God uses Tuesday’s prayers in the lives of both those who pray and are prayed for, but I am also excited to give my fellow single women and men a way to celebrate love that’s totally independent of our relational status.
And because Pray for the Johns Day connects us back to the ultimate source of love, it’s a chance to end Valentine’s Day full instead of empty.
Anna Broadway is a writer and editor living near San Francisco. The author of Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity, Anna is a regular contributor to the Her.meneutics blog. Her work has also appeared in Books and Culture, Patheos, RejectApathy, Radiant and Beliefnet.