Valentine’s Day 2015: "Do You Love Me?"
As you may know, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that originally celebrated a Christian martyr in ancient Rome. Today, we could surely exaggerate the day’s importance and become depressed by our aloneness or over-pleased by our relational glee or we could even criticize the day as just another commercial stunt. For the past few years, I have used the day to reflect on a brief passage in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. The context here isn’t romantic or sexual in implication, but there is something about it that feels central to who we are as human beings.
In verses 15-17 we get Jesus talking to Peter:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Most of the analysis I’ve heard about this passage centers around Jesus’s intriguing response to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” But I want to start with the very question itself: “Do you love me?” In his books, therapist Dan Allender suggests this question is one of our central questions in life. It is the main affirmation we want to know and hear from other people. At times we’re probably pursuing the answer to this question even though we are completely unaware that it motivates so much of our unconsciousness. Sometimes we try to deny the question, pretend it isn’t there, because we have been burned by love and are determined to never go there again. Sometimes this question and its perceived answer drives us to depression, other times to sheer ecstasy. Sometimes the answer seems too plain and routine and dull, but that we recognize that monotony in the first place indicates a stronger desire, a craving for something more.
This question we ask puts us in a vulnerable place. We tremble at the possibilities of a pending answer. We wonder if someone could love even the unattractive parts of ourselves. Sometimes we act the question out in sad, desperate ways, which is to see we see evidence of the question in our vice. When we do not feel loved or when we are too scared to risk love, we turn to all sorts of varieties of cheap substitutes, some more harmful than others. The thread is the same: Will you love me? Because if you won’t, maybe Facebook will or my favorite television show will dull the pain of the answer I’m hearing right now or maybe you will love me if I get promoted at work or maybe my sports team or this food can make me feel better about the fact that I feel unloved. Don’t most of us do this? This “acting out” is simply an attempt to replace or imitate what we really want.
What about Jesus’s answer? It is interesting that he seems to be calling Peter to some action, action that’s close to Jesus’s heart. You say you love me? Okay, show me. Love without action is pretty cheap, isn’t it? It becomes just another stale word. I suppose that action orientation of love is some of what we try to do in celebrating Valentine’s Day.
So on this Valentine’s Day, in 2015, it is my hope that you have the courage to ask your question and that in response you hear a resounding “yes” from the most important people of your life :).