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What I Learned from Celebrating a Month of Love

What I Learned from Celebrating a Month of Love

If you were to define love by the commercials that air in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, you’d be certain that love is displayed in the flashy gifts, the grand gestures: The sparkling diamond ring. The pricey string of pearls. The exotic honeymoon. The Caribbean cruise. The exclusive dining experience.

But is that really what love looks like? What happens when the ring has lost some of its sparkle, when the tan lines have faded, when the credit card bill arrives? Certainly there’s a place for sweeping expressions of love. But what if love is shown mostly in the small gestures, in the ordinary, everyday moments of love?

One February I was feeling decidedly anti-Cupid, dreading all the hype over Valentine’s Day. My housemate had recently gotten engaged, and she and her fiancé were planning to celebrate the holiday not once, but twice—on the actual day and again on the weekend. Meanwhile, I was (still) single, smarting over a recent blind date that had royally flopped.

Can I just go into hibernation on February 1 and not emerge until March? I wondered. That way I’d be able to skip the jewelry ads and the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate—reminders at every turn of that thing I longed for but didn’t have. I yearned to be known and loved, but February after February I found myself alone. Valentine’s Day felt like a jab in a tender spot, a symbol of what seemed to come so easily for other people but eluded me.

The idea for a “month of love” snuck up on me—I certainly didn’t go out looking for it. After all, I figured there was no chance of my relationship status changing anytime soon. The idea made its way into my mind, unbidden, when I was talking to a friend about another holiday altogether: Thanksgiving.

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My friend and I had gotten together over lunch to catch up on the past couple of months. The previous year had been a hard one, she told me, and when November rolled around, she wasn’t feeling especially thankful. After much prayer and research, she and her husband had decided to adopt and were excited to be matched with a sibling group. They’d filled out countless forms, notarized a ream of papers, endured extensive home studies, saved their money, and jumped through so many governmental hoops they felt ready for the circus. But it was worth it—they already loved these children and would do whatever it took to bring them home.

But month after month, they waited for the adoption to go through. They decorated rooms and filled dressers full of clothes in the children’s sizes. And then they waited some more. They dealt with more red tape, more hoops to jump through. And still, they waited. My friend was sure they’d be united with their children by the end of the year, but as frost bit the morning air and the oak branches in their yard were stripped of their leaves, it was becoming clear that they’d spend the holidays with an ocean separating them from the children.

“How did you do it?” I asked my friend. “How did you stay grateful and not get bitter?” I asked because I admired her, and also because I needed to know. For myself. For February, certainly.

“I declared the entire month of November a month of gratitude,” she said. “Every day, I forced myself to post something I was thankful for on Facebook. Even if I wasn’t feeling particularly thankful.”

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As I drove home, I marveled at my friend’s tenacity. She’d chosen gratitude, and the feeling had followed. I wondered if the same could apply to love. As Madeleine L’Engle put it, “Love isn’t how you feel. It’s what you do.” What if I could choose love this February, whether I had a date to shower me with romantic gestures or not?

And so I found a leather journal, and on the opening page, I wrote: “The Month of Love.” It sounded cheesy, but I didn’t care. Each day, starting on February 1, I wrote down one daily act of love I received.

February 1: I got an email from my mom. She signed it, as she does every email to me, “I love you! Jesus loves you more!” That’s love.

February 2: I got together with my Tuesday friend, the one I meet with every week for coffee and prayer. She listens to me well, even when I babble. That’s love.

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February 3: My furnace broke—of course, right when the weather dipped to single-digit temperatures. My dad came over to do a temporary fix until the furnace guy can come. That’s love.

February 4: A coworker heard about my furnace predicament and promptly delivered a space heater. That’s love.

February 5: My sister isn’t one for sentimentality, but she called me on my lunch break so we could do a crossword puzzle together. That’s love.

By the end of the month, my journal was filled up with love, and so was my soul. I’d been so busy looking for grand love-moments that I’d been missing the love God had been lavishing on me all along.

And something else unexpected was happening: as I was being filled up with love, it kept spilling over the edges onto the people around me. To my surprise, I realized that not only did I have love to receive; I also had love to give. These words from Scripture resonated inside me like never before: “Since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (1 John 4:11).

If someone wanted to buy me a sparkly ring or a dozen roses someday, I wouldn’t complain. But the Month of Love had shown me that no matter my relationship status, I was already loved—by my heavenly Father and by the people he’d put into my life. And now I could scatter his love to others too. 

Bring it on, Cupid, I thought. I’m ready for another February.

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Stephanie Rische blogs at StephanieRische.com, and she’s the author of I Was Blind (Dating), but Now I See: My Misadventures in Dating, Waiting, and Stumbling into Love (Tyndale House, 2016).