On Valentine’s Day at the school where my children attended, the Student Council would often sell roses for students to give to each other. They would pre-order the roses and and attach a message to the single rose, bouquet or basket that they purchased.
Many years ago a friend of mine had two daughters. The older one was popular and had many friends; the younger was insecure and struggled with friendships. On Valentine’s Day, they came home. The older daughter’s arms were full of roses–bouquets and baskets of roses, along with multiple single roses. The younger one’s arms were empty.
The mother ached for the youngest daughter.
Valentine’s Day rolled around again. All throughout the day, the mother worried and prayed for the younger daughter. She felt an immense sense of relief when both daughters came home with roses. They both seemed happy with how the day had gone and their mom gave a sigh of relief. This year had gone so much better.
After they went to bed that night, the mom began reading the messages that were attached to the roses for her younger daughter, wondering which friends had sent her roses.
One read, “From your secret admirer.”
Another, “Guess who?”
And still another, “From your best friend.”
The mother’s heart dropped. She recognized the handwriting. The younger daughter had written and ordered all the roses for herself so that she wouldn’t have to go through humiliation again.
I’ve been learning a lot about shame the past couple of years. As I taught a workshop about shame yesterday, I was reminded of this story because it illustrates shame pretty well.
Shame tries to cover up reality. It tries to hide the ugliness. It puts on a good outer face, while inwardly it doesn’t change the pain of the truth. As it pushes down the sadness, it only adds more weight to the pain in our hearts.
Obviously, in the story I shared, ordering her own roses didn’t solve any of the younger daughter’s insecurities. In fact, in addition to the sadness of rejection, she added the embarrasment of the secret of knowing she sent herself the roses.
One thing I’ve learned is that, although we try to hide and forget those things that bring us shame, we can never escape the damage that shame brings to our hearts. I’ve heard it said that even though we can push it down like a beach ball under water–desperately trying to hold it down–shame will eventually pop to the surface and bring harm when it does.
Brene Brown defines shame as “the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”
The enemy of our souls can use Valentine’s Day, a day set aside for romantic gestures, to stir up shame in the tender parts of our hearts.
For those who are not dating or in a relationship, the day committed to coupleship can underscore their longings for a special someone. Satan, the father of lies, can take advantage of this to speak into their vulnerable hearts words like “unlovable” or “undesired.”
For those in a relationship, the deceiver can cause comparison or unrealistic expectations to dampen the day. Instagram stories and snapchat photos can fuel insecurities. Why didn’t my special someone write a post like that? Why did his card or gift not measure up to what others received? Is there something wrong with me? With the relationship? Shame builds in their hearts.
I remember reading an article in the Bangkok Post a few years back about teens wanting sex for Valentine’s Day. These kinds of expectations surrounding the day can put enormous pressure on teens to give in to sexual temptation . Often, shame is used as a pressuring tactic, such as “if you were a good girlfriend, you would…” or “if you really cared about me, you would…” Even though some teens know they are not ready for the avalanche of emotions and realities that come with a sexual relationship, they often cave into pressure on a day surrounded by sexual hype.
In light of all this, how can Valentine’s Day be approached without increased shame?
Shame spoken is shame broken.
First of all, find the courage to speak out your shame to a trusted friend. Feeling unlovable? Try to find the words to tell someone. Feeling sad that you are not in a relationship? Express that to a safe person. Putting words to your feelings will lessen the power of shame.
Shame generates shame.
When you feel unworthy, it can lead to you acting out in an inappropriate way to feel better about yourself. This shame inevitably generates more shame.
Be intentional in examining and planning ahead so that you won’t be left with more shame and regret after Valentine’s Day.
In your desire to be loved, is it possible you might go further physically than you want with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Bring your fears into the light as you reveal them to someone who will listen. Come up with a plan that will help you stick to your boundaries.
In your loneliness, as you long for connection, is it possible you might be tempted to look at porn? Make a safety plan. Tell a trusted friend that you fear you may be triggered. Build in some activities with friends where you will feel connected and valued.
In your desire to show the world that you are loved, is it possible you will be tempted to make your romantic life look better than it is? If you feel like you might be tempted to exaggerate or misrepresent yourself, remind yourself that there is no shame in your story or in the season of life that you are in. There is no need to pretend that things are different than they are.
Check your vulnerabilities before Valentine’s Day so that you can be intentional about any temptations you might face.
Fight shameful lies with truth.
We are told that Satan’s native language is lying. Be on the lookout for his lies and confront them with the truth.
“You are unlovable and no-one wants you.” Not so. God created you, pursues you, loves you and sent His Son to die for you. He desires relationship with you. And, I imagine a lot of other people do, too!
“Because you don’t have a significant other, something is wrong with you.” No, not at all. You were created with worth. You don’t need a romantic relationship to validate that. You can have laughter, connection, meaningful conversations, purpose, fulfillment and a relationship with God–all the most important things of life–without having a significant other.
“Valentine’s Day will be a horrible day because you are single.” No, it doesn’t have to be miserable. You don’t have to spend the day lamenting your relationship status. You can begin by asking God to show you how to revel in the love He has lavished on you. Intentionally make note of the ways that He shows His love for you. Allow His love to spill out on those around you. Spend the day celebrating the relationships you do have.
Valentine’s Day (and everyday) our enemy seeks to see who he can destroy. Shame is a tool that he uses. We need to remind ourselves of the Creator’s love and the good news that comes from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Many years ago, William Tyndale had this to say about the message of Christ: “Evangelion (what we call “the gospel”) is a Greek word, signifying good, merry, glad and joyful news, that makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance and leap for joy.”
May this Valentine’s Day be one in which shame has no part and may your heart be glad.