I was twenty-seven when I took ownership of my first class of impressionable sixth graders. Those twenty-three minds were a veritable blank canvas ready for my pedagogical feather to tickle their intellects and break up the ground of their mixed metaphors.
Everything progressed perfectly until Fate took a sick day during second semester. One of my fellow elementary professors broke the news to me like this:
“All of your students have to give a valentine to everyone else in their class.”
Even now I think my response was genius.
“I’m sorry. I’m not a communist.”
I never subscribed to the idea that if I share my gum with one person, I’ll have to share it with everyone else. It’s my gum. I can share it with whomever I wish. I can give it to my best friend and not share it with my best bully.
On the other hand, I could share it with my best bully in an attempt to heap proverbial coals on his head.
But how we communicate these equally valid, yet seemingly contradictory Truths is viciously imperative.
What We Deserve
Biblically speaking, no one in my class “deserves” a valentine, including me. As sinners against an almighty God, we all deserve hell.
In addition to that, the children who don’t show themselves friendly are not going to have friends, and by extension, no one will want to give them valentines.
These are biblical realities.
What We’re Required to Do
God commands us to love one another.
We’re to live every moment of our lives preferring others above ourselves in kindness, trying to out-do them in honor.
These too are biblical realities.
How We Need to Communicate These Truths to Our Children
This is a similar to an issue I covered in “One Type of Article to Avoid at All Costs.”
From my perspective, I need to simultaneously acknowledge that I don’t deserve a valentine from anyone, but that God expects me to give a valentine to everyone. I should love all the more, even though I may be loved less in return.
When we communicate these dilemmas to our kids, they need to grapple with the tension. “Protecting” them by sanctimoniously declaring that everyone will receive a valentine leads to immature kids formulating conclusions for themselves. And unfortunately, their conclusions are usually false.
- The bully gets mad when she doesn’t get a valentine from everybody because they were “supposed” to give her one.
- The cherub kid’s annoyed that he has to give a valentine to someone who pushes him around in the bathroom.
The reality is that someone needs to speak Truth into both of their lives. The bully needs to understand that she is doubley-undeserving of a valentine because she finds joy in sinning against God and hurting people. Proverbs lists out the bully’s fate in very picturesque detail. And though God has commanded kindness from the kids in her class, that doesn’t give her the right to reap love when she sows hate.
On the other hand, sweet little cherub needs to have his Truth-antenna straightened as well. If he’s harboring bitterness or anger in his heart for a bully, he needs to repent and show love to him instead. He should give the bully a valentine because he realizes how much undeserved love and forgiveness he’s received from God, and not exact his vengeance by withholding a piece of candy.
I’m all about sixth graders giving valentines to each other. I find value in everyone receiving a Wal-Martian super-hero sentiment. But I also find value in that antagonizingly weird kid or the abusively angry brute not getting a valentine they haven’t earned.
Still, I find the most joy in adults who speak God’s Truth into the life of children. I thrill when mentors encourage kids to given valentines, not because “that’s what we do,” but because God commands that we love others as we would want to be loved. My eyes burn with happiness when I see a teacher making time to counsel an angry child about the reality of the carnage in his relationships with God and others.
By all means, celebrate Valentine’s Day, but do it like a Christian, not a communist.