|The more our popular culture changes, the more I realize that kids are, essentially, kids. Same hopes. Same fears. Same struggles. For example, when I was a high school teacher, I had a student in my class who sat near the back of the room and made animal noises for the entire hour. William didn't have many friends (after all, would you want to sit next to someone who sounded like a rutting moose?), and he was dying for attention. But I didn't want to love him.|
When I was a youth minister, there was a girl in our youth group who smelled bad. Always. Her hair was oily. Very oily. When we took trips, none of the kids wanted to sit next to her on the bus. And on retreats, no one wanted to bunk with Elizabeth. She was dying for friends. But I didn't want to love her.
Then there was this adult. She didn't always say or do the right things. She was impulsive and spontaneous, and many times she would act before she thought. Although she had friends—like anyone else—she was still dying to be loved. And you know what? She was far from perfect, but Someone loved her anyway. And not just a little bit. He loved her as if she were the only one in the world to love. He treated her like a queen. He even died for her on a cross. You see, she's me.
Because Jesus cared enough to love me (by the way, I'm still impulsive), I in turn must love others. Not just when it's convenient or easy. Not just when they smell good or look great. Not just the popular people and the funny, outgoing, creative ones. It means if I'm going to call myself a Christian, I will love others period. William. Elizabeth. Everyone.
Years ago, I heard a story I've never forgotten. Chad was in the fourth grade. He was smaller than his peers and rather shy. No one reached out to him in friendship, so he mostly just kept to himself. One day, Chad came home from school excited. "Mom, Valentine's Day is coming soon, and I want to make valentines for every kid in my class. Will you take me to the store so I can get all the stuff?" His mother's heart sank. Knowing how deeply her son threw himself into the things he did, she feared he'd invest hours in something that wouldn't be appreciated by his classmates. But, not wanting to rob him of his newfound excitement, she agreed to help.
Chad worked tirelessly for two weeks. The result was glorious! Thirty-three bright red, homemade valentines. On the morning of February 14, Chad and his mom carefully wrapped the hearts in a big box. He made his way to school. And his mother held her breath, preparing for the worst. In fact, she spent the day trying to think of ways she could soften the blow.
At 3:00 that afternoon, Chad returned home beaming, though the only valentine he held was a dittoed "form" valentine the teacher had given each student. Chad shouted, "Mom! There were exactly 33 kids in my class. And I made exactly 33 valentines. I put a homemade valentine in every single bag. I didn't forget anyone. I gave each kid a valentine and I didn't drop 'em or smash 'em. They were beautiful, Mom! And I had exactly enough for everyone. I didn't forget one single kid, Mom. Isn't that great?"
Chad's mother started to cry. Not because her son hadn't received any valentines from his peers, but because Chad was so focused on loving others, he hadn't even noticed when he wasn't loved in return.
In a day when children want to be first on the punch line, living and breathing sarcasm, I'm convinced that good, old-fashioned "loving our fellow man" is needed now more than ever. In fact, I believe if our kids and their youth groups really learned to love as Christ loves, our walls wouldn't be able to contain the young people knocking each other over to get in. They're dying to be loved. Genuinely. The way Jesus loves.
So instead of emphasizing romance or planning "couples" activities for our kids this Valentine's Day, let's encourage them to use the holiday as a chance to reach out with Jesus' love in the most biblical, inclusive way possible.
Susie Shellenberger has authored more than two dozen books and serves as editor of Sisterhood magazine, a publication for teen girls.
Published February 2013
Encouraging the Uncool
Forgiving When It Hurts