Valentine’s Day: a day of love or a day of loneliness? Or something else entirely? The spectrum swings far and wide regarding how people feel about this particular holiday.
Sister Wendy Nelson once described to a large group of Church members how Valentine’s Day can be both wonderful and miserable, depending on the circumstances and the individual.
She was also quick to elevate the definition of love beyond that of romance. “Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want us to feel the love They have for each of us. And the Savior says to you and to me, ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’ [John 14:15],” Sister Nelson said. “What a wonderful Valentine gift we can give to our Heavenly Father and to our Savior—as we humble ourselves and open our hearts to receive Their love and as we keep the Lord’s commandments.”1
True love—Christlike love—has little to do with chocolates or wrapped presents. And it’s within reach for us all.
One particular example of true love left a permanent impression in my mind. I once came across a general conference talk by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles where he spoke on charity, or the “pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47).
Elder Wirthlin began by quoting Jesus’s teaching that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbor (see Matthew 22:37–40). Of course, I’d heard this scriptural account many times before. And always, for me, that level of Christlike love had seemed somehow beyond reach. How could I, plain old me, ever love as purely or as effectively as the Savior? It felt like an impossible goal.
But then Elder Wirthlin described an elderly couple who’d been married for many years. The wife grew unable to care for herself fully, including being able to paint her fingernails.
So the husband decided to paint them for her, simply because it made her smile. “That is an example of the pure love of Christ,” Elder Wirthlin declared.2
And with that brief example, something clicked in my brain. Painting fingernails? Not raising Lazarus from the dead or healing the blind, but a quiet act of kindness? That’sconsidered the pure love of Christ? Well … gee, I could do that!
Elder Wirthlin continued, adding further clarity. “Sometimes the greatest love is not found in the dramatic scenes that poets and writers immortalize. Often, the greatest manifestations of love are the simple acts of kindness and caring we extend to those we meet along the path of life.”3
My mind latched on as this idea took hold. I could perform those acts of kindness. What’s more, I knew for certain I’d been the recipient of countless such acts my whole life. True love isn’t glamorous or glittery. It’s quiet yet powerful. And available to all.
Then, in a twist of fate almost so coincidental as to be serendipitous, I was about to witness a demonstration of this principle in the very talk Elder Wirthlin was giving.
About halfway through his conference address, Elder Wirthlin started to lose physical stability. His breath came in short gasps and his body began to tremble.
Right when it appeared that Elder Wirthlin might not be able to finish delivering his address, President Russell M. Nelson (then Elder Nelson) rose and stood quietly behind Elder Wirthlin.
For the next several minutes, President Nelson’s silent presence was remarkable. With a firm grip on Elder Wirthlin’s arm and another grip on his lower back, President Nelson quietly personified the topic in discussion of Christlike love.
Did President Nelson take Elder Wirthlin’s struggles away? Not really. Did he do anything complex or dramatic? Again, not really. But his love and concern for his friend and fellow quorum member was palpable, and the strength he offered Elder Wirthlin made all the difference.
True love occurs every time we try to make another’s burden lighter.
Ultimately, Valentine’s Day could be missing the point a bit with its focus on love during one specific day of the year when we all need to give and feel Christlike love every day. That’s true for each of us, whether or not we’re in a romantic relationship. As children of God, we each need love like we need food and air.
And as Elder Wirthlin taught and President Nelson demonstrated, those strengthening, life-shaping acts of love don’t have to be as mysterious or complex as I once assumed.
If I’m having a rough day, a kind word from a friend can make all the difference. That’s another example of Christlike love. So is a stranger smiling and saying hello.
If I know somebody is sick and I bring them a hot bowl of their favorite soup, that’s me trying to be a little more Christlike. It’s me trying to share Christlike love.
And that’s always in season.