Considering the events of the past year in my life, it would be very easy to do a cynical podcast episode about Valentine’s Day being an empty Hallmark holiday that exists so corporations can sell cards, candies, and flowers. “Big Valla” is out to rip the consumer off, all in the name of love!
As I’ve talked about on this podcast before, I’m single… again. And there’s nothing singles seem to hate more than Singles Awareness Day, right?
So why do another podcast about Valentine’s Day? I’ve done one each year of my podcast thus far, and my pastor friend in Georgia and fellow blogger, Clark Bunch, specifically asked me to do a Valentine’s Day episode. He thought my recent single again status, after being married for almost 8 years, might make for an interesting perspective. I was reluctant at first, but I thought it actually was a good idea.
In this podcast episode, I want to talk about Valentine’s Day, and explore the ancient mythological symbols that endures down to this day, that of Cupid and his pointy arrows. I want to compare and contrast this to a deeper understanding of love as exemplified through the cross of Jesus Christ, and attempt to wrestle with our cultural expression of love in our lives.
We Love Romantic Love
Romantic love is a tale as old as time, and endures to the present. Adam and Eve; Jacob and Rachel; King Solomon and his extra special wife (out of hundreds) from his Song of Solomon. Cleopatra and Mark Antony; Romeo and Juliet; Johnny Cash and June Carter; JFK and Marilyn Monroe; Bonnie and Clyde; Amal and George Clooney; Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper; Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski; Jim Halpert and Pam Beesley.
Besides, with Valentine’s Day coming this week, it’s something we just can’t seem to escape. First, it’s on the calendar. Secondly, Hallmark won’t let us forget it. And third, love, romantic love, it’s seemingly in the air, even if you are not presently struck by any of Cupid’s arrows.
Cupid As An Archetype Of Love
There’s something magical and mystical about love. We can try to explain it in very scientific terms. But nobody asks scientists to write Hallmark’s Valentines Day cards. Nobody writes poems about the chemical compounds of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin elixir swirling together in our bodies and brains. Rather, love is best understood through images and metaphors and melodies than through scientifically rigorous descriptions. Love is something we experience and express better than it is something we can always neatly define.
Take the mythology behind Cupid for example. You are familiar with Cupid, aren’t you? That chubby little winged demon that floats around haphazardly shooting people with his pointy little arrows. Cupid had a dad bod before dad bods were cool. Make of that what you will.
It’s interesting to note that while Cupid was revered as an ancient god, and was found as as sort of decorative figure in ancient temples, there wasn’t a cult built around him, or a special temple dedicated to his image. There was no “cult of Cupid” worshippers. Yet Cupid is an ancient deity that everyone seems to worship at the altar of all around the world, both in the past as well as in the present.
Of course, as a Christian living in the 21st century, I don’t believe Cupid is a real god. But the symbol of Cupid is a powerful image that still rings true deep within our psyche. It resonates with something primal in all of us. It’s something of a psychological and mythical archetype, that though being a myth, appears to be “a true myth” just the same.
According to one tradition, Cupid, the god of romantic desire, is the spawn of Venus and Mars, whose mother and father were the love goddess and the god of war in Greek mythology. And I think anyone who has ever been in love before understands how love and war can exist in the same being.
Live and love long enough, and you’ll probably go through some fierce battles with the person you love the most. The irony of this isn’t lost on us. I think that’s partially why the TV show, “Everyone Loves Raymond” was such a hit for so long, because it explored the dysfunctional love and war dynamics of marriage that we are familiar with at some level.
When Cupid’s Arrows Hit Us
I believe we can all identify with being struck by Cupid’s arrows. At some point in our life, we’ve been unexplainably smitten. Infatuation. Romance. Soul mates. Mixed tapes full of songs by the Righteous Brothers. All those things.
It is said that Cupid is winged deity, allegedly because lovers are flighty and likely to change their minds, and boyish because love is irrational. His symbols are the arrow and torch, “because love wounds and inflames the heart.”
Sometimes Cupid is depicted as blindfolded. Which probably explains why we all have probably been in relationships that just don’t seem to make any sense to outside observers. As the old saying goes, “The heart wants what the heart wants,” and sometimes it wants some really stupid things, because well, there’s a lot of stupid in us. We often have a lot of baggage and unresolved issues lying deep in our heart that causes us to seek out the mates we do.
Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart a man speaks.” And, I think people often get involved in toxic relationships they know, and everyone else knows, is bad for them, because there’s simply a lot of unresolved issues of the heart that people haven’t first dealt with living deeply within. Because of our broken human condition, they get involved in bad relationship after bad relationship. You know these people. Heck, some of us have been these people.
I think the mythological symbol of Cupid can explain why you can like 100 people on a dating app and only a handful will like you back. Or maybe it explains why you go out with a person once or twice, and then suddenly they “ghost” you… and seemingly just fly away. Maybe Cupid can explain why so many people “fall out of love” in their marriages, and leave their spouse for someone that just doesn’t make any sense.
Don’t get me wrong, Cupid can be a good thing. But sometimes I feel like we need a giant bug zapper near us, and you need to kill Cupid before Cupid kills you. People do some dumb and stupid Jerry Springer level stuff because of Cupid. And while Cupid can inspire some beautiful romances, Cupid can be something of a trickster. His arrows create just as much destruction as they do bliss. Cupid can both inspire and destroy great relationships and marriages. Be careful about building your life on the arrows he pierces your heart with. You might just need to pull a few out and throw them back.
Cupid Doesn’t Pay The Bills
I think we as a culture tend to like the idea of romantic love more than actual love. We are in love with the idea of love. I’ve certainly been in that boat a time or two in my life.
We revel in the romantic ideals of love, the idea that there’s just “one” person out there that destiny has put together for us, someone that is our “soul mate,” of which God, the cosmos, and the stars are all aligning to bring into our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, romantic love is amazing. And it has its place as part of any marriage, no matter how many years you are married. But romantic feel goods isn’t what pays the bills, changes diapers, goes to kids soccer practices, or gets you through the hard trials of life.
Cupids arrows may be necessary in the formation of a romantic relationship. If you don’t feel deeply attracted and drawn to a person, seemingly “love struck,” and they don’t make you tingle all over, then you probably have no business getting involved with them.
You need a healthy “pair bonding” to exist between couples, and if that feeling is never mutual, there will be some real dangers ahead. Without that you very much get a Jacob, Rachel, and Leah situation as seen in the Bible. Jacob married Leah because he had to. He married Rachel because he wanted to. And how he treated each of his wives thereafter was dependent upon the degree of romantic affections he felt for each, which made for one giant Jerry Springer style mess.
So, as true as it might be that we should desire that deep romantic sentiments and affections be the blanket in which our marriages are wrapped in, as anyone can tell you that’s been married for any length of time, those feelings come and go, and cannot be the basis of a successful marriage.
Simply put, Cupid ain’t gonna pay your bills. Cupid won’t get you through job loss, poverty, sickness, the raising of kids, or all that comes with old age. Remember, Cupid has wings and will sometimes simply fly away. Cupid simply isn’t enough to sustain any long term relationship or marriage. Something more is needed.
The Cross, Not Cupid
As Christians, we can recognize that while there is a lot of truth to be found in the mythology of Cupid, that ultimately, Cupid is not the end all and be all of the expression of love.
As Christians, our symbol of love is not the arrows of Cupid, but the cross of Jesus Christ. And it is the love of God as expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ which ultimately must be brought sacrificially to all of our interpersonal relationships, including our romantic one’s.
Cupid, pink hearts, carnations, chocolates, and expensive dinner dates are great. But all that can wax and wane like the phases of the moon. A mature love and a love that endures is is ultimately grounded that in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. For Christians, the cross, not a heart, is the symbol of our love.
And it’s a love that all can participate in, whether young or old, single or married, newlyweds or widows.
Cupid’s love is intoxicating. But eventually you’ll sober up. The thrill and rush of love you have won’t always be there in every moment of every day. It can be fickle, and is often unreliable.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
The love of Christ on a cross involves making a decision, and seeing that decision through. It’s about making a decision, not simply for you, but for someone else. Cupid is an invitation to self-indulgence, and perhaps arguably in a good way. But Cupid isn’t built for endurance and the long road. Cupid is about the flames of passion, flames which can easily die down and be snuffed out due not having enough fuel for that fire.
It takes commitment to see real love through, just as it took commitment for Christ to be crucified. Love is ultimately about any otherness in orientation.
Feedback On Love
I invited some feedback on this topic on social media, and got some good reflections from some tried and true veterans of love.
Judith Church said: “To me love is not a feeling, but a commitment.”
Steve House said: “What we get wrong about love is when it is selfish and all about what I need. The expectations and demands we put on others. We wonder why we are let down and disappointed when the people in our lives do not live up to our unrealistic expectations how they are to love us. True love is selfless and looks to meet the needs of the one you love and are committed to. It looks to God for the strength to do this as it is not natural to do it as we tend to look to our needs first. To love this way by God’s power and be united with a spouse who is loving the same way is truly special and a gift from God.”
Corey Forsyth said: “Love is hilarious in that you can stay in love with someone despite their most embarrassing moments, annoying habits, and silliest features. I have a lot of stories I could share, but will show wisdom and keep them to myself so I can stay off the couch at night.”
Josh Opperman said, “Our culture tends to make love about emotions and what I receive, when in reality, love is about sacrifice and what I give. For Christians, this misconception negatively impacts both our relationship with Christ and our marriages.”
Sharon said, “Romantic love is based on pure emotion and that will not last. True love is a choice that we make everyday whether we feel the emotion or not.”