Last week I found myself flipping through wedding cards, looking for the perfect one for a friend tying the knot this month. I always have high expectations to find what I never can — the perfect mix of sincerity, humor, a nice design, and not too much cheese. It’s an impossible task. And I’ve always been wary of the ambiguously-titled “religious section” for its extra dose of sap, but I was desperate.

Enter: the high anthropology of modern romantic religious culture.

“Be loving, be kind, be understanding, be giving, be caring, be loyal, be yourselves,” one card reads in a wispy script, two illustrated birds kissing in a corner. Or, “When two people believe in shared dreams and bring out the best in each other…it’s truly a blessing worth celebrating.” Better yet, “Celebrating the strength of your promise, as you bring the best of yourselves to each other, and wishing you happiness always.”

For a product marketed with the symbol of God’s death, we, of course, see no mention of it whatsoever. Maybe this would be a bummer in a wedding card. I think it would be appropriately romantic.

Image result for vintage valentine's day

“Be loving, be kind…be yourselves” is a beautiful sentiment you may find on the inside of a Dove chocolate wrapper this week. A sweet thought, if not slightly oxymoronic. If only! Being myself looks like selfishness and survival instincts, jealousy and pride. Secretly wanting my husband to know what I want to do for Valentine’s Day, completely resolved to make him suffer in his guesses. This is “being myself.” It doesn’t lead to “bringing out the best in each other” but unfair expectations and then, hopefully, grace.

How different our romantic cards would be if they gave a nod to the reality of the human condition. “I love you most of the time xoxo.” “You bring out the worst sides of me like no one else can.” “All I want for Valentine’s Day is Alone Time.”

Being oneself, as you can see, is only a comfort when followed with some sort of rescue from that self — and thank God, this is what we are granted in the cross of Christ.

It isn’t by our own strength that we love one another, but in our shared weaknesses. In the midst of a death of empty romance and idealistic sentimentality, we find our actual selves, and our Savior. A Savior who knows that true self better than anyone, better even than our loved ones, and loves that self with complete abandon. The ultimate sacrificial love story, true for us all.

Happy Valentine’s Day lovebirds, xoxo.