Chocolate from the Heart

By Brian Caulfield

Calling all husbands: Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. What are you giving your wife?

For many of us, that thought means panic. Chocolate, flowers, earrings, bracelets, heart-shaped pendants, heart-shaped anythings? All this stuff that guys know so little about.

What’s really in a woman’s heart?

You may have moved beyond the novice mistake of expecting to find beautiful, long-stemmed roses at the florist shop on the way home on February 14th (that was my first Valentine shock – all the bunches were wrapped and ready for other guys to pick up).

But ten years later, Valentine’s Day still throws me into a shade of panic, and my first response is to get a bit self-righteous.

Why do women need these outward signs of affection, after all? She’ll know I love her even if I don’t get her something. Why did that early Christian martyr St. Valentine have to be killed on February 14th (which in medieval lore was the day that birds started mating) and take the place of Cupid in our popular imagination?

Then I remember: love makes the effort.

Even if I don’t get the best gift, even if the flowers are not the color she likes or the earrings are not the kind she will wear, I will put my heart in my hand and offer it to my wife through my gift. I will make the effort, take the risk, be the man she married.

I will offer her chocolate from the heart. Whatever gift I give, it will be from the heart.

Cor ad cor loquitur is the traditional Catholic formula. “Heart speaks to heart.” The model is Christ and his disciple, in an intimate dialogue based on love, trust and honesty. Yet is not a husband to be a model of Christ to his wife?

With this perspective, each St. Valentine’s Day is a reliving of the moment I proposed to my wife. As I give the gift from the heart on February 14th, I am open, vulnerable, offering my love for consideration, not sure if my beloved will accept with the intensity that I intend.

After ten years, there is some routine to the ritual of gift-giving, and there are two children now to watch, and learn.

But there is still that mystery of self and other, that reaching across the open space to the heart of the beloved. Each time, as the gift is given, there is another year of life and love behind us, and shades of heartache and disappointment. I say with my gift – even after these many years of marriage, and the more you know about me, will you still receive this gift, which is my own self, into your heart?

It is a revelation, a spark of new life, the retelling of a long story of love, when my wife says with a smile, a whisper or a kiss that the answer is “yes.”

So, husbands, you may panic and perspire this Valentine’s Day as you think of what to get her. Think of it as a good thing that you still care enough to worry if you wife will accept you, and that she still cares enough to accept.

Here are some tips for giving that will help keep the “saint” in St. Valentine’s Day:

1. Pray about what gift to give. Picture, in your prayer, standing before your wife with open hands and ask God to fill your hands with the gift He would give if he were in your shoes. (This is not a stretch, since Jesus took our human flesh and lived among us as a man!)

2. Pray with your wife. You don’t need to add the intention “That I may choose the right Valentine’s gift for my wife,” but as the two of you pray together, you will get to know one another’s hearts. God will be the voice between you. Prayer together, and family prayer with children, are vital activities year round, of course!

3. Get a card. Always accompany every gift with a card. Go Hallmark, if you’re not artistic, but get a card, and write something in your own hand that is sweet but not too sappy. It has to be from you. Sign it, “Your loving husband…” or some other way to express your love and your relationship. Open your heart a bit. Don’t worry, you’ll still be a man if a tear comes to your eye. In fact, you’ll be more of a man because you risked your emotion for the happiness of your wife.

4. As you give the gift, recall the moment you proposed, and take on the same mindset of hope, fear and anticipation. Don’t take her love and acceptance for granted. Take this opportunity to renew all the reasons why you asked her to marry you, and the reason she said yes.

Also in this section on Valentine’s Day, we have an article on how men proposed to their wives. Some stories are humorous, some are inspiring, some are instructive, but none are ordinary. Love is never ordinary because love is what makes us know our own self and another more deeply, and love is what brings us closer to God.

Enjoy your St. Valentine’s Day. Remember the first step: Pray.

Brian Caulfield is editor of Fathers for Good.