Alright, husbands, here we go. Today’s the big day. It’s time to muster our level best and not drop the ball on Valentine’s Day.
It’s not too late to make plans, or give them an upgrade — though it might be hard work scrambling at the last minute.
Even so, sometimes our best of Valentine’s intentions go awry. And when we botch it, at least we should try to learn something from it.
Here’s what John Piper learned (perhaps among other things) from botching a Valentine’s dinner. He told the story one Easter Sunday in the sermon “Irrevocable Joy.” (The Scripture text is the words of Jesus in John 16:22: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”)
Noël and I went downtown for a special Valentine’s Day dinner last February 14. It was one of the many dates I have botched over the 20 years of our marriage. The restaurant I had chosen especially for her was closed. It was cold as we walked around trying to find another one. We wound up at a fast food place in the center of the city sitting by a window overlooking 8th Street.
We sat there looking around at this great city. The street was dark and almost deserted. There was trash in the gutter. The little street level shops seemed worn and chintzy. The few people walking around gave the appearance that made you wonder whether more cocaine might be sold that night than chow mein and egg rolls.
The glitzy hotel facades looked pretty weak against the darkness — like they were hoping against hope that rich people would want to come down and spend some time here. The magnificent new lighting of the Norwest Bank building that gives a fairyland flavor to the Minneapolis skyline sheds no light on the streets beneath. The doors were locked.
I got the eerie feeling that this exploding downtown, this urban pearl and pride of the upper Midwest, with all its upscale shops and classy hotels and stunning skyscrapers, is built on sand. I got the sinking feeling in my stomach that the millions and millions of dollars that have been poured into downtown Minneapolis could, with just the slightest turn of popular displeasure, become a billion dollar boondoggle — a dark, sleazy, dirty downtown slum where nobody wants to be.
The Fragility of This Life and World
I mention this just to illustrate how even the big enterprises of our life and culture are very fragile. We plan and we save and we build, and things look good and successful, and then it starts to collapse. And we can't believe it. Nobody comes to shop. Nobody rents the office space. Retailers begin to leave. The streets are deserted. The hotels can’t pull the conventions. Restaurants close. The pushers move in. The gangs take over. And pretty soon the unthinkable has happened. The pearl is ruined. The Timberwolves don’t stay. The new convention center can’t fill its schedule. And all that’s left is cheap sleaze and empty buildings.
It has happened elsewhere. It could happen here. And it can happen in your own life. We are very fragile. Not much is sure and firm and solid in our lives. That’s why this word from Jesus is very precious to me. “No one will take your joy from you.” You’ve heard of unconditional guarantees — warranties that seem too good to be true? Have you ever heard of any product that says: “In this you will find pleasure and no one will take your pleasure from you”? If you read that on some box or bottle, you would smirk and call it marketing ballyhoo.
But that’s what Jesus says. Minneapolis may come “a-tumblin’ down,” and all the money be lost and the dreams be dashed, but, “No one will take your joy from you.”