I heard a story about a family in the 1970’s who jumped on the tv dinner bandwagon. They used to sit around a kitchen table eating their home-cooked meals, telling stories, and laughing at some bad dad jokes, but times were changing. They had a new television, bought little individual folding tv dinner trays, put their tv dinners in their new fancy microwave, and gathered around their favourite show to eat. This family was shaped, night after night, for years, by this new rhythm. Then one day the mother of the family noticed that their new and novel way to eat was becoming detrimental to the health of their family. They did not talk, they did not look at each other, and no one was laughing like they used to. So one evening the family was surprised to find the table set, the tv turned off and the tv trays hidden away. The family complained, but the mother was sure. The kitchen table was set and she was determined to have the family eat together again. But something was missing. They had forgotten the art of eating together. So she insisted that they practice anew the art of story telling, question asking, and simple conversation. Slowly, after many exaggerated attempts, they learned. The family came together again.
Practicing the art of talking to each other seemed like a silly proposal. It may have felt contrived and ill-fitting. Yet this family needed to exaggerate what they most valued. They over-stated and over-celebrated what they wanted to see grow.
GK Chesterton once wrote that saints are those people who are brave enough to exaggerate what is most important. He said, “The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the word to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects.”
There is much that is neglected in our world today. Kindness, patience, peace, and community are sometimes afterthoughts. After we’ve run hard towards something that seems to catch our attention, beauty, goodness, and faith might be left languishing on the sidelines of our lives. It takes brave voices to remind us, even in exaggerated ways, that love is needed, that love is central. It takes a brave person to put away the tv dinner and gather us around again. It takes courage to create space for what is most important, in spite of voices that call out otherwise.
This Valentines Day, may you exaggerate what the world neglects. May you exaggerate love. May you exaggerate the attention you give to those who are closest to you. May you go over the top with the words you use to bring attention to what matters most.
Practicing what is most important takes a good amount of bravery and attention, but when we practice loving others with our words, our actions, our time and our resources, we carve a new path in our lives. There is a gravitational pull towards what we’ve always done, but we can change the direction by setting a new course. Exaggerate love and in doing so may you restore sanity to our world. Exaggerate what the world neglects and you may find that your life is the antidote to sorrow.