That time of year has come again. Valentine’s Day. The day on which a lucky few receive chocolate and flowers and are lavished with love and affection. The day on which the rest of us wish we were on the other side.

What is it we feel we’re missing? Love may seem like the obvious answer, but we still have family and friends who care about us deeply. So where does the stigma of being “single on Valentine’s Day” come from? And why does the absence of a significant other qualify one as “alone?”

One of the utmost longings of the human heart is the desire for love. We want it. We crave it. But what is it about love that draws us in? Although most of us have been loved since the moment of our birth, those childhood attachments somehow seem insufficient.

Perhaps it’s not just the action of love, but the singling out. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend means you were chosen, picked out of a crowd. It doesn’t mean you are merely liked or loved passively; somehow it means you’re special. Our perceptions of this world tell us that if someone wants us and loves us most, we matter. And if not, confidence will blossom only when we find that same singular affirmation.

And yet something rings untrue. Why is there so much emphasis on receiving love? We want the praise and the attention, the kind words, the holding hands and the adjusted facebook status. We want to receive love, or perhaps just the idea of it. We want to use love to bolster our own courage, to feel strong and happy, to learn who we are and love ourselves and show the world that we are someone.

Except there’s one little problem.

That’s not love.

Love is so much bigger, so much deeper than all of these extrinsic motivators. It’s far too easy to confuse love with pleasure, but the line between them is firmly entrenched, even if our culture blurs the boundary. The truth is, the desire we have for love doesn’t come from outside. It comes from the One who planted the seed of real, unconditional, unshakeable love within us. In short, “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

There’s another thing I’ve noticed. That verse doesn’t say we need love or that we want it. It just says we love. Of course we’ll never lose that yearning for love and for the one with whom we’re meant to be, but simply put, none of us can be loved until we start loving.

By “loving,” I mean two things. Firstly, we need to love ourselves, because we can’t give love until we recognize our innate uniqueness and the divine presence that lives in each heart. But after we develop this self-love, we need to learn to love those around us.

Sometimes the blunt reality of love can seem harsh. Love won’t always be reciprocated. It often won’t even be appreciated or noticed. But when we love simply for the joy that it spreads, for the light that shines from it and to share the beauty that blossoms inside of us, waiting to receive love won’t seem so bad.

God loves us. He always has and He always will. He’ll provide earthly love for us too, but sometimes it pays to be patient. And when love does come, it won’t be tainted or coloured by expectation and desperation but the love itself will be special and pure. Then it will be so much more worthwhile, because we’ve used the time waiting to learn better how to give the love we want.

So instead of pining this Valentine’s Day away, treasure it. Use it as a chance to do what we are called to do each day, each precious moment of life that we’ve been blessed with. Use it to do what every single one us was made to do.

And love.