There are many associations I have with the month of February. It’s the shortest month of the year, yet here in the cold of New England, it can feel like the longest! It’s Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada. And it’s the month of Valentine’s Day – the month of love.

While on the surface, the Valentine’s celebration might appear to be about romance, pink hearts, roses, and frilly cards, I’m thinking about romance and love in much bigger ways these days.

It’s not the chocolates and champagne kind of love that has my attention, but rather a sense of Love as the creative and sustaining force of all. And I’m thinking about romance as a verb, as in “to romance” someone or something. It’s a rather old-fashioned concept, perhaps. My grandmother would have used the word “courting.” Perhaps we might all enjoy a little old-fashioned romance and courting these days!

Yet just as we might “romance” or “court” another person, what could it mean to “romance” our own hearts – to “court” deep inner peace – to “romance” Love as the creative and sustaining force of our families, communities, nations, and our world?

During her short life, Etty Hillesum wrote about her religious awakening and the persecutions of the Jewish people in Amsterdam in the early 1940s. Born in 1914, she was deported to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers in 1943. In those last years of her life, she wrote:

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty:
to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves,
more and more peace,
and reflect it towards others.
And the more peace there is in us,
the more peace there will also be
in our troubled world.

 It’s a big statement. Just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves. What we cannot find within ourselves, we cannot offer to others.

I recently spent two weeks vacationing and teaching in Costa Rica. I experienced such deep inner peace while I was there. Admittedly, the beauty of my surroundings as well as the generous spirits of the people with whom I was privileged to work certainly made it easier to touch the deep stillness within. However, as I prepared to leave Costa Rica and return home, I was acutely aware that staying grounded in my own inner peace was ultimately up to me; it must not be dependent on my outer circumstances. To live from a place of deep inner peace is a choice and a practice. It’s a commitment.

In another reflection, Etty Hillesum wrote:

I do believe it is possible to create,
even without ever writing a word or painting a picture,
by simply molding one’s inner life.
And that too is a deed.

When I first read this quote, the last two lines grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. It’s the reminder that molding one’s inner life is also a deed – that it’s an accomplishment – that grabbed me.

It’s easy to dismiss “inner work” as self-indulgent or self-centered with no tangible outer result. However, when we do our inner work in order to be able to serve the world around us in the most generous and effective ways, we give an enormous gift to others. Reclaiming large areas of peace in ourselves and molding our inner life are powerful places to start. These practices can lead to greater confidence and clarity about our role in the world. And through our clarity and authentic confidence, we make the difference we are here to make.

These are challenging times. Yet whether you’re feeling challenged by what is happening globally or nationally, or by a circumstance in your personal life, don’t allow yourself to become the challenge. Who you are in the fullness of your being cannot be contained by what is happening around you. You are bigger than your circumstance – bigger than the challenge. Reclaiming the peace within yourself and reflecting that to others by how you live your life can help you come back to the fullness of who you are.

Take time every day to mold your inner life. Remember, that too is a deed.

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