There’s a song I’ve been listening to by one of my favorite artists, Glen Phillips. It’s called “Nobody’s Gonna Get Hurt” and is about all the lies we tell ourselves. It’s starts with the obvious lie, “the earth is flat” (sorry if that is a spoiler for anyone) and proceeds to much more subtle fallacies, the central one being that we can somehow live life well and avoid getting our hearts broken. As I listen, I often forget the intentional delusion of the lyrics. Because some of these false beliefs I still find myself latching on to...singing along as if they’re true. Or at least telling them to my children in hopes of giving them comfort when life feels difficult.
“There’s no price to love, there never was.”
“We are always gonna stay young and beautiful.”
“If it’s meant to be, it’s easy.”
“Broken hearts will always mend.”
“Nobody’s gonna get hurt.”
The underlying lie is that a pain free life can be full and abundant. But it can’t. To remain completely safe, we must live lives of control and detachment, and as a result, devoid of love. Because whole hearted living requires vulnerability, humility, willingness to change, and therefore unavoidable heartache.
To love others, we must engage, and when we do, we get bruised.
The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, presents this as the hedgehog dilemma. All of us are hedgehogs on a cold winter day. Without each other, we will freeze to death. But when we gather together, our quills poke each other. We need each other to survive and are incapable of drawing near without inflicting pain.
Without love our hearts atrophy. We cannot live without love. And heartbreak is the unavoidable consequence of love. But that doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong. In fact, heart break may just mean we’re doing something right.
As I type, I am still feeling a little shortness of breath. I got punched in the ribs while sparring a week ago and I haven’t completely recovered from it. As much as it hurts, I can’t wait to get back in there. Why? Because that sort of engagement makes my whole mind, body, and emotions come alive. I finish drenched in sweat and glowing, embracing my sparring partner, who is also my good friend.
But relational wounding isn’t as simple. My defenses are much more practiced. My attacks can wound much deeper. And worst of all, my avoidance can leave my heart and the hearts of those I love feeling cold, lonely, and unprotected.
Reengaging usually means apologizing. Owning my mistakes. Acknowledging that I’m the one to blame. I must open myself up to the realities about myself that I’d rather avoid. But it is worth it. On the other side of it is freedom and connection. And this is what my heart longs for. It is what keeps us alive.
We can spend our whole lives practicing to live, theorizing about relationships, studying for a test yet to come. Or we can dive in, engage, immerse ourselves, create, and love. And yes, when we risk, we open ourselves up to getting hurt. We feel, not just joy, but pain. We get wounded and knocked down. Our hearts break. But then they mend.
And in the process we grow. We experience everyday moments for the true joy that they bring. Our eyes are opened to abundance around us. As we overcome the safety of our aloneness, as we reengage with life, we experience joy. And that joy is worth it, bruises and all.