I was born with my heart on my sleeve. A condition, I was told, that could affect me for a lifetime.
“A lifetime of what?” my parents were eager to know.
Hurt. Pain. Anxiety. Malicious intent. “All the things we hate to feel,” the doctor said, “your boy will feel these emotions more than most. He must guard his heart at all costs.”
They were told to stay positive. With a wink and a smile the doctor reassured my folks, “He’ll probably be a romantic, a real Romeo. Suave and handsome. An artist. A musician. Full of compassion.”
How about a college dropout who hates mayonnaise, struggles with a hero complex, displays a blatant disregard for anything with more than six appendages, and is currently living out of his car while he writes this. Close enough, doc.
I may not always cry at the end of Meg Ryan movies, but I still know how to feel. In fact, I’ve felt so much in this life I’ve tried to cut my heart right out again and again.
I knew how to feel when my first love, Mary, left me for my nemesis, Michael, in the sixth grade. I still knew how to feel when Michael returned to break my hand freshman year in what remains my first and only fist fight. I may have lost that round, but won the war when I started dating a senior as a sophomore—this has nothing to do with Michael, but a victory nonetheless. Two months later she dumped me. At some point I ran away from home at a mishandled attempt to display my independence, vandalized the neighborhood, totaled my brand new car on a first date, spent four years working in a meat-packing plant to pay off the accident, ruined my GPA so I couldn’t graduate with honors, fell for a girl my mother didn’t quite approve of that lived 24 hours away and repeatedly snuck into town—sorry Ma—and taught me how to lie like the best of them. And that was just high school. Is it any wonder why I started drinking?
Simply reminiscing in a short, summarizing sort-of-way about my past makes my fingertips bleed and my heart ache. But this is no surprise. Pain is a part of life. Get used to it. The moment you try to protect yourself from pain is the very moment you stop living.
I know, I know. Pain is a bitch. A family torn apart by divorce will leave you depleted and blamed. A friend’s betrayal will scar your back where the knife sank in deep. Undeserving illness and tragic accidents will make you doubt your faith and beg for release. Unrequited love will tie your stomach in the worst kind of knots.
How can a God who claims to work only in good let this type of misery spill into our world? With every ache and pain I walked further away from our Creator, but little did I know He was drawing me closer.
These dibilatating moments in life are not tests from God. Life tests us, and God refines us through life. When we take tests we often grow anxious. Did I study enough the night before? I shouldn’t have crammed. We become nervous and lack self-confidence. God does not want us feeling this way. He wants us infected with joy, remember?
God allows us to be broken because without pain we would never know what it’s like to be healthy, satisfied, and content. Without sorrow, we would never know true happiness. Without a heart once broken, how will you ever know when it’s operating correctly?
When was the last time you cried out to God when things were going well? You didn’t need Him then, and you’d never need him if you always got what you wanted.
Living life facing the fear of pain refines us, rebuilds us, strengthens us. It gives us the opportunity to create; to express our feelings through the means of writing, painting, poetry, performance. We channel those emotions, hurts, and sorrow, and do you know what happens next? The best thing of all: we allow our audience to feel.
We cry at the end of the movies. We laugh at stand-up comedy. We fall in love with the words on the pages of our favorite books because the minds behind those means of artistic expression experienced debilitating pain, reciprocated love, relentless joy.
Against doctor’s orders, my heart remained on my sleeve, open to the world around me. Guarded, sure, but any thief with a paperclip and a credit card could have gotten by security. Every time my heart was stolen, I stole it back, until I finally left the door unlocked for the One who’s been aching to steal it all along.
Now I wear it proudly, for I know each time I am broken, I will be rebuilt.
We end up hurt, betrayed, or shattered, and we build walls around our hearts, digging alligator-infested moats deep enough to drown anyone desiring to get in. You must be mindful as to how high you build those walls meant for protection. For not only will no one be able to tear them down when it’s time, but you yourself may not be able to get out from behind them. It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let that fear live life for you.
Because in the end, broken is just experience for the best of hearts.
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