Yesterday I read a thoughtful and extremely bittersweet romance novel, which had a profoundly worthwhile quote close to its end:
“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.”
The quote, and the book it came from , seemed to strike a nerve with readers, many of whom are just as romantic as I am, if it causes less difficulty in their lives than it has caused in mine. At any rate, the context of the quote, and how I thought about the novel as a whole and how it is that we allow people in and give them the chance to hurt us. In life, we will all be hurt in many ways; we will be hurt by rejection, we will be hurt by misunderstandings and misapprehensions, by unmeant cruelties and careless words and deeds. To suffer as a human being is inevitable, and to suffer in our relationships with others is also inevitable, yet we do exercise at least some choice in who we allow to hurt us.
There are some people who do not allow others to hurt them, as much as possible. Such people build mighty walls to defend themselves from intimacy with others. Yet there are two truths about such people that point to the reality of pain in that situation. The longing for intimacy and connection is so intense that for others that for others to shut it down completely usually means that they have already suffered so much pain and suffering from their relationships that they are too wounded to let anyone else in. It is not a sign of self-sufficiency and a lack of need for relationships, but usually a great deal of fear. Additionally, it means that such a person lacks trust that others will deal with them in compassion and gentleness, and is more sensitive than they would like to let on. Such a thing can happen to any of us in the aftermath of great betrayal.
Yet even after suffering a great deal of pain, most of us long for connection so much that we open our hearts even in the knowledge that we will hurt, and probably hurt a lot, because of it. This sort of longing often makes life complicated, and yet we seem compelled to make it so. Perhaps we mistrust what is simple, perhaps our longings are what inspire us to make anything useful and productive out of life. If we were not aware that something was missing in our lives, we would not be driven to fill those needs. And yet the needs we have can often be fulfilled in ways that make our lives more hazardous, and so it is an immensely difficult matter to trust others not to hurt us when we have shown our vulnerability to them, and to trust God to meet our needs, even if it is on His schedule and not ours.
Yet nothing about love is easy. Nor is anything worth having in life. It is often the length and difficulty of the quest, as well as its worth, that makes it so treasured. If it were less difficult, we might not appreciate how wonderful a thing it is to be loved and to love someone else. If it were less worthwhile, perhaps we would easily give up on it and never see it through until the end, and perhaps we would miss out on the personal improvement we make as we examine our life in the context of our relationships with others. For it is our connections with others that give us the perspective we need to improve our lives, to wrestle with our weaknesses, and to see how much better we can be with the help of God than we can on our own, unaided by anything save our own resources. When it comes to what we seek most in life, we need more than we can do on our own, though, and that is not a bad thing at all.