Have you ever been hurt by love? A Scottish rock band from the 70’s connected with people when they sang, “Love hurts, love scars, Love wounds, and marks, Any heart, not tough, Or strong, enough To take a lot of pain, Take a lot of pain…ooh ooh love hurts.”
Some have been hurt so badly by love that they are unwilling to risk loving again. But love is always risky and life without love is empty. Whenever we give ourselves to a deeply loving relationship, we become vulnerable. Ask a widow or widower if the loss of love hurts. Ask parents how much pain they feel when one of their children strays into destructive behavior. Think of the pain caused by divorce. Yes, love hurts.
Several years ago, I got a real lesson in how many people have been hurt by love. I was the guest speaker at a large conference for singles. My theme focused on making the decision of marriage. More than three hundred singles attended the conference and half of them were single again through divorce. It quickly became apparent that many in my audience had been significantly hurt in previous relationships.
These singles faced conflicting desires. They wanted to have a marriage relationship in the future but had no intention of being hurt again. As a result, they built protective walls around themselves that hindered their ability to step toward marriage. Midway into the conference, I addressed the dynamic I sensed among them. You could have heard a pin drop when I did this. They knew they faced a self-constructed obstacle and they welcomed someone addressing it.
I reminded them that to love is to become vulnerable. The wall they had built for protection also imprisoned them. The risk of reliving the hurt was so great that they (almost unknowingly) developed protective mechanisms that hindered their ability to cultivate relationships.
What they needed to realize was that those unwilling risk loving often end up in undesired lives of isolation and loneliness. In fact, if a community decided to take the low-risk approach to love, it would become shallow and superficial—ultimately destroying itself.
I encouraged these singles to remember the simple fact that life in this world hurts. Others had to risk being hurt when they loved us and most of us would admit that we have hurt those who loved us. Giving yourself to another in love is risky because we live in a world full of potential hurts. Some are misunderstood or taken for granted; others are betrayed or abandoned. Some suffer by watching a loved one suffer; others suffer loss of a loved one. Love will always hurt in a fallen world. But through hurts we can become stronger and wiser if we respond positively.
Now, if you’ve been hurt by a relationship due to carelessness on your own part, learn from your hurts. Make changes in your own life and become wiser in how you approach relationships. Remember that those who choose to be bitter and aloof lock themselves in a prison of fear and loneliness.
We all need to think more deeply about love. Cultural understandings of love are shallow and self-absorbed. They’re often reduced to emotion and infatuation. I am convinced that we could minimize some of the hurt from love if we abandoned cultural distortions of it. Returning dignity to love is essential if we hope to stop the tide of brokenness in our culture.
Love is a value word. To love someone is to place a value upon them. “I love you” could be exchanged with “I value you.” Love is also a term of devotion or commitment. “I love you” in this case could be phrased, “I am devoted to you”. To say, “I don’t love you anymore” should be understood as, “I choose not to value you or remain devoted to you.”
To love someone is also to seek what is best for that person as God defines best. Sometimes this will mean confronting a loved one rather than being an enabler. If love is mature, of course, it will overlook many little offences and be full of grace and forgiveness. But Love cannot thrive where dishonesty is allowed. It is not love to allow a loved one to live in self-destructive deception. When love takes this function sometimes it will be misconstrued as hurting. But loving must always be based on God’s definition of what is best.
Love from God’s perspective is self-giving to the point of hurt. God loved unloving people like us and it hurt him. Scripture says that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s love for us is the example to follow and the basis for our security (see: Romans 8:38-39) and love for others.
God’s love gives us strength to risk loving others. Another popular song from the 70’s picks up this theme. Singers Bill & Gloria Gaither challenged those afraid to be vulnerable enough to love with the words: “I am loved! I am loved! I can risk loving you, For the One who knows me best loves me most.”