Valentines Day. Hearts are everywhere. Candy messages. Cute new outfits. Dinner plans. Dates. Hearts encouraged. And hearts left lonely.
My own heart has been working through multiple messages of late, and I’ve been mulling over their meaning. Sorting out the messages. As the Lating phrase advises, “Nosce Te Ipsum” – I’m trying to know myself.
I spend a lot of time running, and a fair amount of time writing. Both of these are reflective pursuits. Both of these cause me to consider my path, and the relationships with people along this journey.
One particular message that has been percolating in my brain is the love / hate relationship I have with pain. I’ve been thinking of what one running partner shouted during a workout last summer – “It’s supposed to hurt!”
Currently training for a winter ultra-marathon, I reflect on this truth. On weekends when I run back to back 20+ mile days, I have to remember that pushing through pain is part of the process. And I wrestle with knowing that I hate the discomfort and anguish that accompanies pain, but I am often grateful for the results it leaves when it has dispersed.
Because when it comes to pain, we know this fact:
It’s supposed to hurt.
Pain reaches into nearly every area of our lives. Wherever I invest myself, I recognize that hurt will often follow me.
Exploring Empathy Hurts –
The past few weeks I have been riveted by the PBS mini-series “A Path Appears”. The aim of this documentary was to explore the impacts of poverty and search for ways to break its’ cycle. They explored bringing literacy programs to some of the poorest areas in Appalachia. They brought us into Haiti, and into the lives of young girls who become mothers when they are still children. We went into Atlanta, visiting safe-houses of women and their children who have been victimized by domestic violence. And into groups of men who have inflicted this violence, and who are trying to break the cycle of control. And we ventured into one of the most depraved places on the globe, the slums of Kiberia.
Wherever the show took us, there was empathy, and there was pain. Tears streamed down my face, and I couldn’t help but question if I’ve really added any goodness to this world when such depravity seems to flourish.
Because when I empathize with others, it hurts.
But this pain is necessary. It often wakes my heart up. It rouses me to action.
We asked our students earlier this year two questions. “What breaks your heart?” and “What are you going to do about it?” They selected projects and causes that saddened us, and energized us. We were called to action. We worked to save various animal species; to protect children; to clean the community, and to bring books to children in need.
Several of us serve in a Rainbows program, that helps students process trauma. We worked on a Water Project, to raise funds for a well in The South Sudan. We ran for orphans in Kenya.
We empathized with people of various cultures around the globe, hurting with them, and hopefully making an impact to make their lives better.
Expanding Boundaries Hurts –
I remember growing up in an area where we played most of our sports on the city streets of Chicago. Baseball, football, basketball, and hockey were experienced on the asphalt and concrete. When we fell, it hurt. I grew up afraid to slide. Afraid to fall. Afraid to get hurt.
I remember little league, being urged to slide into the base, and feeling paralyzed by fear. Granted, this was a park, but the base-paths were more gravel than sand. My eventual slides were really more like stop, drop, and flop onto the base.
When I first fell in love with volleyball I wrestled with the same fear. I couldn’t dive for the ball, because I didn’t want to get a face-burger. I used to dread spikes coming my way, afraid that my forearms would burn as I tried to deflect the blazing shots.
I eventually learned to crave the challenge. To yearn for the opposition to hit it my way. To throw my body fearlessly around the court, in an effort to save my team.
This is the same mindset I carry into my running, writing, and teaching. I keep trying to expand my boundaries, knowing that pain will ultimately follow me. In running, I’m trying new challenges in both distance, and terrain. It pushes me to train differently. To push harder. In my writing, I’m working on a second novel, and I’m learning to write collaboratively. In the classroom, I’m working with an amazing young student teacher, who I learn from every day. She pushes my thinking, my creativity, and my comfort zone.
Expending Resources Hurts –
When it comes to my schedule, I’m beyond tapped out. I have to re-learn how to say “no” to the requests that come my way. I’ve overestimated my reach, and I can see areas where I am paying for it.
But if I’m going to err on spending myself too much, or giving too little of myself, I’d rather burn up than fade away.
When I see kids battling childhood obesity, I’m moved to step in. When I see students lose a love of learning, I can’t sit by and watch. When I see innocent children face enormous obstacles like poverty and racism, I’m compelled to do something. When I know students who carry the burden of losing loved ones; a burden that I also carried as a young child, I am stirred to stand in the gap, and help them through the trauma.
Pain is a teacher. It instructs me, if I reflect on its’ messages. It has taught me:
Hurting is lonely.
Hurting is scary.
Hurting is humbling.
Hurting is a precursor to change.
Hurting is the dawn of impact.
Hurting contains the seeds of revival.
I’m no masochist. I often still avoid pain. I’d rather not hurt if I can help it. But if the cost of not hurting is to not care, then I will step into the pain. If the cost of safety is to not love, then I will walk towards the discomfort.
Because hearts are made to love. Hearts are made to care.
And sometimes, it’s supposed to hurt.