This morning before school, my eight-year-old daughter flung herself on her bed, sobbing.
In the last three weeks, she had become friends with a little girl in her class at school. For a while, I heard about Beth during each car ride home and our afternoon snack time and at random moments during the out-of-school hours. She and Beth were going to bring something for each other from home: little erasers, pencils, that sort of thing. Isn’t that sweet? I thought.
Yesterday, that changed. She was convinced that Beth had taken one of her stickers from my daughter’s desk and put it on her own. As the story unfolded, I learned that when she asked Beth about the sticker, her new friend had copped an attitude. Then I learned that Beth wouldn’t play with her at recess or sit with her at lunch. And then I learned that even though she had given her a few special erasers at home, Beth had never brought her anything, breaking her promise.
My daughter was heartbroken. It’s the first time she’s been betrayed like this, and it will undoubtedly not be the last.
She thought she had made a new friend—and now that friend had proved to be untrustworthy.
I shared a story about being dumped by a friend when another girl moved to town, a girl who was cool and exciting and fun. I still remember sitting on the edge of the merry-go-round, watching the two of them walk away, chattering and giggling, not bothering to wait for me or even look in my direction. I kicked at the gravel beneath my feet and felt as significant as the dust filling the air.
Relationships are hard.
It’s a cliché, but it’s only a cliché because it’s a truth that has been repeated in every life since the Garden of Eden. Everyone is a jumble of broken pieces; some pieces are positive, others decidedly not: hurtful and loving and disappointing and faithful. We’re all fallible, screwed up messes.
Put two messes together and you’ll get one big, mess of a relationship.
It’s easy to let my heartache determine my actions. It’s easy to decide that I will never, ever be vulnerable again. It’s easy to avoid hurt through isolation.
To love is to be vulnerable. If you want to make sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no one. Lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket: safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken – it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from love is Hell – CS Lewis
Back in high school, I read a short story in Campus Life, Christianity Today’s now-defunct magazine for teenagers. A young man is dumped by his girlfriend. He’s devastated. He doesn’t want to ever feel that depth of hurt again, so he methodically cuts himself off from everyone else in his life: parents and friends, teachers and co-workers, God and Christians, anyone who might hurt him and anyone who might love him. When he dies, he finds that hell isn’t that different from his previous life.
It’s completely absent of love.
Say what you will about the theology of the story, but at the heart of it, there is truth.
A life lived without vulnerability is a life lived without love.
A life lived with vulnerability is a life lived with the possibility of love: giving and receiving it.
This morning, I hugged my daughter.
“Sometimes people look like a true friend and then turn out not to be one. And sometimes even true friends disappoint us. Relationships are always hard. No one is perfect.”
She was silent.
“Some people can’t be trusted. But other people can be trusted, even though they won’t be perfect, either. A true friend won’t dump you.”
She perked up. “At least Madison hasn’t dumped me. And Marcus and Claire always sit by me at lunch. And Charlie and Chase and Madison and Kourtney and Marcus and I like to play hug-tag at recess. And Charlie always lets me chase him. And . . .” Her face brightened as she went on, telling about her other friends, the ones she isn’t afraid to hug or talk to or chase on the playground. Even though she never quite catches Charlie, it’s still okay. I think she won’t let this one incident discourage her from being a friend to other people.
Relationships are hard. When I’m vulnerable, sometimes I get hurt—and sometimes I gain a friend.
But without vulnerability, I’ll never know what would’ve happened.
I’ll only know a life without love. And that’s no life at all.