When Love Means “I Hurt For You.”

Broken Hurt Heart SMS Text Messages in EnglishI like to write a great deal about love.  I find it such a fascinating and rich topic.  We experience love in so many ways yet struggle to really be able to communicate its essence in all its diversity and richness.  It’s also something exceptionally important for human flourishing and well-being.  Without love we wither and die.  Love seems to be at the core of who we are and the driving force for all we do.

People have always struggled to understand love.  This is most evident when we look at human language.  Many languages, unlike English, have multiple words to describe the human experience of love in order to capture its complexity.  For example, Greek uses words like philia, storge, eros, and agape to capture the ideas of family/brotherly love, friendship love, romantic love, and God like love respectively.  English uses the word love for all of them, yet English speakers intuitively know when we say we love our husband or wife we don’t mean we love them in the same way we love our new laptop computer, pair of shoes, or lawnmower.  Because language often reflects how people think I find it fascinating how easily English speakers confuse certain phenomenon not related to love with love.  For example, in my counseling practice I may be working with a client going through a difficult divorce or break up and they’re shocked the other person in the relationship left them.  “After all,” they say, “We had such a great sex life.”  They confuse sex with love and the fact our English language doesn’t capture the difference between passionate erotic feelings and deep self-sacrificial love we often confuse sexual attraction and behaviors with relationship love.  Love is a difficult topic and it often transcends our language.

I was listening to a podcast called, “Invisibilia.”  I love this podcast and recommend it to anyone interested in psychology.  The topic being discussed that day had to do with human emotion.  One of the people they talked with was an anthropologist who lived with and documented the Igorot people of the Philippines.  The podcast was mostly about how this anthropologist captured the essence of the various emotional experiences of the community.   What captured my attention was his description of the Igorot word for love.  The word they use actually translates into something like “I hurt for you.”  That definition struck me because of how uniquely it captures the many dimensions of love in such a concise way.

When we think about romantic love we think about an all-consuming passion for the other individual.  That passion causes us to “hurt” for the other person because we just can’t be with them enough.  Yes, this feeling will dissipate over time but it’s a very real feeling for those initially in love with one another.  This hurt is part of the romantic experience but if the relationship matures, that hurt transforms into something other than unbridled passion.  The hurt doesn’t go away, but it becomes a different kind of pain for the other person.  It becomes empathy and compassion.  While we may not feel the hurt of longing associated with the absence of our romantic lover, we certainly hurt for them when we see them struggle in life, suffer from an illness, or experience disappointments.  We hurt for them because we love them and this love causes us to be uniquely connected.  Painful longing for one another, birthed from romantic passion now becomes compassionate sorrow, a pain experienced by two souls that have somehow become entwined with one another.  As the relationship continues the hurt for one another does as well.  This love that hurts for the other continues to be a part of our experience when the ones we care for pass away.  This isn’t the pain of romantic passion that can’t be quenched nor is it the pain we feel as compassionate and empathetic partners journeying through life together.  This is the pain of emptiness one feels because the person they loved is no longer with them.  The Igorot people have beautifully captured the holistic experience of love by associating that word with the definition “I hurt for you.”

It would be easy to twist this idea into something ugly.  Someone might argue this association of hurt and love perverts the idea of love into this concept that to truly love someone is to cause them pain.  However, if you look closely at the way the definition is stated that’s not what’s being said.  The phrase is not “I make you hurt” but rather “I hurt for you.”  It’s pain I feel because of a romantic desire I have for you.  It’s a sense of empathy and compassion I have for your situation because we are connected together in love.  In the end, its the sense that because you’re gone I’m no longer with you and I miss you.  Passionate Love is the connecting force drawing human souls together.  It matures into companionate love that intimately connects people with one another allowing them to share one another’s pain.  And in the end this love leaves us with hurt, reminding us when the one we love leaves us, we’ve lost the presence of a good friend.  Love truly is complex and requires us to be vulnerable to one another.  Vulnerability sometimes means we hurt for those we love.

It’s interesting that Augustine of Hippo, a great Christian saint and writer once argued that sin is nothing more than disordered love.  If we look at his statement through the eyes of the Igorot people what Augustine is telling us is that sin is hurting for the wrong things.  Sin is pain in our lives caused by a disordered affection to the wrong things.  How true that is!  How I pray all of you think long and hard about the very things you long for; the very things causing you pain.  It’s these things you’ll become attached to and these things that will distort your sense of love.  If you don’t order your love toward God and one another you’ll have a life of empty pain because of your attachment to that which matters very little.  However, if you love God, you will find that it’s actually less you who hurt for God and discover in the face of Jesus Christ a God who is willing to “Hurt for you.”