Every year, on Christmas Eve, we gather with family and friends.
For a lip sync contest.
After dinner, the contest begins, with the kids typically performing their favorite hit song from the year. We adults, on the other hand, often perform a favorite song from our younger years—this year, that may or may not have included a song entirely about farting.
And this year, my younger son Quinn got up and put every ounce of his heart into a performance of “The Run and Go,” by twenty one pilots. The song’s refrain goes like this: “…don’t want to give you all my pieces, don’t want to hand you all my trouble, don’t want to give you all my demons…”
As the vocalist shouted the final refrain in anguish and Quinn silently shouted along, I looked at my wife.
I thought about how, at first, we both resisted giving each other our pieces, handing each other our troubles, and giving each other all our demons. I thought about how much we clung to the fantasy that love and marriage could somehow look like every pristine advertisement for Valentine’s Day. In those early years, by resisting our demons, pretending they didn’t exist, and refusing to reveal them to each other, we created so much unnecessary heartache.
To maintain the illusion we’re not broken, we have to break other people even worse.
There’s a moment later in that same twenty one pilots album when a different refrain is repeated over and over again: “We’re broken, we’re broken, we’re broken, we’re broken people.” Somewhere along the way, my wife and I finally figured out that broken people cannot live in a Hallmark-holiday. Because with living, breathing, broken people, too much stuff happens. Old wounds get touched. Old emotional splinters work their way to the surface. Old habits get reenacted. For instance, my wife had her reasons to believe she’d always be abandoned. And I had my reasons to believe I’d always be invisible.
Real love happens when we quit resisting this brokenness and, instead, reveal it to the person we love and want to be loved by.
Real love happens when we finally confess our demons.
In Valentine’s lore, when the fabled Cupid shoots his magic arrow and it hits you, true love is supposed to happen. But here’s the thing: it’s not called perfect love and it’s not called Hallmark love. It’s called true love. So, what if, when Cupid’s arrow really hits you, it splits you open and the truth comes spilling out, along with all your pieces, all your troubles, and all your demons?
And what if, in true love, trickling out behind that flood of frailty comes the truest thing of all: your truest, worthiest, most loveable self?
Half the time, it seems, my wife and I are fighting on Valentine’s Day. But that’s okay, because Valentine’s Day isn’t supposed to be perfect; in a way, it’s supposed to be demonic—it’s supposed to be the day we celebrate all of each other, our pieces and troubles and demons, and the brilliant soul that lies just beneath all that mess.
Maybe this year, at our house, we’ll have a family lip sync contest for Valentine’s Day, too. And maybe I’ll sing one of my favorite songs by the late Leonard Cohen. Maybe I’ll sing that famous line, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Maybe my wife will hear that line and know the truth:
She’s the light that got in, past all my demons.
And maybe, like us, you’re human too. Maybe you have cracks. Maybe you’re tired of caulking them up so your pieces aren’t so obvious, so your troubles aren’t so troublesome, and so your demons aren’t so disruptive. Maybe Valentine’s Day is just the right day to let those demons loose, in the most vulnerable, most tender way possible. So the light can get in.
And so your light can get out.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.