A couple of years ago I wandered around lost in the city of love. The Seine river was flooding, my phone was dead, and my budget was tight, but I was still enamored with the Parisian buildings and flower pots adorning the early summer streets. Since then I have learned a lot about love in life, and though I still have a lot to learn, I know that now is the time to wear our hearts on our sleeves.
Like many oral traditions, the origins of this phrase are fuzzy, but we can credit Shakespeare as the first to write it out in the tragical romance of Othello:
Iago: For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.
– Othello, Act 1, Scene 1, 56–65
Modern English Translation:
If my outward appearance
started reflecting what I really felt,
I’d be wearing my heart on my sleeve
for birds to peck at.
No, it’s better to hide it.
I’m not who I appear to be.
So, the endearing phrase we hear so often was locked into paper with a pen writing out a tragedy full of revenge, unfaithfulness, and death. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Iago portrays the dangers of being so free with your heart as an invitation to get pecked at. He says it is better to be who you are not than to be who you are because it will prevent you from pain, embarrassment, and rejection. It is a sweet sentiment to be open and vulnerable with the delicate feelings that brew in your heart, but it is also a dangerous thing to be so open.
So much of the love we give in family, friend, and romantical relationships is dictated by our fear of rejection and our fear of man. The love in our hearts is precious and pure and in a fallen world can become perverted so easily. With a veil of fear and our attempts at self-protection, we can miss out on the beautiful love story Jesus is creating with our lives.
Heartbreak happens in many ways, not just between lovers, but also in friends and circumstances. The feeling of your body going numb and the lump rising in your throat as your world spins from rejection or disappointment is disorienting. Iago must have felt this because he is right in his warning for the dangers of being risky with love, but on the other hand, it can also be the most rewarding part of life. Our soul desire is to be known and to know and that only can come with a grain of risk.
There is hope and safeguards for the risk we take when extending out a hand in love. As a lover of Jesus I have a never-ending fountain of love I can always draw from, even if the world doesn’t accept the love I give. I would rather be hurt by loving too much than to miss out on love by holding back. This goes for every person in my life. The goal is for them to know not the love I have for them, but the love that Jesus has for them.
In Song of Solomon, it is written…
“Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is as strong as death
jealousy is as fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire.,
The very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench this love,
Neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house.
He would be utterly despised.”
Song of Solomon 8: 6-7 (ESV)
From the lens I see the world through, there are two safeguards to wearing your heart on your sleeve: love as a choice and being authenticated by Christ with his stamp of approval. Just hearing the word love brings associations of feelings, but love is just as much work as it is about connection. Not work in the sense of working to earn love but work in the sense of working hard at loving. It takes effort to tear down the walls around our own hearts and build trust to open the heart doors of others. Still, I struggle with opening up my chest and letting my heart beat exposed. Like anything, it is a slow process, but Jesus is faithful in tearing those walls down, even if it takes a lifetime. Steffany Gretzinger sings it so well:
Tell me the truth,
without the self-protection,
love can mend what’s broken,
in me and you,
brick by brick we’ll take the walls down,
even if it takes a lifetime.
Jesus calls us to love freely, but we must know who we are in him first before we can do this. I know God’s love is a seal on my heart and a seal on my arm, so I will always love with my whole heart and if I am rejected by the people around me or if I fail, I am still known and loved by God.
I want to love when it’s uncomfortable
love when it’s precious
love when it’s life-giving
love when it’s teeth-gritting teeth
love in the deprived places
and love in places already full.
The world needs real, tangible, messy and complicated love. Love is what heals because God is love. Let’s be a little more reckless like Mary with her alabaster jar and wear our hearts on our sleeves.
Sources for the Soul:
Smithsonian Institute: Origins of wearing your heart on your sleeve…
No Fear Shakespeare: Othello
Soul Pancake: What is love?
HuffPost: The risks of love…C.S. Louis