When I was single, there was a giant forest across the street from my house. Not long after moving there, I accidently got lost in it. I was out for a run, and I tripped over a branch. When I stood up, my ankle was swollen, and blood ran down the side of my leg. I began what I already knew would be a long walk home, but somewhere along the way I got lost. The pain left me disoriented, and I no longer knew where I was.

In that moment, I wasn’t sure what felt worse—the discomfort I was enduring or the fact that I was alone in the midst of it. A couple of strangers came along though, and for two miles they carried the weight of my wounds and my worry so I wouldn’t have to do it on my own.

Life can do that to us—take us down in rough terrain, leaving us vulnerable and alone. People sometimes unexpectedly show up and help us find our way back. There are other times, however, when the only way out is to navigate on our own.

I believe that we often get lost while walking our way through pain. We become disoriented, we wander, we trip and hurt ourselves, and we find ourselves alone while trying to make our way home—much the same way I did that day in the woods across the street from my house. And it can be scary. Being alone in such a place can feel scary.

I know this because I’ve been that person, and I’ve been in that place.

And when I was that person, walking through that place, I looked up one day and, in the most beautiful way, found safety among the endless trees; I found another beating heart, another set of eyes looking ahead, another hand to hold along the way.

I fell in love.

I fell in ways that I don’t completely understand and in ways I’ll never forget and in ways only two people who are both truly lost can fall. In doing so, I discovered a unique intensity and passion and connection that came with being lost with another person—one that made the woods almost feel like home. And when something like this happens, if you aren’t careful, the perceived comfort found in what used to be unfamiliar territory can make you forget why you wanted out in the first place.

Because here’s the thing…

Two lost people are still just that; lost. And two broken people don’t make a whole. I know that, too, because I tried a whole bunch of times.

I tried to mend my hurts with another person. I tried to right my wrongs with another person. I tried to chase away the dark shadows with another person. I did this so that I wouldn’t have to find my way out on my own.

And right there, among those towering trees, alongside another lost soul, I learned the most important lesson I’ve ever learned about relationships…

There is difference between needing someone because you love them and loving someone because you need them. One allows you to love a person for the essence of who they are while the latter enables you to love someone because of all the lost feelings they take away.

It’s a subtle difference but an important one because if life has taught me anything, it’s that none of us can heal another soul. That is a road that each of us must walk on our own. We can love each other through the woods, but we can’t love each other because of them.

When you meet someone in that place, in all of your frailty, your collective pain becomes woven into the fabric of each other’s lives. And that common ground begins to fill in the gaps and cover the wounds, and the hurt begins to fade away. Through being there together we begin to believe that someone else can fix us, that someone else can take the broken pieces of ourselves and find a way to put them back together.

And this can trick us into feeling like we are healed when, in reality, someone else just has their hand over top of our wounds in order to stop the bleeding.

I believe the pain experienced between two lost souls is one of the most difficult heartbreaks to endure. They whisper to each other, “It’s time to find our way out,” while instinctively knowing that doing so means walking in different directions. As their fingertips finally let go, as they lock eyes one last time, they are forever leaving a piece of themselves behind in a place that only they shared. And as the ache sets in from that first step, they begin to realize that they’re not only enduring a whole new injury but the original wounds are bleeding again. The agonizing pain is resurfacing again. The dark shadows are lurking again.

But the truth is, they were never really gone.

We simply held hands and closed our eyes and tried to love all of our hurt away.

Few things in life were harder for me than sitting through the discomfort of being lost on my way home that day. Few things were harder than sitting with the darkness and the fears that came with it. Few things were harder than passing other people by and saying, “I’m so sorry, but I don’t think we’re going in the same direction.”

Nothing was harder than healing on my own.

But one day, I did walk out of those woods. I didn’t even realize I had done it until I looked up and once again saw the horizon for the first time. I had found my way through and come out on the other side, battered, bruised, and better for it. And not too far in the distance of this beautiful new landscape, I met another beautiful soul. And the moment I met him, I knew something was different.

Because when I looked at him, I knew I didn’t need him to stop my wounds from bleeding. I had done that all on my own. I knew I didn’t need him to chase away the dark shadows lurking at night.  I had learned to sit with them all on my own. I knew I didn’t need him to tell me which way to go. I had discovered the right direction all on my own.

I knew I simply needed him to love me.

All on his own.

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