Love and Sorrow: A Look at Twenty One Pilots’ Tear in My Heart

Sophia Denney, Fall 2016

“Sometimes you gotta bleed to know, that you’re alive and have a soul.” 1


Rolling Stones calls Twenty-One Pilots “one of the hardest acts to categorize in recent memory.” The Columbus, Ohio based musical duo consists of 27-year-old frontman Tyler Joseph and his best friend, drummer Josh Dun. Joseph himself has acknowledged their strangeness; “It’s true that when you hear our music described, it sounds unappealing.”2 Somehow, the band’s mixture of hard rock, pop, reggae, and alternative music works, even when matched with piano and occasionally ukulele. The key? For many fans, it is the captivating lyrics which convert mere listeners into members of the “Skeleton Clique.” Each track is riddled with angst, rhymes, and night imagery full of trepidation.


With this in mind, no one would be surprised at the visual appearance of the band; Josh’s tattoos and shock of pink hair, Tyler’s grease paint slathered on his neck and hands. But many listeners would be startled by the assertion of the band’s Christian core. At first glance, nothing about Twenty One Pilots shouts ‘Christian artist.’ In fact, Tyler admits that he and Josh’s goal has never been to “tell people what to believe.” However, later in the same interview he confirms that “[his faith] will always be a big part of [his] music.”3


In 2015, the band released an album entitled Blurryface. The fifth track, “Tear in My Heart,” begins with the line “Sometimes you’ve gotta bleed to know, that you’re alive and have a soul.” The immediate implication of this lyric strikes at some recognizable truth; sometimes suffering is necessary. However, a deeper examination of this lyric points at a more unusual claim; that suffering and sorrow are necessary for love.


The idea that suffering is necessary for love may seem wholly unusual. How could “a feeling of affection,”4 as love is frequently defined, include pain? A cursory Internet search of “love as emotion,” however, reveals rampant disagreement about the definition of love in English. While some tout love as no different than sadness, anger, joy or any other emotion, many scholars firmly establish love as “an act of will.”5 In the same vein, writer Ellen McGrath discusses love as “the best antidepressant.” She goes on to describe how the “skill” of love can combat a common source of depression; feeling unwanted.6 While theorists sometimes disagree about the definition of love, like McGrath most acknowledge its value. Prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow categorized love and belongingness as integral to the the third level of human needs, an important theory still referenced today.7



The Christian perspective reinforces love as integral to life, while also specifying that love goes deeper than human emotion. For the Christian, who believes that humans possess a “soul” beyond the physical body, there exists an understanding that love has a depth which allows us “to know... [we’re] alive and have a soul.” What constitutes this depth, the real substance of Christian love, is suffering itself. Mother Teresa, now recognized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, echoes this when she says "Love, to be real, must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”


Many Christian writers have done some serious thinking about the necessity of sorrow in love, in particular about its relation to the Christian life. Fulton Sheen, a dynamic Catholic bishop and preacher known for his television and radio shows asserts that “No one in the world can carry God in his heart without an inner joy, and an outer sorrow...without feeling the thrust of a sword from those who want freedom of the flesh without the law. Love and sorrow often go together.” Sheen’s statement seems quite bold; and the type of love he describes cannot be achieved without great perseverance. He calls Christians to action, representing suffering not only as necessary for love, but also as necessary for worship of their God. Sheen depicts sorrow with “the sword,” harkening back to a familiar but important image from a commonly known Bible story.


In the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to Jerusalem and presented him to the Lord in the temple, as was custom. There they met Simeon, a man who “would not die” until he had seen Christ. Simeon spoke to Mary; “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 8


Simeon briefly acknowledged that Jesus himself will go through trials; stating he will be “spoken against,” but directly described the pain that Mary his mother would have to go through. She would have to watch not only the suffering of someone she loves, but the suffering of her own son, whom she has been beside his whole life. Even to the death, Mary stayed by her son’s side, though she had no power over the situation. According to Christian tradition, Mary had to watch her son undergo a brutal death- and she stood for the entire duration of the Crucifixion. Many pieces of Christian art and music, including a hymn- the Stabat Mater- focus on the heart wrenching sorrow Mary experienced at the foot of the cross. 9 Such an experience sounds a lot like the “real” and beautiful love Mother Teresa described: one that costs, and hurts. A love that empties of self.


Despite this beautiful image, the abstract concept of “a love that empties of self” requires further investigation. Looking at the image of another’s sorrow is not enough on its own: we must delve deeper into the inner workings of the sorrow through empathy. Often, we can discuss and read about the experiences of others in order to deal with our own sufferings. One study found that reading about others’ ways of coping with illness on the Internet “may change one’s orientation to the illness” and could provide “highly valued” advice. 10 The power of connection to others when working through sorrows cannot be emphasized enough. However, a simple admission of “I have gone through something similar” pales in comparison to a thorough first-person account of the suffering. The same reasoning applies to a Christian perspective on love and sorrow, and highlights why a deeper examination of Mary’s experiences at the foot of the cross have such incredible value for Christians. Many scholars have taken this short Scripture passage and offered various ways of relating to Mary in this moment. Among the most prominent ideas, thinkers like St. Pope John Paul II have connected Mary’s suffering to the Christian belief that her son died out of love for humanity;  “At the foot of the Cross, “a sword pierces Mary’s soul,” fulfilling the words of Simeon … united to the redemptive Sacrifice of her Son is the maternal sacrifice of her heart.” 11


Like John Paul’s description of Mary, Christians often name suffering as the most intimate way they can know Jesus while they are on earth. Mother Teresa also said, “Pain and suffering have to come into your life, but remember that pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus- signs that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”12 This idea of sharing in the love of the crucified Jesus requires a certain degree of vulnerability. Christians frequently discuss bringing their struggles to the foot of the cross as Mary did. To some degree, they must accept their burdens in order to grow in love. In the language of the Bible, they must allow their hearts to be pierced by the sword. 


Another line in “Tear in My Heart” paints a picture of this approach, identifying both vulnerability and acceptance of suffering as necessary in aiming for real love. “My heart is my armor,” Joseph sings, later adding that the tear in his heart has “cut [him] farther,” than he has ever been before. If we wall off our hearts and refuse to be vulnerable with others, then we can avoid the pain or potential challenges that come with authentic friendship. Similarly, holding back from deeper conversations with an acquaintance from your hall could prevent awkwardness and the feeling of being judged. None of us desire pain, awkward moments, or judgment. However, removing the armor from one’s heart can reap great rewards in deepening relationships with others. That hallmate could end up being one of the kindest individuals on campus, and you’d never have known if you didn’t invite her out to lunch. Building relationships in this manner echoes a Christian perspective, given that a relationship with God is so essential to Christianity. The same logic of vulnerable, authentic friendship applies to knowing Christ, which will seem far less difficult when Christians let down the armor surrounding their hearts. This approach to vulnerability and the acceptance of sorrow, originating from a Christian worldview, demonstrates how we can love more deeply in all aspects of life.


Later in the song, another lyric echoes this by noting how the tear in the speaker’s heart can “take [him] higher, than [he’s] ever been.” If we share ourselves- both our sorrows and our joys- with those around us, we can grow deeper in the love which underlies all authentic friendships. Fulton Sheen puts this beautifully: “To capture love in a permanent form one must pass through a Calvary. The early transports of love are an advance, an anticipation, of the real transports that are to come when; one has mounted to a higher degree of love through the bearing of a Cross.” In this quote, the terms “Calvary”13 and “Cross” can be applied to any type of pain or vulnerability, for the “permanent form” of love we long for is identical for all. Although we each struggle through a personal Calvary, our open acceptance of these sufferings composes the substance of real love.


At one point in “Tear in my Heart,” the line “sometimes you gotta bleed to know, that you’re alive and have a soul,” follows to a different conclusion: “but it takes someone to come around, to show you how.” Fortunately, we are never alone in our sufferings because numerous people throughout history have demonstrated such love to us. Nelson Mandela suffered in prison for nearly twenty years in his fight against apartheid in South Africa.14 In Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban but continues to fight for rights to girls’ education.15 And for Christians, the image of the crucifix reinforces the belief that Jesus Christ has shown the world how sorrow is the foundation for a real, substantive love. After all, in Christianity the sorrow of the Crucifixion precedes the joyous Resurrection. The Christian celebration of higher love on Easter Sunday has occurred through the acceptance and vulnerability of Jesus on the cross and of Mary standing beside him. Real love, in all its joy and beauty, necessitates a tear in our hearts.



[1] Twenty One Pilots, “Tear in My Heart”

[2]Greene, Andy. "Twenty One Pilots: Inside the Biggest New Band of the Past Year." Rolling Stone. 14 Jan. 2016. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.

[3]Crane Matt. "15 Things We Learned about Twenty One Pilots Today." Alternative Press. 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

[4] "Love." Merriam-Webster. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[5]  As quoted in McGrath, Ellen. "The Power of Love." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 1 Dec. 2002. Web. 07 Nov. 2016

[6] McGrath. (2002).

[7] McLeod, Saul. (2007). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

[8] Holy Bible New International Version, Luke 2:33-35

[9] Reardon, Patrick Henry. "Mary at the Cross." Christian History. Christianity Today, 2004. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

[10] Zeibland, Sue and Wyke, Sally. (2012), Health and Illness in a Connected World: How Might Sharing Experiences on the Internet Affect People's Health?. Milbank Quarterly, 90: 219–249. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2012.00662.x

[11] John Paul II, Homily, September 15, 1988

[12]  Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Dorothy S. Hunt. Love, a Fruit Always in Season: Daily Meditations from the Words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987. Print.

[13] Calvary can be defined as the hill near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. (Wikipedia)

[14] From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1991-1995, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1999

[15] "Malala Yousafzai - Facts". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 18 Oct 2016.


Sophia Denney

Class of 2019