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Most of us know the song. Many of us relate to one or two lines of the famous lyrics. And a few of us identify more than we’d like to admit to its foreboding message.

I’ll never forget being dubbed a “desperado” by good friends who recognized me in one particular line of the telling lyrics. That was 15 years ago…and when I heard the same words recently, during a conversation on the porch of the ACTS House, my stomach tightened at the memories of those desperate days. Though the sentiment was spoken to someone else this time, I knew exactly how it felt to hear it for the first time.

Those who have never felt a need to hide behind protective behaviors, pretenses, or lifestyles may have no idea what could be so hard about hearing, “You gotta let somebody love you.” But if you’ve never known any other way of living, and are deathly afraid of letting people really know you, it can be terrifying to face the unhealed pain and undefined longings that have been driving your life choices for so long.

It’s a huge step in the healing journey when we begin to “come to our senses” and recognize the need to open our lives to others…”before it’s too late.” The next step is equally as huge, and requires admitting we need people around us who understand “our reasons” and can help us change our self-sabotaging ways. This crucial stage of discovery forces us to decide if we really want to change..and what we’re willing to do about it.fashionable desperado

After all, who isn’t a little intrigued by the music and movie versions of the dark, mysterious, irresistible desperado? We’ve glamorized the character. Made it fashionable, even. But, the heart-wrenching truth in the literal meaning of the word…is a person who loses hope to the point of true desperation and resorts to reckless, dangerous, violent behavior…often criminal.

Desperate people do desperate things. Reckless things. Not necessarily illegal, but dangerous and destructive all the same. And don’t fool yourself that you’re above such things. You’d be surprised at what you’re capable of in times of extreme pain and despair. That doesn’t make us bad people. We just get stupid. Not because we are stupid, but because we feel hopeless and don’t know what to do about it or how to change. Then, not being able to figure out what to do makes us more and more anxious, which keeps us from being able to think straight…and that’s when we get reckless. Add to that, the shame of getting ourselves into such a bad predicament, and we get even more desperate, wondering what to do next to fix it or cover it up…all while being on high alert to make sure nobody gets close enough to pick up on the wild horses corralled behind our carefully constructed fences.

And there you have it…the making of a desperado, camouflaged as the independent loner living under their false demeanor of intrigue. The Eagles admitted being “quite taken with the idea of being outlaws,” and though “Desperado” may have been intended as a picture of  “young adventurers living by their talents and wits, seeking their fortunes and looking for romance,” it’s ultimately a story of shadows, moral ambivalence, and cold morning-afters.”

Another interpretation of the famous ballad describes a confused individual longing for love, but a victim to his confusion, lifestyle, and decisions…unable to acknowledge his desire for love, security, and happiness. Unless he changes his ways, he will painfully and permanently find himself a prisoner of his own devices…not realizing what he could have if he would accept and allow it. The song pleads with the young man to realize what he’s doing before it’s too late.

If you haven’t listened to it in a while, do. Notice your reaction. You may find it telling. And if so, I hope you’ll round up the courage to talk with someone who can help you understand why you do what you do and how it keeps hurting you. I pray you’ll let people walk with you through the process of unlocking the gates that keep you a prisoner to your own devices into the utter relief and wide-open freedom of letting yourself be loved.