When the heart breaks

Someone I love is going through a crazy difficult time. Several of us have gathered around her to try to show our love and support. Honestly, before this crisis, none of us were all that close. We used to be, and then over the last few years, so many things came in between us. Something about the pain of this situation though, the sheer desperation in her voice, the feeling of survival-mode kicking in has made us all drop our opinions and differences, and just move towards each other in love, support, and compassion.

On Easter, I shared the story of a wise teacher and his student studying the Hebrew scriptures together. They were discussing the passage that says, “put these words upon your hearts.” The student asked the teacher, why does it say to place these words UPON our hearts and not IN our hearts. The wise teacher said, “All we can do is place these words upon our hearts, and there they stay, until one day when the heart breaks, and these words fall in.” 

When our hearts are breaking, everything changes – with ourselves, with God, with each other. When I am in a comfortable place of confidence and pride, it is easy to be a know-it-all, a fixer, a person who vilifies my perceived enemy. It is easy to see “Us versus Them,” and to get on my high horse about how right I am. But when our hearts break – for ourselves, for each other, for the world – all of that tribe-making, division-seeking seems silly. 

Hearing scripture from the brokenness of your heart changes everything. 

It is no longer about mastering information. 

It is no longer about justifying a battle with a perceived enemy.

It is no longer about winning a culture war.

It is no longer about seeking proof. 

It is more like desperation. 

It is more like survival. 

It is more like thirsting for water in a desert. 

Hearing the stories of scripture with a broken heart humanizes everything. 

It is much more about desperately throwing ourselves upon this grace, this mercy, this way of self-sacrificing love. 

It is much more about transformation than just information.

It is much more about receiving mercy, grace, and love than fighting an enemy or proving a point. 

It is much more about spreading love and seeking the common good than seeking a proof text or researching the evidence that demands a verdict. 

So we place these words upon our hearts — because our hearts are often closed — and there these words stay, until one day when the heart breaks and these words fall in. These are words of life, they are words of resurrection life. These are words of self-sacrificing love. These are words of reality. These are words of nondiscriminatory, revolutionary love. This is what faith expressing itself in love looks like. 

This is resurrection. 

When St. John of the Cross talked about the “dark night of the soul,” that’s in part what he was trying to teach us. There are these moments in life of inconsolable despair, of hitting rock bottom, where we must give up our ego’s plan AND where we must give up even our images of God, give up our illusion of being “better than” another, give up the pursuit of holiness, and then, with those stripped away, God appears. 

That’s what happened with Jesus on the cross. His last words were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Of course, we know that God had not forsaken him, but Jesus calling out shows us that in that moment of surrender, God became known to Jesus beyond even his own imagination. The God of Resurrection broke through. Jesus’ surrender of his limiting view granted an entirely new inbreaking of the Father’s love. 

So, if your heart is breaking today, may you know the breaking heart of God alongside you, and may you emerge more like Jesus from this pain. 

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