For anyone who dares to journey far into the unknown depths of the human soul it's unlikely that you journey far before you face the startling reality of your own brokenness. As I write this, I am now more than half a century into my own journey on planet earth and for each and every one of us there seems to be no escape from the inevitability of heartbreak. Its the theme of many melancholic love songs, period dramas, murder mysteries and movies. There is an endless fascination and identification with the pain of heartbreak that draws us into the stories of others until we reach the point of overwhelm, when it all becomes too much and we have to look away and focus on something else to numb out the pain.
Heartbreak, of course, is not just about the breakdown of romantic relationships. The breadth and depth of brokenness runs much deeper and further than we want to even imagine. Any relationship breakdown or loss can involve heartbreak. Or it may involve a tragic incident, a traumatic incident, an abusive experience that occurred deliberately or even accidently. Shakespeare describes our sufferings as involving "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Sometimes they have no rhyme nor reason. God is not to blame. We are not to blame. Other people may not be to blame. But often we are able to point the finger at someone. Before too long we may taste the bitter poison of hatred and malice towards those who have hurt us, unless we protect ourselves by totally forgiving those who have hurt us.
Forgiveness can be our first step towards healing for the broken heart. But it's not the whole answer. Andrea Wigglesworth (Vital Connexions) describes the shape of a broken heart by looking at Jesus hanging on the cross and the few words he utters from the place of his own brokenness. This graphically portrays the scope of the human predicament and how God has not looked on from a distance and detached himself from our suffering. Instead he has walked in our shoes and experienced the very depths of our sufferings.
In Matthew 27:46 Jesus cries out from the cross - "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" The shape of heartbreak involves the scream, a cry of dereliction. When we feel broken-hearted one of the most valuable gifts we can have is someone who is willing to listen to us asking difficult questions. They don't jump in with trite answers that speak only to logic. Instead, they are willing to hold you in a space of empathy and understanding. If you are willing to accept this truth, then Jesus is the one most able to identify with your broken heart. He is willing to come alongside you. Part of your healing is to be held by him. He will be attentive and hear even your scream or cry of dereliction when you question God and simply don't understand why things have happened the way they have.
In Luke 23:34 Jesus is hanging on the cross and says '"Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing". And they divided up his clothes by casting lots'. The shape of a broken heart is the shape of shame. It is stripped naked for all to see. Jesus had no loin cloth on the cross as some artistic impressions suggest. He was entirely naked. He was entirely vulnerable and even in that place of vulnerability he was mocked and ridiculed. Perhaps this is the shape of your broken heart. Maybe you have acted in ways that you are embarrassed and ashamed about. Or maybe you cannot speak of how others have shamed you and spoken harsh and cruel words to you. Shame says that there is something fundamentally wrong and flawed and shameful about you that can never be known by another. You're too bad. On the cross, Jesus unveils all that is secret and shameful. He speaks forgiveness and he brings a new identity within the security of his unending love.
There came a point of powerlessness for Jesus on the cross, when he had done all that he could and had no strength left in his body. "He bowed his head and died" (John 19:30). In the agony of heartbreak you may come to a point of utter powerlessness. The illusion of control has been utterly shattered and you accept your own powerlessness. Some Bible translations says that Jesus "gave up the ghost". Andrea Wigglesworth says that "there are moments when we have to embrace the powerlessness of Christ". Paradoxically, this is not about defeatism and despair. As Jesus died he cried out - "Into your hands I commit my spirit", echoing the words of Job, "though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15)
The last shape of the broken heart mentioned by Andrea Wigglesworth is the shape of darkness - "It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining" (Luke 23:44) If you are experiencing a broken heart you may feel plunged into darkness, losing your usual moorings and anchor, you may feel lost at sea, drifting into darkness and having no obvious way to navigate your next steps. There seems to be no visible way forward and no way out. The darkness invites us to finally relinquish all that we have held onto in the hope that there is fruitfulness and new life to be found on the other side - "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abideth alone. But if it does die, it will bear much fruit" (John 12:24)
At twenty-three years old I experienced the sudden heart break that involved loss of health and the devastating news that I had been diagnosed with a long term condition that was incurable. It rocked my world, but not in a joy filled way. It took me months to come to terms with the sudden impact I had experienced. I awoke one night from a vivid dream in which I was lost at sea and waves were crashing over my body again and again. Gradually my strength was ebbing away. I felt powerless to save myself and there was no way of escape. Just before I was drowned I suddenly awoke. Within a few hours I was sitting in a very traditional Church of Scotland. The preacher stood up and read from Isaiah 54:11 - "O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires". This verse pierced me to the very core and I knew in that moment that God was breathing new hope into my soul. Figuratively, I felt like I was raised from the dead.
Isaiah 54:10 (the previous verse) describes the covenant foundation upon which God's people can build their lives. It provides us with the ultimate security and healing we need for our broken hearts. It's a promise of loving-kindness and compassion that will never be removed - "Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my loving-kindness for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed", says the LORD who has compassion on you". It's through this loving-kindness and compassion that healing comes. Though it may be delayed, keep waiting and hoping and trusting in Him. He is the lifter of your head and the healer of your heart.
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" Psalm 147:3
Director of Christian Mindfulness