I know it’s been some time
But there’s something on my mind
You see, I haven’t been the same
Since that cold November day …
So here I am
And can you please tell me,
Where do broken hearts go?
Can they find their way home
Back to the open arms
Of a love that’s waiting there?
-Whitney Houston, “Where do Broken Hearts Go”
Whitney Houston’s timeless melody from the 1980s tells a story many of us are familiar with – something happens in your life that causes pain you don’t know how to handle. You can’t seem to recover from it, and you desperately wonder if there is a way to ease the ache you feel inside. This is what it feels like to have a broken heart. It may come from a disappointment, a breakup, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or a loss of any kind. Have you ever felt that kind of pain? Where do you go when your heart is broken? Life can be full of disappointments and hurts and a broken heart is difficult to overcome.
When my son was diagnosed with autism and anxiety my heart broke. But the diagnosis was not what did it – it was the day-in and day-out struggle of meltdowns and things he was not able to understand or do that other kids did. I couldn’t figure out how to function as a family, as a mom, or especially as a Christian. I drew farther from God and people rather than closer. I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, that only God can heal a broken heart. Only God can feel what we feel, and understand how to give us the comfort, vision and faith we need to move forward.
A broken heart can either harm you or help you grow. An untended heart that’s hurting will result in more pain, fear and mistrust. It can make us more cautious and more cynical. But God can take our broken hearts and help us become stronger (Isaiah 61:4). He does this by teaching us to take care of our hearts and to respond to pain in ways that bring hope and healing.
Take care of your heart
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.
A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. Proverbs 17:22
Proverbs 4:23 tells us that our heart determines the course of our lives. So a broken heart needs to be attended to; it can’t be ignored. According to these scriptures, ignoring a broken heart will sap our strength, crush our spirit and make our heart sick.
When I was 13 years old, one of my best friends was hit by a car and died suddenly. The emotions were too overwhelming and confusing for me to process. The only thing I knew to do at the time was to harden my heart, to cover up the fear and pain I felt by not feeling anything at all. Just as dentist has to numb your gums before a dental procedure, I had to keep finding ways to numb my heart. I turned to alcohol and guys at a young age. I started using people to make it look like I had friends, but never really gave my heart.
This took an enormous amount of work and still never accomplished what I wanted – for the pain to go away. God can and will heal our hearts, but we if we take shortcuts by just trying to escape pain we won’t ever experience real healing.
How do you numb your pain? How do you take shortcuts to escape feelings that are too overwhelming for you to face?
How do you respond to a broken heart ?
When you ignore your heart, deny that your heart has been affected, or try to handle your pain without God, one or all of these will occur:
With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
When pain or frustration or disappointment become so great or consistent in our lives, it’s easy to not want to feel things any more. This is when sins like sensuality and self-indulgence become very appealing. Sensuality and indulging yourself feel good for a short period of time; they create an adrenaline that can substitute love for a moment. But just as a drug becomes more and more addicting, so do sensuality, impurity, self-indulgence. You need more to satisfy this longing and need for love, but it becomes insatiable and is never satisfied.
Hardening feels like the only recourse when pain is so intense, but it will never really take pain away.
“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”
John 3:19-21 (Message)
Exposure can be painful; hiding emotions, sins, fears or even dreams often seems easier and less scary than admitting them. When you are battling with a broken heart, there will inevitably be sins like hatred, anger, jealousy and resentment that grow in your heart alongside your pain and discouragement. You might feel angry about the situation you’re in and jealous of others who seem to have it easier. There are also emotions that arise from a broken heart – guilt, fear, and hopelessness to name a few.
When you try to hide these, God is never able to give you encouragement, perspective, or most importantly love and hope.
Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.
1 John 2:10-11
Sometimes the hardest thing for me to admit is when my pain has to turned to hate. There have been times in my marriage where I have hidden hurt, avoided fights, and been completely dishonest about what I really think and feel. This can easily turn into hate. “I don’t hate HIM,” I tell myself, “I just hate the way he does this, I hate when he does that, I hate how he says this..” you get the idea.
But the definition of “hate” is to strongly dislike, loathe, execrate, find intolerable- shrink back from. When I ‘strongly dislike’ the things someone says or does, or I’m shrinking back in any way, then hate has become a way to handle my pain. The first step is admitting it, then getting help. God and others have had to teach me how to not so quickly turn to hate as a way to handle emotional hurt.
How does God respond to a broken heart?
He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the dimly burning flame. He will encourage the fainthearted, those tempted to despair. He will see full justice given to all who have been wronged.
Isaiah 42:3 (TLB)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
3 To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalm 34:18 (NLT)
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Psalm 51:16-17 (NLT)
Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
Psalm 51:16-17 (Message)
There is no heart God cannot heal. God doesn’t ignore broken hearts; no matter how small the ‘flame’ is in your heart, God can bring it back to life, if you don’t give up.
How God heals your broken heart
God wants to heal us. He knows not only how to heal us, but how to make us stronger through our pain. When we look to God and let him guide us through a difficult time, our hearts will change, we will change, and we can give others hope!
Times in my life when I have turned to God to handle pain instead of other ineffective things, he has always helped and always healed me. I remember working as a pediatric nurse, and when I couldn’t cry for one of my patients who died, I knew I needed help. I sought God, I asked others who had turned to God for help. I read a lot of the the Bible to learn another way to handle pain. I prayed until my heart softened. I remember when I cried for the first time in awhile, I felt like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz getting his heart back. The pain felt good, because I could feel again. God has taught me many times since then his way of handling pain. When I listen, and let him guide me the results are so much better.
Here are 3 ways God teaches us to handle pain that lead to healing for our broken hearts:
a. Honesty in prayer
God made our hearts, so he understands everything we do.
God knows how to heal our hearts, because he made them. He knows when we need truth to help us see things we haven’t seen, he knows when we need comfort, and he knows when we need hope.
When we’re honest with God he can relieve confusion in our hearts and help us know what to do. Jesus offered up loud cries and tears in prayer to God (Hebrews 5:7). He was honest, and God gave him strength to go on. Honesty helps us see and admit our need for God, and allows God to meet the need that is buried in our hearts.
b. Hope in the Word of God
And we will never stop thanking God for this: that when we preached to you, you didn’t think of the words we spoke as being just our own, but you accepted what we said as the very Word of God—which, of course, it was—and it changed your lives when you believed it.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (TLB)
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
Hebrews 4:12-13 (NLT)
The Word of God gives us clarity and changes our lives. As sharp as a sword, it can cut sin out of our lives and leave room for healing. The Bible cuts out bitterness in our hearts and leaves our need for god. It cuts out our self-pity and leaves the hope that things can be different. The Word of God helps us see beyond our emotions, beyond our fears, and beyond our pain.
c. Helping others
3-5 All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
6-7 When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (MSG)
I have found that God’s plan for us to help others in the midst of our pain is one of the most healing things we can experience. When there’s purpose in my pain, then the pain doesn’t have to engulf me. When God helps me, heals me, and guides me through something difficult, then he brings someone ‘along beside me’ that I can help, it provides more healing than anything else.
I remember a point when I became isolated as we were going through understanding and handling my son’s special needs. God brought a couple into our lives that also had children with special needs. Seeing how God changed and healed them, and going through it together with someone, helped us not feel like we were alone or feel like the fear engulfed us. Now, that couple is helping us to get through school systems and IEPs. God always has a plan.
The condition of our hearts really does matter. God will always be working to help our hearts. He doesn’t want us to live a life as a victim or isolate through pain, but rather he wants to heal so that we can become everything he has planned and help others do the same. When we don’t turn to God, our wounds only get bigger and fester. When we go to God we can find hope and healing.
In what areas have you experienced a broken heart? How do you think you can turn to God to let him heal you and give you a purpose in your pain?