A Broken Heart

When we started our Lenten season (back on Valentine’s Day) one of the Ash Wednesday reading’s that jumped out to me was in the book of Joel. In Joel 2:13, the prophet tells us, “Turn back to the Lord with your broken heart.” As we’ve been reading the Psalms during Lent, I’ve been surprised how often the expression “broken heart” seems to pop up in so many places.

Psalm 34 tells us, “The lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 51 tells us, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 69 tells us, “Scorn has broken my heart and left me helpless, I looked for sympathy, but there was none; for comforters, but I found none.”

Heartbreak has to be one of the most universal experiences as a human. To love someone—be it a romance, a family member, or friend—and lose them is a reality of life no one can avoid. Perhaps the Psalmist was trying to tell us that God is a god of love and cares about a broken heart.

To escape the unrepentant heat of Saigon, I’ve been watching the movies that were nominated for Oscars (a little late, I know.) Last week I watched Call me by Your Name. While the movie didn’t win anything—and I’ll be honest, I personally found the film artistic, but a bit sleepy—there is a scene between the main character Elio and his father that certainly was worthy of recognition. In the scene, Elio has just experienced his first teenage heartbreak and his father is trying to comfort him. Here is the full clip, but to jump to the key points, his father says,

“Right now you may not want to feel anything. Maybe you never wanted to feel anything…but feel something you obviously did….In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, and pray that their sons land on their feet. But I am not such a parent. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should, that we go bankrupt by the age of 30, and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing, so as not to feel anything—what a waste! …Right now, there is sorrow—pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy that you felt.” 

I think the father’s speech touches on an unfortunate reality of our world. In attempt to escape heartbreak, there is a temptation to dull the pain, ignore it, or avoid it. But if we kill the pain and loss, or numb it, or hide from it, we risk losing not only the hurt, but also the ability to feel joy. Darkness helps us appreciate light. Hunger helps us appreciate a simple meal. And heartbreak helps us appreciate love.

During the Last Supper, Jesus gives some important reminders in the Gospel of John to his disciples about heartbreak and love. We celebrate these powerful truths throughout holy week.

First, Jesus throws out centuries of Jewish law saying “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate this reminder by remembering how Jesus showed love by washing the feet of those who would deny him, betray him, and break his heart.

Then, hours before his crucifixion, Jesus tells the disciples, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). On Good Friday, we celebrate how Jesus showed that love requires sacrifice, by giving his life for those that he loves. Not only did he die, but he endured immense, excruciating pain the process.

Finally, Jesus offers hope, by telling the disciples, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And on Easter, we celebrate this resurrection truth, that even though there is heartbreak in our world, the end is always just a new beginning.

May your heart be broken this Easter season with the realities of this world. And may you be comforted by the promise that God cares about your pain and has given us a resurrection, so that those who believe in him will not end in heartbreak, but find tremendous joy!

Zach Herzog

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