The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. – Psalm 34:18-19
As I flipped through television channels this morning at breakfast, I stopped on a news story describing a car accident. A young woman was driving home with her baby strapped into a car seat in the back when, suddenly, an out-of-control tractor-trailer plowed into the back of the car, killing the child on impact. The headline spoke of the “latest heartbreaking local story”.
The tragedy horrified me; the term heartbreaking didn’t sound nearly strong enough.
Perhaps you’ve been there. You have struggled to find words to adequately describe the depth of your own heartbreaking moment.
- Heartbroken that your child has wandered away from the faith.
- Heartbroken that your husband wants a divorce
- Heartbroken that doctors have diagnosed your child with a terminal illness
Somehow, the three-syllable word seems appallingly weak – and doesn’t even begin to touch the pain. That kind of agony changes the landscape of your heart.
Overcome is a strong word that fits well into the vocabulary of the heartbroken. It speaks to something being out of control. As women, we find it hard to accept the reality that we are often powerless. We want to make a difference in a hurtful situation, to do something to help, to protect, to soothe. But times come for all of us when we can do nothing. Nothing at all. And at those dark times, sorrow overcomes us and we feel we won’t survive.
The Letters on My Desk
I have the letters revealing our pain on my desk and on my computer, each one telling another story of heartbreak.
- “My husband has left me and our three children. What do I tell them? They are heartbroken.
- “My son is in prison. I did everything I knew to do. I raised him in the church. My heart is breaking.”
- “My daughter’s cancer has returned. She has gone through so much, and just when we thought she was clear, it’s back. Why does God allow such heartbreak?’
These are devastating questions. The word overcome doesn’t seem to scratch the surface of such primal pain, so we dig deeper.
Overwhelming sorrow or grief > deeply afflicted
Overwhelm: To overspread or crush beneath something violent and weighty that covers or encompasses the whole. To immerse and bear down: in a figurative sense; as to be overwhelmed with cares, afflictions or business. (Websters)
If you have ever walked through a personal storm where you find yourself saying, “I’m not going to make it through this one,” your spirit will resonate with these words:
The grief component in heartache can lead to terrible isolation. I’ve read that when a couple loses a child, the suffering often acts more like a wedge to drive them apart than a glue to hold them together. That tends to be as true for Christian couples as for those who profess no faith. We all deal with pain in different ways, but when we add prayer and hope and faith to the equation, seemingly to no avail, we can easily allow our sorrow to drive us into our own solitary corners.
One might hope that the place where heartache is understood and honored more than any other would be the community of faith. But I have arrived at a more sobering conclusion:
At times, the Church has no idea how to handle deep grief and heartbreak.
Not long ago I met a woman who had lost a child in a random accident. A few months later she told her Bible study group that on some mornings she honestly didn’t think she could make it. Someone saw her cue and declared, “Just remember this verse: ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!'”
The grieving woman took a risk and voiced her pain, and instead of being heard and given the space and grace to struggle, she was silenced by a verse that clearly she hadn’t lived up to. And how could she miss the clear implication that if you’re not strong, then you’re not relying on Christ.
How unutterably sad.
God didn’t give us His Word to use like a weapon or some kind of Hallmark card we can pass across the fence and keep some distance.
It is a weapon, but one designed for use against our enemy, not against our sisters. It is meant for encouragement, not for pat answers in the midst of real pain. Just because something is true doesn’t mean you must voice that truth in all circumstances. Shortly before His arrest, Jesus told His grieving disciples, I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear – John 16:12. His followers really needed to hear certain truths – things that would eventually help them – but hearing them at that moment would have crushed their spirits. So Jesus held His peace.
Oh, that we would read and embrace that memo!
Why do we do that? Why do we try to “contain” those who suffer or attempt to “fix” them? Do we think suffering is an embarrassment? Do we feel personally ineffective in our faith if we can’t make the pain go away? Do we think it detracts from the power and goodness of God when one of His daughters limps around wounded?
For whatever reason, heartbreak makes us most uncomfortable.
I have talked to women who have miscarried and heard how others have basically told them to “hurry up and get over it.” People seem to have a better knack for dealing with acute illness than with chronic conditions. Short shelf life, okay. Ongoing situation, not so much.
Scripture speaks very clearly about how believers should respond to overwhelming heartache. Paul wrote the familiar verse,
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2
Just three verses later he wrote, For each will have to bear his own load.
At first reading, these verses might seem to contradict each other; but a better understanding of the underlying Greek words clears up the problem. The Greek term translated burdens refers to the thing used for carrying a ship’s load. In other words, no one should be expected to carry that huge weight alone. The term rendered load, on the other hand, speaks of the heavy packages we all have to carry at times – uncomfortable, perhaps, but necessary and manageable.
Paul tells us that when someone walks through the kind of heartbreak that feels suffocating, crushing, and overwhelming, the body of Christ must move in to help bear the weight. No one should have to try to carry such a burden alone.
While we might struggle to know how to respond to someone’s outpouring of heartbreak and grief, the Bible is brutally honest about the reality of human heartbreak – so honest I wonder whether we secretly wish to perform a lumpectomy on certain portions of Scripture. These passages feel too raw, too violent, too intense in their description of the storm wreaking havoc on a human soul:
My heart is troubled and restless. Days of suffering torment me. I walk in gloom, without sunlight. I stand in the public square and cry for help. – Job 30:27-28
‘O God my Rock’, I cry, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies? Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, ‘Where is this God of yours?’ – Psalm 42.9-10
One of the bleakest and most heart wrenching of the psalms sits right in the middle of the book. Many psalms begin with a cry for help, but nearly all transition to a confident belief that God has heard and has answered. Not Psalm 88. It begins and ends in turmoil.
O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to You by day. I come to You at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in the grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave You have engulfed me. – Psalm 88:1-7
If you wait for a lighter mood, you will wait for a long time. This is how it ends:
I have been sick and close to death since my youth. I stand helpless and desperate before Your terrors. Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me. Your terrors have paralyzed me. They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long. They have engulfed me completely. You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend. – Psalm 88:15-18
Now, that is bleak.
Why would the Lord include such a dark, depressing song in Scripture? (Yes, it is a song.)
Because there are certain storms in life that bear witness to its truth.
There are times in all our lives when the heartache seems unrelenting. Haven’t you had moments like that? Haven’t you known times when you begged God to intervene, knowing He is powerful enough to change anything; but as far as you could see, He didn’t change anything? I know I have.
I walked through a tough situation in 2012 with some friends who had been like family to me for years – and then we had a parting of ways. I don’t think anyone was to blame. It was simply one of those difficult seasons where we each had to choose which direction to take and allow others to make their own choices. If all that sounds neat and tidy – it wasn’t. When we chose different paths, I found myself grieving for months at the abruptness of the separation.
I had a hard time sleeping at night. I woke up from terrible nightmares. At times it felt as if my heart were being torn in two. At my annual physical, my doctor expressed concern about my heart rate and sent me to a cardiologist. After batches of tests, the doctor told me that while I had a healthy heart, my heart rate had spiraled out of control.
“Have you lost someone close to you recently?” he asked, oblivious to my story. Even though no one had died, my loss felt like a death. I had no idea grief could have such enormous physical ramification. I think that’s what Gabriel Garcia Marquez meant when he wrote, “Your heart and your stomach and your whole insides felt empty and hollow and aching.”
If you have lost someone you love or walked through a divorce, it can feel as though that furiously personal storm destroyed everything that mattered to you, and you wonder how you will survive.
The Deepest Pains of All
As women, we usually find it easier than men to talk about how we feel. But some pains go so deep and feel so personal that no one else can fully understand our heartache. Even the most empathetic of friends or family can only go so far and no further. If you have not visited that particular place, you cannot possibly know the bitterness of that well.
And it’s there, in that place of quiet desperation, that the enemy loves to whisper from his festering cauldron of lies,
“God’s not listening to you.”
“You are all alone!”
“God doesn’t love you.”
“You’re not going to make it through this one!”
Perhaps you’re there right now, barely holding on by a thread. I have been there. I know the dank, bitter smell of that place and how hopeless everything seems. But here’s the truth – and I know you might find this hard to take in right now –
I also know what it feel like to have Christ walk you out of that cave, by the power of His Word and through other women brave enough to tell their stories. I have seen that transformation in countless lives, in women brought to the very edge of themselves. who found strength instead of destruction.
No, it is never a quick path.
But it is a faithful one.
God has promised that whatever you face, you are not alone. He knows your pain. He loves you. And He will bring you through the fire.
Excerpted with permission from The Storm Inside by Sheila Walsh, copyright Sheila Walsh.
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What about you? Are you in a tsunami of pain? Are you struggling to bear an impossible burden of suffering and feeling alone? We are not meant to carry such weight by ourselves. May we pray for you today? You’re invited to leave your prayer requests on our blog and my team and I will pray for you. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full
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