The wholeness of a broken heart

There is nothing so whole as a broken heart,”

wrote the Kotzker Rebbe, a great master of Hasidic Judaism. While I love that saying, I also struggle with it.

In my own life, I often reacted to the reality or threat of having my heart broken by shutting down in defensiveness and fear. I used my words and intellect in ways that hindered my mind from connecting with my heart. I hid my pain, sadness, and vulnerability behind efforts to look good, be “right,” and make others approve of me. Most of the time, I denied that my heart was broken at all. I believed that if I just kept moving fast enough on the outside, I would never have to feel or face the gaping wounds which were sucking me dry on the inside.

The soul-sickness inevitably caught up with me when the devastation of my outer life finally began to match the bankruptcy of my inner life. The destruction was so sudden, shocking, and complete that I began to experience being broken as a kind of relief. The game was over. As Springsteen sings, there was “nowhere to run, babe, no place to hide.” There is freedom in having one’s choices narrowed to life or death.

“Die before you die,” says the Sufi mystic, Rumi. It felt as if I were dying a thousand deaths those sweltering nights of late South Carolina summer when my “old” life evaporated into the mists of the Blue Ridge foothills. For some days, I didn’t know if I had it in me to awaken with the morn. As grace would have it (and this is a story for another day), out of the ashes of despair were born the seeds of surrender, healing, and peace.

Accepting my brokenness as a gift has transformed my understanding of what it means to be a pilgrim on the Jesus Way. Remaining in touch with my broken heart has opened for me a path of living the Christ life with the wholeness of my being. God loves me, changes me, and uses me to touch others through ALL of who I am: my passions, relationships, failures, gifts, weakness. sexuality, spirituality, intellect, body, thoughts, finances, politics, work, emotions, dreams, etc. In other words, in my brokenness, I have discovered what it means to be a whole, beloved child of God on the Way of Jesus.

This is all a long way of introducing my next post which will be about one of my patients, Mike, who died earlier today. What happened during Mike’s dying over the past few weeks is one of the most remarkable examples I have ever encountered of God’s love for us at the “end of our rope.”

On one level, Mike’s story is one of unimaginable pain, alienation, and destruction. Through the eyes of grace, however, the saga of Mike’s last days in the valley of the shadow of death is one of healing, wholeness, and hope and one which defies the power of words to describe. But try, I shall. Stay tuned.

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