It's raw agony in the core of your soul. It's a fire that no
physical pain can compare to. It spreads from your core and fills your mind,
your body, your spirit. You would do anything
to get rid of this deep anguish. And yet, you have the added mental torture of
knowing that there is no medication and there is no cure for the problems of
A few of my very best friends have been handed the lion's
share of heartache recently. One family friend is coping with the loss of a young
child who died in an accident last month. Two other friends are dealing with
recent breakups with their significant others. Both of my friends who were in relationships
thought they were dating their future spouse, and the road to the altar had
appeared relatively smooth until an unexpected and heart-wrenching breakup had
occurred, in both situations.
As I've watched these friends undergo immense suffering
these past few weeks, it has caused me to reflect more deeply on matters of the
heart. Honestly, I've given myself an impossible task. I want to talk about the
pain of a broken heart, and what can be done about it. I want to offer comfort
where there really is none…to speak words when they are few…to explain that
which does not and perhaps cannot make sense.
And yet, on one level or another, each one of us experiences
the pain of heartache in our lives. While there truly are few words that can be
said to offer comfort and relief from such pain, it's important for us to be
reminded that we aren't the only ones who experience such distress. Heartache
is to some degree common human experience, a result of the Fall. It's partly the
fact that God allows us to experience the full consequences of our free will
choices, for better or for worse. Yet there's a third dimension that perhaps we
need to reflect on more: the fact that heartache can be suffering of a unique
nature, since in it and through it we can identify most closely with Christ,
and unite our hearts and our love most intimately to His.
Throughout the Bible, we read stories of men and women who
underwent extreme spiritual and emotional suffering. While their stories and
example cannot take away our
heartache, the common experiences of these men and women can encourage us to
persevere in hope through our own pain.
The Ultimate Test of Love
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in Genesis 22,
where God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son…the son of his
old age…the son promised by God in a covenant oath to make Abraham's
descendants a holy nation…the son destined to give Abraham a heritage as vast
as the stars in the sky and the sand in the sea.
God demands that Abraham offer the greatest act of love – to
sacrifice as a burnt offering upon an altar the "son whom he loved" (Gen. 22:2).
Consider the emotions that must have coursed through Abraham's heart. Can you
envision his confusion, his fear, his desperation? If we think we experience heartache after someone we
love breaks up with us, just imagine how this father felt as he climbed Mount Moria
and prepared an altar for his son.
Those of you familiar with the story of what happened on Mount Moria
know that, at the moment Abraham raised a knife to kill his son, God called out
from the heavens and stayed Abraham's hand. Abraham loved God so much that he was willing to trust and
obey even when the direction of his life and God's plan seemed not only confusing,
but outright nonsensical.
The result of Abraham's sacrifice was the fulfillment of all
God's covenant promises to build His holy nation from Abraham's descendents,
and through Abraham we have the prototype of God the Father's sacrifice for us.
She Knew What It
Meant to Weep
The Bible doesn't give us a lot of detail besides the fact
she was there, but imagine for moment how Mary felt watching the love of her
life endure His passion? Mel Gibson's portrayal of the Blessed Mother as she
held her lifeless Son in her arms at the foot of the cross is particularly
poignant. Here is a woman who knew heartache deeply, personally, intimately.
Meditate on how Mary probably felt that first night after
Christ had been laid in the tomb. I'd imagine that few human beings have wept
from the very depth of their souls as she did that night.
In John 19:26-27, Jesus gave this woman who so deeply knows
the meaning of heartache to us, to be our mother. Contemplate the Seven Sorrows
of Mary, and ask your mother to pray for you. All the motherly love and heartache
she bore for her Son, she now bears for you.
He Wept Over His Best
Do you know what the shortest verse in the whole Bible is?
It's John 11:35: "Jesus wept."
It's the story in the Gospel when Jesus' friend Lazarus
(Mary and Martha's brother) dies. We learn in John 11:33 that Jesus was "deeply
moved in spirit and troubled" when he learned of Lazarus' death, and verse 36
says that the Jews murmured "see how he loved Lazarus!"
This is one of those unique moments in the Bible where we witness
a raw and vulnerable side of Jesus. Our Savior is truly in emotional distress
and heartache over the loss of his beloved friend. While knowing that Jesus
suffered profound heartache does not alleviate our own, perhaps it is a comfort
to meditate on John 11:35, "Jesus wept," and
know that even the Creator of the Universe did not spare himself from the pain
of a lost loved one, and thus knows – first-hand – our own.
Beauty from Ashes
Abraham, Mary, and Jesus Christ are but three among many biblical
figures that stand before us as models for dealing with heartache. Granted, we
still suffer. We still ache inside and wonder how we'll get through another
day. We still question why life doesn't make sense. We still long for the one
we've loved and lost.
Our hope amidst the pain of heartache is that God can use every ounce of pain that we give Him to intensify
our love for Him, to increase grace in our souls, and to help both ourselves
and others get to Heaven. Read what our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says
about acceptance of suffering in his latest encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope):
can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It
is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might
involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing
truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which
there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and
abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from
suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it,
maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered
with infinite love." (Section 37)
Be encouraged that God always brings good out of suffering
offered to Him, even if it doesn't make sense right now. Learn from Abraham: God
brought a chosen nation into existence through his faithfulness. Learn from
Mary: God gave us a Savior through her obedience of faith. Learn from Jesus,
who gave us a prototype and hope for our own resurrection and eternal life
through his friend, Lazarus.
Do not be afraid to weep with Abraham, with Mary, with
Jesus. It will not take away your pain, but sometimes it just helps to know….
You are not alone.