Nothing is more painful than a broken heart. When this kind of sorrow gets deep into a person’s soul, all troubles are magnified, blessings are unseen, and it seems almost impossible to bear the daily experience of life. Getting out of bed is misery. Living is torment. A broken heart can cause such an intense reaction that many of us feel our lives have been completely stripped of meaning. Jobs, hobbies, and friends no longer hold any joy for us. In fact, some even experience physical pain with a tight chest, nervous stomach, or terrible insomnia. Nobody understands a broken heart but one whose heart has been broken. I can think of nothing sadder than someone whose heart is broken.
When someone has been disappointed and broken, it affects all of his or her relationships. A broken heart could just be the cause of that cutting remark someone made to you, or even the rude gesture someone made out of a car window. There’s a passage in the Old Testament that really comforts me when I am feeling the weight of loneliness and sorrow that sometimes comes over me. It also comes to mind when I’m wondering how I can possibly make a difference in someone’s life who is hurting so badly. Here’s my poetic interpretation of Isaiah 61:1-3:
He hath sent me to bind up the broken,
To cry to the captives: Behold, ye are free!
‘Tis the year of Jehovah’s good graces
Then eyes that are fettered, at last they shall see.
Day of our God’s just avenging:
All mourners in Zion shall comforted be.
I shall give to them beauty for ashes,
The oil of rejoicing in place of pain,
The garment of praise for sad spirit;
That strong trees of righteousness they might remain.
Oaks of Jehovah’s own planting,
That ever may be for His glory and gain!
(BiV’s Isaiah 61:1-3)
In the Garden of Eden narrative, we are taught that there is an opposite to everything. Joy and sorrow are opposites, so are pleasure and pain. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened and they were able to experience all of these things. In the Isaiah passage above, it speaks of eyes being opened through the experiencing of some of these opposites: beauty/ashes, rejoicing/pain, praise/sadness. These figures show us the value of living in a world where suffering exists. A broken heart opens us to insights that we wouldn’t be able to see without it.
The Messiah figure in this passage also opens us up to embrace dependence. I think humans have a tendency to adulate self-reliance. With this comes pride and even solitude. As we become more open to dependence — on Divine guidance, on a Savior and on each other, we learn love and community. These are things which can heal the brokenness that is a part of living in a fallen world. Isaiah 61 is a Messianic prophecy which teaches of a Savior who is sent forth by God’s spirit to replace pain with rejoicing, to give beauty for ashes. But it also teaches us that we can go forth in the same spirit to bind up the broken.
I heard a story about a young man who proclaimed to have the most beautiful, flawless heart. As the crowd watched, he bared his chest to show a shining, golden, perfectly shaped heart. Then an old man challenged him. He came forward to show the crowd what his heart looked like. It was beating strongly, but was misshapen and full of holes and scars. It appeared that some pieces had been removed and others had been put in, but didn’t fit quite right. The old man looked at the young man, “I would never trade my heart for yours. Every scar represents a person I’ve given my love — I tear out a piece and give it to them. Sometimes they give me a piece of their broken heart, which I fit along jagged edges. When the person doesn’t return my love, a painful gouge is left. Those gouges stay open, reminding me that I love these people too. Perhaps someday they will return and fill that space.”
Over the years, my heart has come to resemble that old man’s. What a Messiah means to me is recognizing this connectedness and interdependence. It is knowing I am not as complete with a golden flawless heart that has never felt the great wrenchings. It is opening myself to love and sorrow and rejection and recognizing that I can’t do it all on my own. And then it is doing my best to give others a piece of my heart to help heal theirs.