Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Value of a Broken Heart

“May my heart be broken.”

Last night I visited the World Vision Experience: AIDS at the Super Vineyard in Springdale. Before I say anything else, I highly encourage anyone and everyone to go. The Experience takes no more than half an hour, and it will open your eyes and impact your perceptions significantly. The Experience is here until Sunday, June 27th, open until 9:00 pm each night (Sunday it closes at 8). If you think you have an understanding of the AIDS crisis on this planet (and specifically in Africa), go anyway. You will not regret it.

The quote I included above is one I ran across at the end of the Experience, and one I will come back to frequently throughout this post. The final part of the walkthrough includes a wall where visitors are encouraged to voice a prayer on paper and tack it to the wall, where it can be used as encouragement to others. As I went to add mine to the many already present, one leaped out at me among the rest. Surrounded by prayers that filled up pages, expressing emotions and beliefs and encouragement, a single line on a single page made me stop. “May my heart be broken.” I could not look away and I could not focus on anything else. Nothing more needed to be said. In that moment, a wave of understanding and emotion washed over me.

Each of us has experienced heartbreak at some point in life. I know that my heart has been broken, mended and broken again many times – a sort of wash, rinse, repeat cycle. Society has created within us an aversion to heartbreak; this certainly makes sense, considering that heartbreak is one of the most painful things any of us can experience in our lives. In this culture, we work endlessly to remove the possibility of heartbreak; one night stands, monotonous desk jobs and a suburban lifestyle are all ways we try to compartmentalize our lives and live it without emotion. A one night stand without a name or a connection carries with it no emotion, no possibility of a broken heart the next morning. Maybe emptiness, but not heartbreak. By refusing to connect with people on an emotional level, we eliminate the power they have over us to break our hearts, to make an imprint on our emotional state. We attempt to live our lives as emotional hermits in a world that is begging to witness real, pure, raw emotion.

This attempt to live our emotional lives like a hermit on Times Square is understandable. Certainly each time my heart is broken I am less willing to make my entire heart available to the next person or the next cause. If I dive headfirst emotionally into a romantic relationship and end up getting burned, odds are that the next time I might just dip my toe in the water. I will be much more cautious, less willing to take the chance. As a good friend of mine pointed out, the first break up we have is always the hardest, and we will likely never love as freely or ‘throw caution to the wind’ like we did in our first relationship. She correctly noted that this is explained by our ability to love without fear in our first relationship; there was no history of getting burned, therefore no fear of it.

I believe that the important truth we have been ignoring is the benefit of having our hearts broken. I know, it sounds backwards. Even with all of the pain and sadness it can cause, I firmly believe that there are some immeasurable positives that can come from such an experience.

The first benefit that comes with having my heart broken is something it tells me about myself. If I do not care about something, it cannot break my heart. It simply is not possible. However, having my heart broken tells me that I cared, that I was emotionally invested. In the aftermath of a Finals Game 7 loss to the Lakers, Doc Rivers (coach of the Celtics) had the following to say (per "There's a lot of crying in that locker room," Rivers said. "A lot of people who care. I don't think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That's a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared." They were emotionally drained and broken, in a real way. When this happens to me, it tells me that my emotions were not fraudulent, that I can trust myself to be passionate about something and care about it deeply without worrying that the emotions are not real. The importance of being able to trust my emotions as real is huge. If I were to lose my best friend and not bat an eye or shed a tear, if I were to respond to losing a relationship with someone I loved without emotion, I would be forced to question my ability to feel and to invest in someone emotionally in a real way. Having my heart broken lets me know that I am capable of real emotion.

Another benefit to having your heart broken is the ability to be healed. I would not claim that being healed from a broken heart is certain or easy, but when it happens the relief and peace that comes with it is unmatched. The few times I have experienced that healing have been some of the most hopeful, peaceful and exciting times of my life. Some might argue that the hope coupled with being healed is not worth the pain associated with having your heart broken; I disagree. Few things are as valuable as hope, and new hope is a commodity that cannot be replicated. As I have written before, hope is perhaps the most important thing I can hold onto. “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Without hope, I cannot have passion. Without passion, my life is meaningless.

The third benefit is the one I am concerned with the most, as I believe it to be the most important and as having the largest impact. The simple premise is this: I believe that without having our hearts broken, we cannot experience compassion for others in a real way. That truth is what I realized as I wondered at the wisdom contained in that single sentence on the prayer wall. “May my heart be broken.” I have written many times before about my search for my passions, and how I believe that part of my purpose is to fight against poverty and economic injustice. The thing is, my heart was never truly broken for victims of poverty or AIDS or war. Sure, I felt bad. But no one wants to hear about genocide; it isn’t proper table conversation. Average churchgoers don't want to hear about the slums and ghettos all over the United States; instead we just ignore the drug and poverty problems in our country and blame the issues on a lack of morality or something along those lines.

For years I have wanted to do my part, but I think it came more from a sense of duty than anything else. I saw a problem, I wanted to be a part of the solution. That’s how my mind functions, and that is how my beliefs on social justice developed. But yesterday, hearing the stories I heard and seeing the problems as nakedly as I have ever seen, my heart broke. My passion to fight for these people isn’t coming from a sense of duty anymore. It is coming from a broken heart that feels immense compassion for them. No, I do not understand what they are going through, and I almost certainly never will. But when my heart broke for them, my perspective shifted. While my passion for action and change will not be different, the motive behind it is. It isn’t an equation anymore; now I feel. Now I ache. I hope that all of us have the opportunity to experience a moment of heartbreak. The compassion I felt last night, the compassion I feel right now - I want to see that imprinted on other people. If we begin to ache for the marginalized, impoverished and forgotten, we will seek out ways to make an impact, be it at home or abroad; if we begin to feel compassion, in a real way, maybe we will actually do something.

May all of our hearts be broken. And so on…


  1. Ah, I keep trying to wrap my mind around heartbreak and how we're supposed to move forward, but I never thought of it in a simply positive light! This is great!

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  2. Ah yes, that's what I meant. Pain can be such a good thing. It always teaches something... and I think we need to learn to stop fearing pain. because you will always learn something. I hope that our hearts will be broken. And that we don't fight it. We don't try to squirm.. because it IS uncomfortable. May we not be afraid to feel, and care! Deeply!


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  4. That's just some mind games to make it easy to live with. The truth is that it hurts and it hurts a lot and thats all about so called "broken heart", there is nothing more or litteraly nothing of you want.

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