June 25, 2000

HEALING BROKEN HEARTS

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

Heartbreak happens. It happens a lot.  And heartbreak hurts. It hurts a lot.  Maybe your first heartbreak happened when your dog or cat or other pet died.  That may have been your first heartbreak, but not the last–and not the worst.

A child cries, “But Mom, why do you have to get divorced? Why can’t you and Dad stay together?” As the marriage breaks, the child’s heart breaks, and the thought comes, “If only I had been a better kid, maybe Mom and Dad would have stayed together.”

A girl falls in love with a boy and is thrilled when he asks her out on a date. They really seem to hit it off. After a few dates, he tells her how special she is and even says that he loves her. She says that she loves him too. Then he says that if they really love each other, they should prove it by going all the way. They do. Their dating and sexual involvement lasts a few months, and then one day he tells her that it would be best if they break up. A week later she sees him with another girl, and it breaks her heart.

A mother and father stand in a waiting room, gasping, “No, doctor, not leukemia!  It can’t be. Not our child! There must be some mistake.  Leukemia!  There must be something you can do.” Or the telephone rings, and the voice on the other end tells you that someone dear to you has been suddenly killed.

Isn’t heartbreak awful?  The lump in your throat, the sick feeling in your stomach, the way your mind spins around and around and keeps going back to the same thoughts, the numbness and the horrible feeling that nothing matters and that things will never be the same again, the feeling of being alone with nobody else who quite understands where you’re at or how you feel.

Heartbreak happens in different ways. Your heart may break under blows being suffered right now, or your heart may break under the weight of the past, memories that go way back and that you’ve never been able to deal with. Memories of being mistreated or molested by someone you trusted can leave you feeling rotten and unwilling to trust anyone. Memories of evil things you yourself have done can crush you with guilt and regret.

Where can we find healing for broken hearts?  Who can make our shattered spirits whole again?  Many different things can break our hearts, but only one thing can restore them again: the touch of the living God.  The Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Those are wonderful words, but maybe they ring hollow for you.  Maybe you have a hard time believing anybody can pick you up and put you back together, even God.  But please, keep listening.  You may have your doubts about it, but once you know what God is really like and grasp the way he works, the healing can begin, and you’ll find that the Lord is all you need.

Who God Is

Who is God? The Lord is a God of mind-boggling power, and at the same time, he’s a God of tender love and compassion.  Psalm 147 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord, and mighty in power.”  The Lord is God of galaxies and broken hearts. He controls outer space and yet concerns himself with the inner space of heartbroken people.

But maybe you’re thinking, “That sounds good, but I don’t know…  I still feel like God is far away, like he’s forgotten all about me.”  Sometimes a few verses from the Bible just don’t seem like enough. They ring hollow and don’t ease your pain. Maybe you’ve heard great-sounding statements from the Bible before, but they have left you unmoved. If so, you’re not the only one to feel that way.

In Isaiah 49 the Bible records a message in which God promises to rescue and restore his people.  God starts the message by saying, “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you” (v. 8). He goes on to speak of the great things he will do for them.  After that rousing message, there’s a call to sing a hymn:  “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth;  burst into song, O mountains!  For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (v. 13).

But how do the people react?  Do they shout for joy?  Do they feel God’s comfort and compassion?  Far from it!  They say, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). The people have been through so much, their lives are so shattered, their hearts are so broken, that they keep thinking that God is far away, that he’s not really going to help them.    Maybe you know the feeling.

Why is it that we have such a hard time trusting that God will do what he says he’ll do?  Well, part of the reason is that we experience many bad things, and when those experiences seem like the dominating reality in our lives, we don’t believe things can ever be different.  We don’t believe God is greater than our circumstances.  At that point, we need to realize again that the God of the galaxies is strong–far stronger than any bad thing in our lives.

But there’s another reason we often have a hard time trusting God: we have a hard time trusting anybody.  If you’ve been deeply hurt by people close to you, you learn not to trust others or let them get too close.  If your mom is hooked on alcohol or drugs, if she makes all sorts of promises and then breaks them just when you need her most, you learn not to believe her promises.  So why should you believe God’s promises?  If you grow up counting on your dad and then he divorces your mom and you hardly ever see him anymore, it breaks your heart.  If you can’t count on your father here on earth, how can you count on a Father in heaven?

Being able to trust our parents is so important that when they fail, it’s hard to trust anybody, even God.  No matter what God says, no matter how good it sounds, we just say, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”  At that point, we need to hear what God says in Isaiah 49.  He says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?”  Not likely, is it?  But sometimes it happens.  However, says God, “Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 15-16).

If you are one of God’s people, he loves you so much that he tattoos you on the palms of his hands.  He can’t possibly forget you.  If you don’t think you can trust God, think again!  Just look at the imprint on the palms of Jesus’ hands, the nail wounds that have your name written on them.

If you want to get beyond your hurts and your broken heart, then don’t picture God merely in terms of the people you know.  If you think God is somehow like the people who abuse and betray you, then of course you won’t trust him.  But the Lord says in the Bible, “I am God and not man–the Holy One among you” (Hosea 11:9). “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19) People are infected with evil, but God is holy.  People break promises, but God keeps his promises. So don’t get your picture of God from looking at the people around you.

There’s only one person you can look at to get a perfectly clear picture of what God is like, and that person is Jesus.  In Jesus God became a man.  In Jesus we see just how far God will go to heal broken hearts.  God keeps his promises, even it if costs him everything.  Jesus would rather die than abandon his people.

Who is God?  He’s the one who says, “I live in a high and holy place but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). Who is God? He’s the One who is infinitely beyond you and yet closer than your own skin, the Lord of galaxies and of broken hearts, the One who is both strong and loving, the One who is unlike anybody you know and yet who became like you in Jesus and felt the sorrows you feel.  This Lord Jesus comes to you now, with nail prints in his hands and resurrection glory in his face, and he promises to bind up the brokenhearted.

How God Heals

Now that we’ve seen who God is, let’s consider how God heals. What does God do to make our broken hearts whole again?  Well, let’s think about our deepest needs.  We all need at least three things to experience health and wholeness. We need a sturdy story, promising possibilities, and renewed relationships.

  1. A Sturdy Story

The first great need is for a sturdy story.  The story you believe about yourself shapes your identity, your idea of who you are. Let me just ask: Who are you?  You may think of yourself as the person who is married to so-and-so, or the person with such-and-such a career, or the parent of this and that child.  But who are you, really?  Who are you if your mate dies or leaves you?  Who are you if your career falls apart?  Who are you when your children move out of the house or turn against you?

Or maybe you’re a victim of abuse.  You may have moods that make you totally different from one day to the next.  Some people even develop multiple personalities to cope with abuse.  Who are you?  Are you just a bundle of moods bouncing from day to day and from one event to the next?  Or is there a story that can help you understand your world and establish your own identity?

Whether you’ve been through a major change in your life, or you’re dealing with the aftereffects of abuse, or you’re just trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in this world, you need a sturdy story–and God gives you one. In the Bible God faith gives you a story that shows the big picture, and faith in God gives you a place in that story.

God gives us the true story of where everything comes from:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  God gives us the true story of who we are as human beings: we’re not accidents or junk; God made us in his image and designed us for eternity. God gives us the true story of why so many things go wrong: human sin has brought dreadful evil and devastating damage and death into God’s creation and into our own lives.

But that’s not the end of the story.  God also gives us the true story of how he set out to rescue us from our ruin.  He gives us the true story of his love and his mighty acts among his people throughout history.  He gives us the true story of his mightiest acts of all in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He gives us the true story of the church, the family of God.  He gives us a happy ending to the story: a heavenly home for all who belong to his family. And by faith that story becomes your story.

This is the only story big enough and strong enough and sure enough to build your life on. If you don’t have a story that makes sense of the world and of your own life, you will feel confused, unsure, and fragmented. You need the gospel story. You can’t write your own story; you need access to the story God has written. You can’t define your own character; you need the character God has chosen for you. God gives you all that when he gives you the gift of faith in the true story revealed in the Bible. Through faith God gives you the confidence that your own story is part of his grand story and plan to work all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

Your parents, your career, your spouse, your children–all have a place in your story, but they’re not your whole story. Your sins and failures and heartbreaks have a place in the unfolding of your story, but they don’t get the last word.  God does.  Believe the story God gives you in the Bible. Trust in the Lord Jesus as the main character in your story. Even when many aspects of your life are changing, even when things happen that you can’t understand, even when your very personality is shaken, faith provides a sturdy story that helps make sense of life and gives you an identity and a purpose. The bigger your troubles have been, the more God’s power shines forth in giving you victory. The worse your sins have been, the more God’s mercy is magnified when he forgives and transforms you. Whatever chapters have already been written, Christ can make your story a good one. Count on it.

  1. Promising Possibilities

That brings us to the second thing we all need: promising possibilities.  We need a future.  We need to expect the best.  In other words, we need hope.  When you’ve been through a horrible trauma or a tragic loss, you may feel like you’ll never be happy again.  Counseling centers are full of people who feel only darkness and depression and despair, who feel they have no future.  How does God meet this need?

God gives us promising possibilities, possibilities based on his promises and not on our immediate circumstances.  This doesn’t mean we won’t have our share of sadness.  We still have troubles, and we still cry, because we’re still living in a broken world.  Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble.” He doesn’t say you might have trouble.  He says, “You will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Bible says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:18-19).

God promises to rescue his people and give a brighter future.  After a time of grief, loss and devastation, God gives new energy and a fresh sense that life is worth living. And these renewals of hope are just a small taste of the great renewal to come. The Lord promises a grand future for his people, when every tear will be wiped away and all things will be made new.  Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that nothing can stop God from keeping his promise.  Even death itself can’t destroy the future God has in mind for his people.  No matter how dark your situation, no matter how final it all seems, the God of resurrection comes to you with promising possibilities, with the gift of a hope that can’t be quenched.  The Bible says, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  God’s gift of hope doesn’t always take away our sadness right away, but it does help us to see a brighter future.

  1. Renewed Relationships

A third need we all have is renewed relationships.

Or, to put it another way, we need love.

It’s an awful thing to be alone, to be close to nobody, to have no one who really understands you.  One reason so many people in our society go to professional therapists is that they don’t have any real friends they can trust with their hurts and their deepest secrets.  Many of these people would never need a paid professional if they had someone they could trust to sit down with them and listen and care about them.  A therapist often serves the function of a paid friend, the one person in your life who takes the time to listen and care.

Therapy often fills a gap left by a lack of relationships, and a good deal of therapy is devoted to discovering what damaged relationships may lie at the root of a person’s problems.  When you’re carrying a load of guilt over something you’ve done in the past or some sin that you keep on doing, it spoils your relationship with God and poisons your relationships with others. When you’re carrying around resentment over the way someone else treated you, it spoils your relationships and eats at your insides and threatens to destroy you.  How can you get beyond the bad things you’ve done?  How can you get beyond the bad things that have been done to you?  How can shattered relationships be restored so that you can live in love?

The only answer is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Jesus died to take away the sins of the world and dispose of the garbage that pollutes our relationships.  The cross is where God dumps all the garbage that exists in your relationship to him, and the cross is also where you need to dump all the garbage that exists in your relationship to others.  The cross is the place of forgiveness, the place to dump all your guilt and all your resentment.

Much of our heartbreak isn’t just due to something bad that’s happened to us.  Often it also involves something bad we’ve done ourselves.  For example, if you’re a single looking for love and you go to bed with someone who then dumps you, you have been sinned against by that person, but you have also sinned against yourself by not saving yourself for marriage as God commands. You can’t just blame the person who dumped you.  You also need to take responsibility for yourself and for your sin.  That can be hard.  Often we’re too proud or too angry or too afraid to come clean.  But Jesus changes all that.  He paid the price to restore and renew your relationship with God.  You don’t have to bring anything to God except yourself and your guilty, broken heart.  The Bible says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

God’s love sets you free from the sin of self-righteousness and gives you the grace to admit your sins and to ask for forgiveness, knowing that God will accept you in Christ.  God’s love also sets you free from the sin of self-protectiveness, of never daring to love too deeply or risk being hurt, and gives you the grace to let go of resentment and fear and dare to love again.  What a healing takes place when God sets you free from guilt to enjoy his love again!  And what a healing takes place when God sets you free from resentment and empowers you to love others and to experience their love!  Restored relationships are God’s greatest gift of all, the gift of love.

Once God begins healing your broken heart, he also uses you to bring healing to others.  It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, to think only of your own pain, but once God begins to heal you, you look beyond yourself to the needs of others.  They too need a sturdy story, and you can share your faith.  They too need promising possibilities, and you can share your hope.  They too need renewed relationships, and you can share the love that flows from God.

Faith, hope, and love–this is God’s medicine for shattered spirits.  This is the healing touch of the God of galaxies and broken hearts, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

PRAYER

O Lord, heal the broken hearts of people listening to me now. Brokenhearted people don’t just need words about you; they need you.  Give yourself to them.  They don’t just need words about faith, hope, and love; they need the realities, which only you can give.  Send your Spirit to touch and fill and bind up the brokenhearted, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.