Sometimes it is hard to think of pain as ever having a point or being a good thing. Sometimes this makes us incredibly angry and that is honestly OK. On the other hand pain can sometimes be the basic sign that change needs to happen. Sometimes our hearts need to break so we understand exactly how God feels about justice, so we can offer ourselves as the tools for change.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
C S Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Many years ago I took up the Slum Survivor challenge with a group of strangers and in 5 days we became a little family. We made a home out of boxes and a little plastic sheeting, we ate rice daily and treasured the few luxuries we might have won, we prayed and praised together by creating music with tubs and sticks, we lost everything we had and were tormented by those who mocked us night after night with mud bombs, we washed in cold water in the early hours of the morning, and we huddled together for warmth in order to sleep.
It was on the day that we had lost all our food, seen our home flattened by a forklift truck, suffered the rain and wind, and found out (although fiction) that one of us had been told he had HIV and had been hiding it from us and suffering the limitations. We went to the main tent to join others for the worship dirty, smelly, cold, and hungry. I felt my heart break. As I sat surrounded by music I realised that in just over 24 hours my challenge would be over, and yet there were billions of people, many of them children, who would be suffering this as normal in their short lives. I saw faces flash across my mind and learnt what the Jews meant by compassion: my insides felt like they were tearing themselves apart and I was in floods of tears, burying my head in my hands. This was God’s lesson to me: just a little piece of how His heart hurts for the state of the world.
So what happens? When our heart breaks we need to take it as a lesson: what is hurting and how should we act to make a difference. For me it was an attempt to make people aware. I spoke to my church about the potential to reach out to those on the street in our town. I helped to set up a SPEAK group in my university. I made the promise to adopt children who might otherwise be without love, without a home and comfort. There is still so much more I could do and it still hurts, but it is also important to feel this pain.
When we follow a loving God, a God willing to first give up His son to us, secondly to die on a cross for us, and thirdly to forgive us again and again and again despite the mess we continually get ourselves into, we must feel some of this pain. It is a signal to adapt to the situation, to be different, and to follow God’s commandments in order to bring kingdom in. Our heart will break the further into His will we lean because we start to understand Him more fully.
Sadly it is often tragedy that molds us into better people. It is through surviving the pain of trauma and what the world presents us that we can see how to affect them for the good of all. When we understand poverty we can help to give people dignity and the ability to remove themselves from it. It is when we feel foolish that we understand the wonders of education. It is when we have lost that we can comfort and mourn with those who have lost too and continue to lose in war and disaster.
When our hearts break, and are slowly healed and put back together, there is a danger that the scars and wounds make us bitter and refuse to let anyone in. We must fight this, because when our heart breaks it is so we can let more in through the gaps, more people might find you loving, more children might find you kind, and more situations might see goodness pouring from your heart. It was through Christ’s blood, which poured from Him on the cross, that we were saved. Through His pain and sacrifice we were loved and brought into God’s embrace forever.
“He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
Hebrews 9:12, ESV
It will hurt, but in allowing our hearts to be broken, we become vessels that continue to allow God to flow through us, through our weakness, and out into the world. The miracle is that despite a broken heart, despite the weakness, vulnerability and cracks, we will feel more healed by God than ever before, beyond understanding.