The Joy of Heartbreak
By Tim Scheidler | Staff Writer
If you are heartbroken, give thanks to God. If you have suffered irrevocable loss, give thanks to God. If you don’t know how you’re going to endure your grief, give thanks to God. You are one of the lucky ones.
For you have truly loved.
In the throes of grief, we can only see what is gone. We can only feel the agony of the wound. It envelops our entire life. With each breath we take, we don’t know if we will be strong enough to take another. Life becomes an infinite series of moments to merely survive.
But you will survive. I know. I did.
This isn’t the story of what happened to me. That doesn’t matter. This is the story of how Christ saved my life, and how He guided me through my darkest hours. This is the story of how I became truly grateful for the cross I was given to bear, and how I found incredible joy through the transformation it created in my life.
All heartbreak is different. It could result from the death of a parent, the betrayal of a spouse, a permanently fractured relationship, a loss of identity or career or health. But all heartbreak has a common thread: it is real, it is uniquely your own, and you will make it through.
When I was grieving, I wanted to minimize the loss in order to minimize the pain. But I owed it to myself to let it hurt as much as it should. I wanted a better way through the grief. But I found that the balanced approach worked best: don’t shortcut it (on the fast side), don’t stay mired in (on the slow side), but move purposefully through it. And I wanted it to be easy. But I had to run for hours, read for hours, journal for hours, sit in in adoration for hours, pray the rosary for hours. That time paid off.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that I got through on my own. Most notably, I had relationships that carried me through. Guys, you cannot get through it alone.
It the most immediate sense, my friends and family showed a saintly level of patience to me when I vented the same thing over and over again, month after month. To all of you: I owe a debt of gratitude that I will be unable to repay. Thank you.
In the strategic sense, I sought out the help of my pastor and of a counselor. If your arm is broken, you seek professional help. If your heart is broken, why should it be any different? My priest and my therapist have seen it all. They have years of specific experience and training. Why wouldn’t I seek that out? It was simply the smart thing to do. Counseling is the single best investment I have ever made. Worth every penny.
In a deepest sense, I had to rely on God. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life writes of suffering: “You’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.” I couldn’t agree more. Many will argue that if Jesus loved us, that we would be spared the pain of grief. While it took work to get there, I actually never felt more loved by Christ than when I was grieving. (Read the “Footprints” poem.)
One morning I was talking with my parish priest, and I told him that I was going to start a 54-day novena to Our Lady with the intention of moving past the grief. He gave me wry smile and promptly told me, “No, you’re not.” As I stared at him with a quizzical look, he said, “For the next 54 days you are going to pray for an awareness of God’s presence and love in your life.”
The following 54 days changed my life.
God is always there if you’re willing to look for Him. God is always giving you His love, every day, if you are willing to receive it. As a matter of fact, He is more present and loving when you are hurting. I know. I saw Him. I felt His love.
For 54 straight days before I went to bed, I wrote down where I encountered Christ throughout my day. That exercise is one of the most powerful I have ever done. And ever since then I’ve been aware of Him everywhere. I feel Him in the curls of my little niece’s hair. I laugh with Him in the emails I trade with my best friend deployed in the Middle East. I hear Him in the well-read words of my favorite author. I receive Him in the Eucharist as often as I can. Now I see Christ every day in a hundred different ways and people and actions. This has changed me forever.
Precisely through shifting my focus off of the grief itself (“I want to get over it”) and onto Jesus Himself (“God’s presence and love in my life”), I was able to reach the end-state I sought. I emerged from my sorrow. I discovered profound happiness in the smallest details of my life. And I’ve become a stronger and better man than I’ve ever been.
If that isn’t joy, I don’t know what is.
C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
My heart was battered and bruised. My face was marred by dust and sweat and blood. I suffered greatly. But through that suffering, I found more joy than I ever imagined possible. What an undeserved gift.
So if you are heartbroken, give thanks to God. If you have suffered irrevocable loss, give thanks to God. If you don’t know how you’re going to endure your grief, give thanks to God. You are one of the lucky ones.