Sunday, July 3, 2011

Signing Up for Heartache

If I were to create a soundtrack to tell the story of my life, a lot of tracks would be courtesy of the late Rich Mullins, an amazing songwriter known by most for his magnum opus, "Awesome God." The man had a way of painting with lyrics, of telling every believer's tale of stubbornly wrestling with an almighty God -- and telling it so well that you almost wonder if he'd ever had a peek at your diary. Rich wrote a lot about human weakness. A few of my favorite lyrics:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made / Forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage / And with these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart / We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.

And another:

Well everybody used to tell me 'big boys don't cry' / But I've been around enough to know that that was the lie / That held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons . . .

Rich had learned a little something about himself in his brief 42 years on Earth: he had learned that he was dust, that he had a tender heart that broke all-too-easily -- and that God Himself had created him -- and all of us -- that way. Vulnerable to heartache, prone to tenderness. Our hearts were not created to mechanically or stoically endure the obstacle course of life; on the contrary, it seems God designed us to feel deeply, to have hearts of compassion for our fellow sojourners, and even (and sometimes I'm not thrilled about this part) to share in His sufferings.

When I was a teenager, new to this journey with Jesus, someone had given me a keychain that said "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." I proudly carried that keychain; I was willing to share in Christ's sufferings like a good girl -- and I wanted everyone to know it.

But I didn't have a clue what that meant.

Working in a treatment center, I find myself surrounded daily by "things that break the heart of God." Addiction. Depression. Grief and loss. Crippling anxiety. Unbelievable deception. People haunted by their past. And most tragically, people desperately striving to overcome their past and create a future -- apart from God. These women are His precious creation -- and I feel His passionate desire that they might also become His daughters. His holy heart breaks for them -- and my own seems to be following suit.

This past week, I've wept at work on more than one occasion -- and from time to time, I spend my commute home from work in tears and in prayer. I have had co-workers tell me that I'm going to need to "toughen up" if I'm going to stay in this field -- but then I look around me and see that the co-workers who seem to be making the greatest difference in people's lives are those who are not necessarily all that "toughened up" themselves. As my friend psychologist friend Allen has told me, "In this work, tears are professional." (Read some of Allen's blog archives here: And as my own counselor recently said to me, "May your heart never become hardened. You will pay the price not to have a hard heart -- but as Christians, we have the heart of God for others. So welcome appropriate emotion."

It isn't the easy way of doing things, mind you; I think learning to suck it up and stuff it down might make life appear a little less painful in the short-term. To pick a rose, you ask your hands to bleed. But in the long-term, we would miss out -- oh, God, would we miss out -- on experiencing the heart of Christ toward His creation. He is such a passionate lover of ragamuffins -- slow to anger, abounding in love and mercy, so crazy about us broken-down, bedraggled rascals that He gave His best even when we were at our worst. He knew what perfect love was capable of, and He saw us not only as we were, but as we would be. But, even knowing the end from the beginning, He wept. And He weeps each time we stray.

Toughen up? Yeah, it's tempting. Self-protection is always tempting. But if Jesus never saw fit to harden His heart toward the wounded and wayward, how could I possibly justify doing so myself?

So here I am, signing up for heartaches to come. But I believe I will continue to find that, as my heart breaks for the things that break the heart of God, I will know Him a little more and a little better with each new painful twinge of compassion. I'd be lying to say I'm jazzed about it. But I could carry that keychain much more honestly today.