If you came here looking for an answer or insight for how to deal with broken heartedness, I will state out the gate that I will make no such attempt at an answer. In fact, I’m not even certain if anything I write and share publicly today is real, true or right.
This is for the one, two or handful of people who have experienced a hope so adequately destroyed that their imagination, their very heart has suffered a deafening silence, a death and is left asking “is what has killed this part of me a result of love or a hatred confused as love? What has caused the death of my heart?”
Since this post will be mostly sad, I will offer at the outset a word of hope from Scripture paraphrased, “every seed must die in order to grow.” It is possible something can grow from death. It’s also possible something may not.
I should also mention: most deaths are not pretty. Maybe that’s not even right. All deaths are not pretty.
In order to demonstrate this I will describe what the death of a heart feels like:
It feels like spending a fair amount of time convulsing because there is a pain in the form of a straight line running seemingly down the center of your heart, like it has been perfectly impaled by something thin and small. Like the death itself was placed there gently, almost in stealth to where you can lie down to rest but can no longer dream. I had dreamed and imagined hundreds of things it seemed before the death only to now feel silence. In a way, the pain is not intolerable. It is not excruciating, in a sense it is not even pain because it is death, it is the absence of life; pain being an unfortunate or perhaps generous aspect of life is no longer present. It also feels like I have no energy to verbally speak, that audible words mean almost nothing during death, which is why it is strange that I feel I could write about this feeling and experience forever.
I am distinguishing here between heart death and heartbreak. It is moving past pain almost immediately to the nothing/numb that I think distinguishes the two. Heart death is categorized by its inability to dream.
Yet, the death of my heart is still being grieved by the rest of my body. The rest of my body is aware that the seat of my imagination (the heart) and the place where love was professed is no longer in operation. It is quiet, and somehow that makes sense since scripture declares that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. When it was alive, love could declare itself; in death one can’t articulate verbally what to even think or do or be or how it all exactly happened.
Also, heart death is impossible to anticipate when there is still lingering hope.
What makes heart death even more deceptive and harmful is that the memory is still active. I still have my thoughts and now those are left unguarded by the heart who at least when it was alive could color the thoughts hopefully or reframe them in love. The heart is the thing that scripture tells us to guard, “Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flows the springs of life.” Another potential translation of that verse could be: the reason to guard the heart is that from it can escape all that is living. In other words if you don’t guard the heart diligently, life, who you are, your grasp over your identity will escape you and you’ll succumb to death. So be careful how you share it.
I will admit I was not careful. I knew to be careful. My mind knew, but I chose not to be. And in choosing not to be, death came, which brings me to my next interesting tidbit.
The last 4 years I have encountered much external death. It almost feels I invited it when I decided to do a residency as a chaplain. It was as if I literally said to myself, you know what I should begin to experience in my 30’s that will help my pastoral ministry pursuit: death. So I encountered it, and ironically enough I was so unfamiliar with it or what to do with it that the first time I was called into a room where a patient was dying I assumed they were already dead and attempted to console the family even though the patient was barely alive. Now I feel so familiar with it, when it has come I have resolved that there is nothing left to do. Nothing carries the same meaning after someone or something dies. Everything that you do without the person you’ve lost is somehow different, less interesting.
It was helpful though, because you can choose to prepare for facing death or you can choose not to, and I can honestly say, whichever you choose I am not certain it helps much either way. That’s confusing though isn’t it. The preparation can’t prepare you so why prepare? The preparation we do is in allowing ourselves to feel, and in allowing ourselves to feel, we find we are carried through. I don’t think anyone can really know how they will respond to loss, and I don’t know if we ever actually accept loss before the loss occurs. Now we can decide how we will grieve loss, but when we are the ones dying, once death comes you no longer grieve, which is why again I don’t think my heart is grieving. I think it is dead, and my body may be grieving its loss and some of my body is angry, some of it sad, and some of it doesn’t know what happened.
My body is feeling feelings, yet my heart is numb or more accurately not alive. It is now buried like a seed waiting again to grow. In a sense it has arrived at a place it is most comfortable. It has been granted a reset, yet my body and my memory remembers. And in that memory and the way my body responds comes with a new opportunity to guard.
Think Groot in the Guardians of Galaxy. He becomes replanted. The fear in that is one wonders: what does a new heart actually entail? Do I have to mature my love all over again? Do I trust my heart or my body with someone else in the future? Or do I sit in death and continue to live life absent of imagination? If you sit with a dead heart, you have less work to do but perhaps less life to live. Unfortunately, you can’t escape your memory, you can hope it doesn’t color your future, but your memory may cause pain in the rest of your body and you may be confronted with how to then cope.
For me, the temptation becomes replace pain with more pain and the desire to cause more pain as a form of vengeance. (What is vengeance? Not violence in this case, but emotionally tearing someone down to the point in which their entirely reality and perception of themselves is blurred) But “vengeance is mine” says the Lord. All we can really do is hope the Lord exposes the darkness and that He will grant light to help what is dead.
And this is where perhaps the last reminder I have is helpful, though equally as sad. There are things worse than death. When suffering is prolonged, when you can no longer eat, your body stops healing itself, and you become no longer recognizable, when the cancer takes its toll and all your energy is sapped and you can no longer find help or comfort, I do believe death becomes a mercy for all involved. Eventually the body agrees with everything else and says to itself I can no longer handle this and the burden on others is too heavy to bear the extent of suffering it is enduring, and then death becomes a release.
This also is heart death. At some point, the only way forward through the persistent choices and emotional harm, distortion of reality and condemnation from those around you has to be death even if it is not your choice. It may feel like murder, but if that is what people want, if that is what the crowd demands and there is no intercessor, the only way forward is death.
(I should emphasize here since all this talk of death could be triggering and concerning and since we are coming off of national suicide prevention week, the utmost importance is that you find the courage, support, and self-love in order to endeavor to keep on living in the most literal sense, to not un-life ourselves even it feels like it has been done to us)
And the way through death must be more life or at least, the hope for life on the other side. But where does the hope come from if not from the heart. It resides in the heart but it always comes from the one Who creates it. God in Christ, the author of Hope, finisher of Faith, entirely encompassed as Love. And God Himself can do it because God Himself incarnated Himself in flesh to die so that we all may live even though we suffer.
You might find it intriguing. God did not prevent the death of my heart. Even though He was asked to protect it, asked to change it, to transform it, to redirect all love and affection, He still watched the death happen, the crushing and by people who the very heart that was crushed, formerly loved. God, the Father allowed, stood by and watched and seemingly turned His face away, perhaps not in disgust of the person suffering but turned His face away from the affliction as it also grieved His very heart. As it was too painful for you, it was painful for Him to watch, and while He let it happen, He also being God must have had a way to make it work together for good in love otherwise He would just be cruel and as disconnected from His creation as His creation is disconnected from themselves and inflicts harm and hatred on each other. But He cannot be cruel or disconnected based on what He says about Himself.
While I can describe a theological prescription as to how God deals with heart death and death itself, we might still ask, well what are we to do? What is my part in dealing with a dead heart?
And here is my solution:
At least do nothing differently.
If you feel like you loved well at one point, now, in the absence of your heart, keep doing what you were doing before. Don’t change your routine, or start thinking the worst of yourself, blaming or embracing a condemnation that wasn’t true. Little can hurt you anymore, so don’t begin to hurt yourself. Now you are free again to love who you are becoming. Do nothing but tolerate love as it comes. You don’t need to force something to happen.
You can’t hard work yourself back to life.
I don’t know if your heart has ever died, but if you’re reading this, you are still alive and something worth loving is still left.