Heartache isn’t something I enjoy parading to the world, and to tell you the truth, I’m somewhat ashamed of it. It shows I’m vulnerable, I’m in pain, and perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. But we all deal with heartache, and of three responses to heartache that I notice most of us take, only one ever makes any difference at all.
I didn’t ask for this pain, and I didn’t see it coming. Maybe I brought it on myself, or that I deserve it. Whatever the rhyme or reason, my life is dragging down because of it and I’m left with a mess.
I’m embarrassed. I’m an adult, a ministry leader, a business owner, a husband and father and all that jazz. I’m self-reliant and I write articles and books encouraging others to be the same. Life should be all Facebook selfies and smiles. I’m following the formulas, I’m playing the game…so what’s the problem?
I’m dealing with heartache, that’s all. And perhaps you are, too. Just like everyone. Eventually.
I have walked through and identified three responses. I’m putting this out there on my blog to help me sort this out, but I also hope it helps you.
1. In the Flesh
By “flesh” I mean your most basic instinct. Get angry. Lash out and attack. Hate those who persecute you. Blow up, kick the cat, hit something.
This rarely works for me, though it works for some — or it appears to, at least. I’m sort of jealous of those who respond in the flesh and seem to pull it off.
I envy the abusive parent whose kids never lip off, or the hot-tempered boss whose employees just do as they say, or the fire-breathing pastor who beats their congregation up from the pulpit. Everyone seems to behave. I don’t know how they manage it, because I have not had good results with the response of the flesh.
And my flesh can really be strong. I’m not a violent guy, but my words cut like swords. I’m the sharpest debater, dicing up those who hurt me into little rhetorical chunks they won’t easily forget. Or forgive. Rhetorically speaking, if you draw the flesh out of me and tick me off, I’ll fillet you for dinner.
But it rarely helps any. Sometimes it makes matters worse. Managing anger is tiring. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. I really don’t like to be the jerk in the room. Especially when there are loved ones around.
I realize this: my basic human instincts exasperate the problems in my life. And my flesh is my problem, one that I need to wrestle with, one that my loved ones should not have to be burdened. I’ve got to get over my flesh and stop wallowing in the trials of my life. At least in the flesh; it is not helping at all.
2. In the Mind
There are some people like this guy. He’s got issues, but like those in the flesh, I envy him. He tears his congregation apart and attacks his flock in their pews, flipping out and ripping them apart. The result? Commendation and respect. Go figure.
He probably has a few degrees and is a really intelligent guy. His is a hyper-religious, legalistic response. I, too, can get myself wound up like him. I’m not so fire-breathing, but there is a tendency in me that entertains similar responses to my heartache.
Here’s the intellectual path of the response of the mind. It’s quite predictable, and like the flesh, it seldom works. First, take aim at the source. Next, identify the sin and corruption, call it out, simplify it and demonize it. Lastly, demand subordination and submission, perhaps publicly.
It’s too easy for me to respond to heartache this way. It seems valiant, righteous, correct. Zero in on the problem and fix it.
There are people in your life who are making things difficult for you. The mindful response is to fix their tendencies. Quote scripture, write a letter (a really, really long one), chew them out, and make sure they understand how wrong they are.
The most radical seem to love this senseless game. They get a kick out of public confessions and excommunications — of others, of course. These people are witch hunters. Their fingers point at everyone but themselves, and lives all around them are falling apart. (Again, watch that guy above. He scares me because I am like him.)
I’ve tried the mind, and just like the flesh, it seldom helps. The heartache doesn’t go away, and piling on more judgment and condemnation and ridicule of others doesn’t work.
It sometimes just makes things worse. I’ve found only one way.
3. In the Heart
I have only two responsibilities, and its centered around my heart. I need to huddle with God and seek what his will is, how he’s shaking things up, what he wants me to work on or change.
This may sound fleshy. “It’s all about me.” No, it’s not. It’s about God and how I fit into this universe.
This may sound heady. “It’s all about God.” Well, it is. But it’s not about how I think God should deal with you in particular — or anyone, for that matter. He’s dealing with my heart, and that’s my first responsibility.
My second responsibility is harder. My flesh repulses at this, and my religious tendencies find this truth difficult to accept. It sounds too easy, but it is totally good.
My responsibility is to love.
Love this situation, heartbreaking as it is. Learn from it, listen, grow. And love he or she who’s dishing this heartache out on me. Even love my enemy.
This concept has taken me years to figure out, and I wish someone told me this earlier in life. Maybe they had, but I was too wound up in my flesh or intellect that I refused to see the truth in this.
My heartache is not my end. It’s life, and there is something shaking out that I haven’t realized yet.
I’ve got to believe there is hope. And that hope is in me. Period. This may be my flesh, or it may be with my intellectual tendency to blame others, but it’s me God loves and it’s me he’s inviting to change.
This much I have figured out: I’m called to love. Even those who seem to be causing us the most heartfelt pain in my life. Especially those ones.
This is so incredibly hard. You and I don’t deserve this. Push away the pain and those who are causing it. We’ve been wronged, abused, disrespected, treated poorly, maligned, set up, slandered, etc. This eats you alive.
Identify? Of course you do. Because this is life. Heartache happens, and the only response that will heal any of it is in our hearts.
This is the only response that works. Pause, pray, seek counsel on what is going on. Consider your options. Most of all, doubt your flesh and mind, instead seek the deeper, heartfelt answers that are brewing up through the pain. Consider that, like cancer, the pain comes from the effects of the disease, not the disease itself.
Now there’s a thought to ponder. These answers come from the heart, not the mind and definitely not the flesh. Perhaps the pain isn’t the problem. Perhaps this heartache calls us to connect with our hearts, to grab our attention to a deeper, heartfelt truth that we’re being called to figure out.
Perhaps these troubles aren’t that bad at all. Perhaps they’re opportunities to connect with God, he’s got my attention, and he’s working on me and how to deal with my heartache.
Not in anger (the flesh).
Not in judgment (the mind).
But in me. In love.
Don’t Miss This Final Point
I hesitate to say what I’m about to say, because I don’t want to make light of the heartache in your life. I find myself complaining about my problems, but some of you have some real doozies. Death of loved ones, debilitating illnesses, addictions, abuse (both received and given), embarrassing slander, bankruptcy, prison, corruption, etc.
You’re way more desperate than I am, and your heartache may be way, way, way bigger than mine.
Here’s the thing, how I have found hope. Heartache very typically turns to glory. I’ve witnessed others overcome the most debilitating heartache, and they inspire me. It seems like the more pain there is, the more opportunity for miracles and victory.
God’s asking only one response of me: love. The response to heartache is heartfelt love. Life comes together from there.
I hope this helps you, and thank you for listening. Writing this out helped me. Immensely.
The head rules the belly through the chest — the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment — these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.
~ C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man