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THE Heartache No One SeesChrist's Promise of Healing for a Woman's Wounded Heart
By SHEILA WALSH
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Sheila Walsh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBroken Hearts and Shattered Dreams
A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, But by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. -Proverbs 15:13
Though I speak, my grief is not relieved; And if I remain silent, how am I eased? -Job 16:6
In this first chapter we will discuss the reality that our hearts have been broken in many ways at many times. We have become used to living with our pain. We almost don't notice it anymore; it's just the way things are. That would be fine if the heartache remained in a back closet somewhere like an old school photo album, but brokenness is never quiet or completely in the past. The pain that we experienced as children or in other relationships as we have grown casts long shadows over the present. It affects the choices we make and the way we respond to life, to God, and to others.
THE UNHAPPY GHOSTS
In a Christianity Today article, Tim Stafford addressed the issue of the vast number of people in the church community who are in deep pain. He described them as "unhappy ghosts." That's an intriguing picture. It conjures up images of those of us who are barely there, hovering on the sidelines. We don't leave-perhaps because we have unfinished business, we are immobilized by sadness, or we have nowhere else to go-but we are not really present either. We don't contribute to the life of the church or enter into worship; we are stuck in a no-man's-land of darkness and despair.
Perhaps that's where you are. It might be why you picked up this book in the first place. Your heart is broken, you feel dead inside, but no one else seems to notice your pain.
I have received hundreds of letters from women who feel as if the church or a parachurch organization has let them down. What has been delivered to them falls far short of the advertised special. We are told to come to Jesus and He will carry our burdens, but no one tells us how to do that. If you walk into church next Sunday with a broken arm, chances are, you will be asked several times, "What happened?" But what if you have walked into church every Sunday for the last ten years with a broken heart and not even one person noticed?
Then perhaps someone gets up to sing and tells her story of how God met her when she was battered and bruised and now she is whole and happy. You sit and listen. Sure, you are glad for her, but what about you? Her answered prayer makes you feel more alone.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
I struggled with that awareness when I was cohost of The 700 Club with Dr. Pat Robertson. Every day we presented stories of marriages healed, physical health restored, and children redeemed from bad life choices. I interviewed men and women whose lives had been at the edge of a cliff, and then God intervened and directed their steps to a safer path. They were not left with unanswered questions, disappointment, and a broken heart. The stories we told were true, but they were not true for everyone in our audience. In reality they represented the experience of a minority of people.
Marriages are not always restored. The divorce rate in the church rides side by side with the statistics of those outside our doors. People who love and trust God die of cancer every day. Many parents don't live to see their children redeemed from the bad choices they have made.
Not everyone can find a safe place to share a broken heart, a place to receive love, understanding, and care. Most people do not. Watching the joy of those who have received the answer they were seeking from God is an encouragement to many. To others, it is rock salt pressed into an open wound. What compounds the pain is realizing that others do not understand, or hearing them say, "Get over it."
Telling someone who is internally broken to just get over it is as ridiculous as giving a child with a broken leg a Band-Aid. It might seem like an immediate solution, but it won't hold.
LIFE IN THE REAL WORLD
I received an e-mail from a woman who had attended a Women of Faith (WOF) Conference in the spring of 2003:
Do the cries you hear at the conferences from women's hearts about things that have happened to them in the past or are going on now really hit any of the ladies of WOF seriously? Do you all ever answer any of the notes given to you at these conferences? Do you all ever realize that you may sometimes be the link between life and death in a woman's life at one of these conferences?
I understood her questions. At our conferences we get together for twenty-four hours with thousands of women. We sing together, and it's hard not to be inspired by the sound of eighteen thousand women singing "How Great Thou Art." Each speaker's message is fine-tuned to convey God's love and grace to every woman present. But at 5:30 on Saturday afternoon it's all over. Women leave the arena, pile into waiting cars and buses, and head home. We return to our real lives and the challenges and struggles that exist on a daily basis. In many ways the same thing happens on Sunday mornings. We are buoyed by the atmosphere of faith and community, but then the service is over and life continues. One thing remains apparent: Broken hearts are much harder to heal than broken bodies.
We have spent a lot of time in the church discussing physical healing. We are split along denominational lines, with some exceptions, about whether God still breaks into our human experience with miraculous physical healing. That is not the subject of this book. My passion is the realm of broken hearts and crushed spirits.
Can God heal what was broken years ago?
Can God heal a pain that is so old you almost forget where it began?
Can God heal you when you no longer have a prayer left inside you?
Can God heal your heart when the unimaginable has happened?
A MOTHER'S CRY
My husband, Barry, had a friend from high school who died in 2002, leaving behind two young children. Her mother is destroyed by this loss, her heart in a million pieces. Imagine, one moment her daughter is fine, loving her family, getting ready for Valentine's Day, and suddenly a strange, strep-type virus robs this young woman of her life in a matter of days. This brokenhearted mother and grandmother came to hear me speak on the Friday night of our Women of Faith Conference. It had been a year since her daughter's death.
"How could God allow this?" she questioned bitterly with tears pouring down her cheeks. "No mother should have to bury her own child. Her children cry for her every night. They want to put on their shoes and join Mommy in heaven. Do you have any idea how that makes a grandma feel?"
GRIEF IS NO RESPECTER OF AGE
The one person who was able to really connect with this grieving woman during that weekend was my six-year-old son, Christian. During the Saturday of the conference, he spent some time with her at her home. He saw a picture of her daughter and asked who it was.
"That's our daughter, Susan. She was a friend of your daddy's."
"Is she not still a friend?" he asked.
"Yes, but Susan is in heaven. She died last year."
"My papa died too," he said.
"I know, darling. I knew him. He was a good man."
"Shall I tell you what happened?" he asked.
"I'd like that," she replied.
"When I came upstairs, he was lying on the bathroom floor beside my mommy. It was like he was sleeping. I sat beside him. I think it helped. Mom and I went to the hospital, but when we got there, Papa was already in heaven. He couldn't wait. My dad didn't get to say good-bye. That must have made him sad. At least I got to say, 'Good-bye, Papa.'"
For a few moments a small child and a grandmother shed tears together-two generations apart but brought together by the bond of a broken heart and a common question, "Why, God?"
What about the woman who e-mailed me, crying out to know if the speaker team at Women of Faith Conferences, of which I am a part, really care about what is going on in the lives of those in our audience? Or is it just talk to sell books or tickets for the next event? Do we deliver our messages of hope and healing, and then return to our hotel rooms, indifferent to the pain that has poured out of open wounds into a sports arena? We care more than I can express in words. Each of us on the team has walked through moments of heartache and devastation. That's why we are committed to extend hope to those who have lost hope. We understand that barren place, for we have been there.
I have wondered what happened to this woman to prompt such a cry from her soul: Had she cried out for help before and been ignored or been perceived as one of those "difficult" women? Perhaps she had lived through the kind of nightmare where everything that you thought you could count on changed in a single day. Had she encountered the bitterness tasted by a man we know by the single name Job? His story is found in the Old Testament but in many ways it reads as if it had been written yesterday. The pain he experienced caused him to wish he had never been born.
A GODLY MAN WAS DEVASTATED
At his lowest, Job was so wretched that he questioned why God ever gave him life in the first place:
Why is light given to him who is in misery, And life to the bitter of soul, Who long for death, but it does not come, And search for it more than hidden treasures; Who rejoice exceedingly, And are glad when they can find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, And whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes before I eat, And my groanings pour out like water. For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, And what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes. (Job 3:25-26)
We don't know who wrote the book of Job, but whoever wrote it has given us an in-depth account of the unusual life of this man. He had ten children, seven sons and three daughters. He was wealthy, described as the greatest man among all the people of the East. We are told Job was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (Job 1:1). In a rare endorsement of a man's character we hear God's personal commendation of Job's life: "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth?" (Job 1:8).
So what happened? What took this man from the place of acclaim in the courts of heaven to the man who would cry out in such bitter agony, "I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes"?
Here we have a man who lived centuries ago and a woman sitting at her laptop in 2003 separated by time but united in the human experience of suffering and plagued by similar questions:
God, I don't understand. Is there anyone who will reach into this black hole of despair and pull me out? Why is this happening to me?
WOUNDED BY GOD
Let's travel back down the centuries and take a look. It started out as tragedies often do. It was a good day. All Job's children had gathered at his eldest son's home for supper. It must have been a comfort to Job to know that his children got along well with each other, but into the peace of this moment came three of his servants with news that would change everything. As each one told his devastating story, Job realized that business-wise, he was wiped out; his livestock and servants had been slaughtered. While he tried to absorb this information, the one last remaining servant arrived and told him that an unusual wind had attacked the house where his children had gathered. The wind-in what seemed to be an act of vengeance-had battered the house at all four corners and the roof caved in. His children were dead, buried beneath the rubble.
Can you imagine such a personal holocaust? Within ten minutes everything that is precious to you in life is gone. As you try to absorb the horror of losing your livelihood, you hear news that makes that decimation insignificant. Your family, all your children, are dead. Where was God when that was happening to Job?
How would Job have survived if he had overheard the conversation that took place between Satan and God before this personal disaster, realizing that God allowed Satan to do that to him, His faithful servant?
Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:8-12)
"All that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." This is a hard passage for us to understand. A God who is good and loving, powerful and just, allowed Satan to decimate His servant. Job's pain was intense. It was the agony that no parent ever wants to face, the death of a child. As I listened to Susan's mom at our conference I heard Job's voice:
"There is no relief for me." "I never should have been born." "I will never be all right again."
One thing is crystal clear; people are in deep pain and have been for centuries. Perhaps it's because of the vast cavern that seems to exist between the belief in a good, loving God and the heartache and sorrow that invade the lives of those who love Him. A further death blow is delivered by those we expect to be able to help heal our wounds, yet they often create a deeper pain. Job believed that God was good and just, but how could a good and just God allow Job's children to be killed, his property destroyed, and then to add misery to wretchedness, his own body became so debilitated that it became a prison of pain?
The woman who e-mailed me stands like a sentry at the gate of the arena calling out, "Do you see what's happening? Do you feel the pain? Do you care? We're dying here."
WOUNDED BY THOSE WE TRUSTED
Most of us, thank God, will not live the nightmare of Job. Most of us get to see our children grow and marry. Few of us lose absolutely everything overnight. But many of us face the heartache of longing for connection, for relationship, while feeling desperately alone. The pain seems more intense when we experience that in the house of God.
I love to listen to audiotapes in my car. My mom and my sister regularly send me British comedies and dramas. One of my favorite modern playwrights is Alan Bennett. He is a man fascinated by human nature, and he has a gift that enables him to pull back the drapes for a moment and let us look inside someone else's soul. His monologues in particular permit us to sit with a total stranger for a while and listen in to the person's internal conversation.
One of the most illuminating is about a pastor's wife disillusioned with her husband, with God, and with His people. She wonders, If God is indeed a loving God, then why does everyone in the church appear to be so miserable? And why, if God sees all, do His people take great pains to hide the truth about their lives from one another? It seems to her that her husband wears the perspiring mantle of the used car salesman, not quite sure that what he sold you will get you all the way home. She is acutely aware of the disapproval of many of the women in the church. When she tries to arrange the flowers on the altar, they are never quite right. When she undertakes visitation, she doesn't say the right thing. She encounters one slight after another, little wounds that collect in her heart and soul, causing her to close down inside. Brutalized by those who claim to love God, she finally turns away from faith and finds companionship and compassion in the arms of another man.
It's just a play, but when I listened to it for the first time, I wept. I wept because what is fiction in Alan Bennett's play is reality to too many who have been wounded by God's people. It is one of the most painful experiences in life to be isolated or stigmatized by a fellow believer.
Excerpted from THE Heartache No One Sees by SHEILA WALSH Copyright © 2007 by Sheila Walsh. Excerpted by permission.
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