In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart: Hope for the Hurtingby Ruth Graham, Stacy Mattingly (With)
The broken heart in your pew may be the woman sitting next to you with breast cancer, it may be the middle-aged man whose alcoholism has torn his family apart, or it may be your own. One thing is certain: Behind every face is a story and the story is not always pleasant. But God knows how to write our stories with redemptive ink, and he can heal our broken hearts. In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart is a deeply personal, honest exploration of how the truths of the Bible play out in the realities of our circumstances.
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In Every Pew Sits a Broken HeartHope for the Hurting
By Ruth Graham
Walker Large PrintCopyright © 2007 Ruth Graham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIN MY PEW SAT A BROKEN HEART
Seeing God in the Ruins
I wound my way up my parents' steep, mountain driveway in western North Carolina, unsure if I would be welcomed or rejected. I was broken by the choices I had made. Stubborn and willful, I had followed my own path, and now I would have to face the consequences. I had caused pain for my children and loved ones. I feared I had embarrassed my parents. It seemed I had wrecked my world. The shame was almost unbearable.
I had driven sixteen hours from South Florida, stopping to pick up my youngest daughter at boarding school, and now I was tired and anxious. The familiarity of my childhood environs did little to subdue my fears. The February mountain air was crisp and clean. The bare trees-maple, poplar, and oak-lining the drive up to my parents' house afforded a view this time of year, but I was too absorbed to notice.
What would my life be like now? I had gone against everyone's advice. My family had warned me. They had tried to stop me. But I had not listened. I needed to do what was best for me, I had told them. And now my life was a shambles. I was a failure in my own eyes and certainly would be in the eyes of others whenthey learned what "Billy Graham's daughter" had done. I feared I had humiliated those I held dearest. How would I be able to face them?
Driving up the mountain, my fears multiplied. Adrenaline kept my foot on the gas. I felt my hands grip the steering wheel. My mind was spinning. I tried to remember my mother's insistent tone from our phone conversation a few days earlier: "Come home," she had urged. I was desperate when I called her. I told her of my mistake and was trying to piece together a plan when she interjected with the voice of a loving, protective parent. But how would she and my father respond when they saw me? What would they say to me? Would they say, "You've made your bed; now lie in it"? Would they condemn me? Would they reject me? Despise me? They had every right.
As I rounded the last bend in the driveway, Daddy came into view. He was standing in the paved area where visitors usually park. Rolling the car to a stop, I took a deep breath and prepared to greet my father. I turned off the ignition, opened the car door, and stepped onto the driveway. Then I looked up-Daddy was already at my side. Before I could say a word, he took me into his arms and said, "Welcome home."
Is There a Broken Heart in Your Pew?
I know what it's like to sit in the pew with a broken heart. For years I sat in church with my fears, doubts, and disappointments, thinking I was alone in my condition. Those around me seemed to have it all together. They looked so "spiritual." Did they not struggle as I did? Was I the only one whose dreams had fallen to pieces? Was I the only one who had blown it? Was I the only one depressed and feeling beyond hope? To protect myself and to fit in, I masked my shortcomings and dared not whisper my failures. I worked hard to create the impression that my life was neat and orderly. I knew the posture and language well-and I carried it off. Few knew or guessed the truth. But I was miserable.
Perhaps you too have walked this tightrope. You are hurting. Something in your life is causing you great distress and unspeakable pain. But you cover it over with a smile. Perhaps you are depressed or feel inadequate, unable to cope with life. Perhaps you have been rejected by someone close to you. Maybe your spouse has walked out. Maybe your child has run away from home. Maybe you are lonely or struggling with an addiction. Overwhelmed, you want to scream. You need to scream. But it is a silent scream. Because you are afraid to let anyone know the depth of your pain.
Have you experienced this kind of pressure? Are you experiencing it now? Are you broken and worried you have nowhere safe to open your heart? Do you fear you may never recover from the blows life has dealt you? Is it hard for you to imagine being normal again? Are you saddled with shame and guilt, or resentment and anger? Have you lost hope?
Let us walk together through these pages and find healing and comfort in the arms of a God who will never reject us. God will not abandon you. He is not like the people who have failed you. He never throws up his hands and walks away. He never quits loving. I would not compare my father with God, but on that February day in our driveway, my dad offered me exactly what God offers us. God stands with his arms wide open, waiting to renew us in his embrace. When we come to him broken, with our fears multiplied and more questions than answers, God wraps his arms around us and says, "Welcome home."
Do you know someone who is broken? Do you want to help? Perhaps you recognize that living among you right now are people hiding deep wounds. You may be sitting unaware in church week after week with suffering people, even as friends and acquaintances sat beside me while I smiled and behaved as though I didn't have a care in the world. If your desire is to help, then let us explore ways to create safe places in which our wounded neighbors, friends, and loved ones can express themselves. Like my father, you might become the welcoming arms of God to the broken person in your pew. Let us hope so-let us pray it may be so. For this is what we were made to be: God's arms of love, both as individuals and as the church. Scripture says, "Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
Failure Is Never Final
I am not qualified to write this book because I am Billy Graham's daughter. I am not qualified by position or vastness of expertise. I am qualified to write this book because I am flawed. Because I am a sinner saved by God's grace. Because I am headstrong and slow to learn. Because I have made mistakes. Many mistakes. And have failed often.
My own story is not tidy. Nor is it simple. My story is messy and complicated and still being written. I have known betrayal, divorce, depression, and the consequences of bad judgment. I have struggled to parent my children through crisis pregnancy, drug use, and an eating disorder. I have known heartbreak, desperation, fear, shame, and a profound sense of inadequacy. This is not the life I envisioned. Far from it.
Revisiting the dark chapters of our lives can be a painful experience. Some things we would rather not remember-costly mistakes, severed relationships, words misspoken, actions taken or not taken. Even glancing in the direction of some of our memories can open up a world of hurt. We prefer to trudge ahead, as the Bible says, "forgetting what lies behind" (Philippians 3:13).
Yet there are times in life when God gently draws us back to our places of pain and invites us to take another look. He does not call us back to aggravate our wounds or cause us emotional harm. When God calls, he calls with good purpose; and when he urges us back to a hard place, he does so in order to heal us. Only then can we truly move on.
We learn in Scripture that Abraham's wife, Sarah, treated her maid, Hagar, severely. Sarah, who was barren, had encouraged Abraham to become intimate with Hagar so he could produce children. Now Hagar was pregnant, and Sarah felt disrespected by her maid. In response, Sarah mistreated Hagar enough to drive the woman to flee to the wilderness. There the angel of God spoke to Hagar:
Now the angel of the Lord found her by ... the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" And she said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." Then the angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Genesis 16:7-9
No destination would have been more dreadful to Hagar at this point than Sarah's home. Yet God called the maid to go back. Return to your mistress. Go back to where you have suffered. While Hagar must have listened in bewilderment, God did not leave her with a confusing command. He drew her with a promise: "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they shall be too many to count" (Genesis 16:10).
When the Lord prompts us, like Hagar, to return to our places or memories of suffering, we too carry a promise of restoration and hope for the future. The prophet Isaiah expressed the promise this way:
The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. Isaiah 51:3 NIV
Failure is never final. God specializes in restoration-it is his best work. He loves to create out of chaos. Consider where he started in Genesis, bringing order to an earth that was "formless and void" (Genesis 1:2). God likewise steps into our ruins, picks up the pieces, and reassembles our mistakes, hurts, faults, and failed plans in ways that are wonderful and surprising. He never wastes anything. He will make her deserts like Eden.
Isaiah tells us that God looks on our ruins "with compassion." Imagine God's look of compassion. Imagine his love, his tenderness. God does not condemn us for our mistakes. He sees hope where others see failure. He sees a future where others see wreckage. His desire is to bring us out of our devastation, healed and strengthened, with a song in our hearts. That is his promise. Joy and gladness will be found in her.
A View from the Ruins
It is difficult to perceive God's hand when we are living in the ruins, isn't it? We cannot understand what God is doing, what emotional patterns he is dismantling, whether God is even there, or where we will end up. But with distance and divine help, we can learn to see the past with new eyes. As I reexamined my own ruins in preparation for this book, I realized aspects of God's persistent involvement with me that I previously had missed. I recognized God moving in my life at times when I feared he had abandoned me. I saw the way he used my circumstances over a stretch of years to help me overcome hidden weaknesses. I became aware that certain events I had forgotten were, in fact, key turning points in my life.
Though I often felt dejected and alone while living through my difficult seasons, I now understand that God was at work in my life all along. In my pain, in my suffering, in my mistakes-even in the dark-God was always present, working out his good purpose. Jesus is called Emmanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23 KJV). In taking another look at my life, I came to recognize as never before the reality of God's faithfulness. He is with us. Nothing can make him give us up. The depth of this realization is part of his restorative work in me.
Eventually, I discovered I was not the only one in church whose life had taken unwelcome turns. I was not the only one who had missed opportunities. I was not the only one who had sinned. In particular, I found that when others were honest with me about their faults and imperfections, I became more comfortable sharing my own mistakes. Once we take off our masks-once we expose our ruins-we give others permission to do the same. And that is when real ministry and healing take place.
In this same spirit, I now share my story with you. I will start with a dark moment of my own. As God leads you, consider your own difficult moments and test them against the message written here. Let us ask the Lord to help us reach for his "Welcome home."
Excerpted from In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart by Ruth Graham Copyright © 2007 by Ruth Graham. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Ruth Graham has written six books including bestselling, In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart (Zondervan 2004) and award-winning, Step into the Bible (Zonderkidz 2007). Ruth is an experienced conference speaker and Bible teacher known for her honesty and authenticity. As founder and President of Ruth Graham & Friends, Ruth seeks to minister God’s grace and comfort to those who are hurting and feel alone as well as to equip those who desire to help those who are hurting. Ruth is the third child of Ruth and Billy Graham. She worked in publishing for 13 years as an acquisitions editor and for five years as donor relations coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse. She spent one year as Major Gifts Officer at Mary Baldwin College where in 2000 she graduated cum laude and received the Outstanding Adult Student award. She has an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Eastern University. Ruth has three grown children and six grandchildren. She and her husband, Greg, and his three sons live in Virginia.
Stacy Mattingly is an Atlanta-based writer.
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