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What becomes of the broken-hearted?

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Column by David B. Whitlock

His lips quivered as tears moistened his eyes. But maybe that was just my imagination.

No, I could have sworn I saw his lower lip quivering. And no mistaking, I heard his voice cracking just a bit.

It was all there: the suppression of grief, the futile effort to hold the emotions in check, the chin lowered to the chest. It was all exposed.

His mournful tale has been told by others for eons: the friend who disappointed, a relationship destroyed, the future uncertain.

And as he sulked away, dissatisfied with explanations, I couldn’t help but hear Jimmy Ruffin singing his 1966 Motown hit, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?”

And maybe Mick Jagger too, if not answering Ruffin’s question, at least offering hollow consolation to the brokenhearted: “You can't always get what you want/But if you try sometimes/well you might find/You get what you need.”

Unfortunately, there’s usually an enormous stretch between getting what you want and accepting what you need. Broken relationships can pain the heart, sear the emotions and tear asunder an otherwise intact character.

Some relationships are unhealthy and even toxic. It’s not always easy and often takes courage to walk away from an abusive relationship, regardless of whether the abuse is verbally or physically administered.

And then some relationships end because of disappointment in the people involved. Sometimes friendships end abruptly. Other times they die ever so slowly. Some can be repaired. More often, they remain severed.

How can we weather the storms of a broken relationship and at least allow for the possibility of healing?

Here are some ABCs for a fractured relationship:

  • Admit to your part for any damaged emotions. Readily claim responsibility for your mistakes in the relationship. Shirking accountability stymies further personal growth. Is it remotely possible that you are not perfect and that the other person may not be totally wrong? Even if it is not feasible or appropriate to speak personally with the offended person, evaluating and admitting, if only to yourself, your own shortcomings will make fruitful relationships more likely in the future.
  • Be your better self. Rather that descending to the lowest common denominator of raw emotion verbalized in hurtful words, expressed in unkind actions, and enacted in retributive behavior patterns, be the best you can be. Rise above the flack.
  • Compassion is best expressed in the action of one four-letter word: L-O-V-E. Try sensing how the other person might feel. Rarely is anyone totally base. At least try to imagine the loss they might be experiencing. Restoration may not be advisable, but love in some form might be available. A compassionate heart comes as we walk through our own experiences of pain and loneliness.

Henri Nouwen spoke of this loneliness and how embracing it can become part of our journey towards healing hurt emotions. In his essay, “Stay with your Pain,” he wrote: “It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. The temptation is to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God's healing.”

What then becomes of the broken hearted who may not get what they want but what they need? It all depends on whether they allow their open wounds to be immersed in the healing waters of God’s grace. 

That healing may not come all at once, but it ever so surely flows to those who venture reconciliation with God, themselves and others.

“I am the Lord who heals you,” (Exodus 15:26), God reminded the wounded nation of Israel.

It’s in the midst of the brokenness and strife that we may find some kind of peace of mind, maybe - for after all, if life is to be lived, it must be lived in the midst of the failed relationships, forced alienation and damaged emotions of brokenhearted people. If peace can’t be found there, it won’t be found - for the world of the brokenhearted is the world we live in.

And what becomes of the brokenhearted is what becomes of us.

Dr. David B. Whitlock is a Baptist minister in Lebanon and adjunct professor at Campbellsville Univeristy. He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com