Healing Broken Hearts – Mental Health/Bible 1
Jesus promised to Heal the broken hearted. That’s also in a prophecy about what He will do when he returns. And it is about what he did at that time, in his physical life. What does it mean to be broken hearted? Do we have a part to play in the healing of our own heart and the hearts of others? How do we do that?
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In Luke 4:18, we’re told that Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry, came to His home town, Nazareth, and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. There the rabbi gave Him the book of Isaiah, and He read out of it. Let’s start reading what He said in Luke 4:18:
Luke 4:18-19 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And then, right after He finished, it says, in verse 20, that:
V-20-21 – He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of all the synagogue were fixed upon Him. And He began to say the them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
So, He read them a scripture about what the Messiah would do once His Kingdom was established after His return, which hasn’t occurred yet, of course. And then He tells them that He’s going to begin doing that work immediately. And, from that time on, He went about healing people, so that they could all know that He was the One to come.
We all believe – because we’re told as much in the book of Revelation – that those who follow Him in this life will be with Him at that time and will join Him in His restorative and healing work on the earth.
So, Jesus, in His lifetime on the earth, spent His time with publicans – people who were known sinners – with beggars, with disabled people, with people who had suffered great losses. He took time to bless the little children – the tender ones – who are most vulnerable to life’s traumas. And He spent His time with and healed the brokenhearted. And when He comes back, He’s going to do the very same thing – only on a much grander scale. Sometimes, I think our lives are so disconnected from what’s going to happen later that we don’t think much about those things.
Do we know how to heal the broken hearts that we’re going to encounter when we possess the Kingdom with Jesus Christ? Do we know how to heal our own? Well, in the interest of our preparation for our work with Christ, both now and later, I’d like to tell you the story of how to heal a broken heart.
What is a broken heart? Well, because of Satan and because of the physical nature of the life that we live, nobody gets through this life without suffering huge losses. We lose our loved ones. We lose our friends. We lose our strength, eventually, our vision, our hearing, our mobility, and then finally, our life. Sometimes we lose the respect of the love of others. Sometimes we lose income. Sometimes we lose influence or control. Sometimes we even lose our self-respect, because of our own bad behavior. And sometimes the losses that we experience in life exceed our ability to stand them. When that occurs, something has to give. Remember when Job suffered all those losses at one time – you know, his family, his wealth, his health. What that happens – when more losses are incurred that we have resources to meet them – we become brokenhearted.
Now, that term, brokenhearted, is biblical terminology for, at its worst, a psychotic break, or anxiety, or depression. Before we learn how to heal a broken heart – our own or someone else’s – let’s think about what not to do. One of the most destructive ways that people deal with hurt is to deny it – when we distract ourselves – you know, that guy that starts working 80 hours the week after the funeral – or, when we distract ourselves from feeling the real feelings, when we anesthetize ourselves with alcohol or other substances, when we kind of withdraw from the hurt, when we cover it over, when we compartmentalize it, when we build a shell around, sometimes when we go on the attack. It’s all still there, but it’s unresolved. And when we pretend everything is okay, the process of healing stops, and we become stuck. When we deal with our losses and our negative emotions in this way, we’re really not dealing with them at all. We’re still hurt, still discouraged, still angry, still overwhelmed. It feels like the pain is subsiding, but actually, it’s just going deep into us, where is poisons our whole being.
I want to give you an example of someone who was forced to do this. A friend of mine told me about a man he encountered in his professional life as a therapist. And this man, who was in his sixties, was caught one day in the attic of his home by his wife, wearing women’s clothing. He was a cross-dresser. And she told him, if she was going to stay married to him, he was going to have to figure out what the problem was and get it fixed. (Now, I know there are people who cross-dress who would be offended by her approach, because they feel like someone of the opposite sex. They feel like that’s who they are. And I have only compassion for those people…nor do I know what to do about it. I’m leaving that to God, because I don’t have the power to take care of that.) But this man was not that way. So he went for therapy. And it came out, in the course of his counseling, that when he was a small child, he and his little sister used to play dress-up. And he would put on a suit and a tie, and shiny shoes – he would put them on – and she would put on a fancy, formal gown and long gloves and high-heeled shoes. They loved to play dress-up together. And one day, like children do, they decided they were tired of playing dress-up and they wanted to go across the street and pick some walnuts. There was a walnut orchard just across the street from them. So they did. But they didn’t take off their fancy clothes. They just went like they were. And she used her gown as a sort of bucket to hold the nuts and he dropped them in. And they gathered up a big batch of them, and when they got enough, they decided to go back. While they were crossing the street to their house – just right across the street from the orchard – she was struck and killed by a truck. She had high-heels on and her fancy gown and gloves. Now, the way this boy’s family dealt with this terrible loss of their beloved daughter was to take everything out of the house that reminded them of her. They did that within several days. They didn’t let him go to the funeral. They thought it would be too upsetting for him. And when people asked them, “How many children do you have?” they would say, “One,” and her name was never mentioned again. So all that loss that he experienced, all the grief, and the trauma of seeing her killed right before his face, and all the grief he had in his heart for his beloved sister just stayed there. And over time, it became twisted. And the way it was twisted had to do with the clothing that they were wearing. So that was a way that he found to grieve and memorialize his sister – to put on the same kind of clothes she was wearing when she died. It didn’t start for years, but eventually, it came out in him. And he didn’t know why he was doing that. It was a completely unconscious connection. But, over the course of his counseling, as he talked more about it, he learned how to properly grieve for his little sister and to let those feelings out – the hurt and the pain that he’d suffered. And as he did that, the desire to wear women’s clothing just gradually left him. Talking about it healed him of his grief.
Now you might think that’s a pretty extreme example, but there are even more extreme examples in the Bible. Think about Saul. He was never able to find the poverty of spirit he needed to have a good relationship with God. He thought he knew better. He lost his kingdom because of it. He never acknowledged the problem that he had and the guilt that he experienced from having that forehead of flint. He was never able to get to that place and he became bitter and depressed because of it. And then it began to affect his behavior. He became explosive and homicidal. One minute he was saying David was the greatest supporter he had, then the next minute he was trying to stick him to the wall with a spear – very unstable. Finally, he began to be bothered by demons. So that’s a witness for us, so that we know we ought not to deal our feelings the way he did – by stuffing them.
David, on the other hand, had this to say about how he dealt with his sin in Psalm 32:1-2. He says:
Psalms 32:1-2 – Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
And then in verse 3-5, he said:
V-3-5 – When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long – “when I held it in.” For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me. My vitality turned into the drought of summer. But I acknowledged my sin to You – finally – and my iniquity I have not hidden. And I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
So, you know, when we try to hide our sin, or even our feelings, we’re really being deceitful, because there’s something there that we’re not letting other people see. So David, here, is talking about sealing off his feelings of guilt and conscience – the pangs of conscience that he suffered when he had Uriah, the Hittite, killed so that he could take Uriah’s wife.
Think about Cain. You know, the work of feeling our feelings is difficult. It’s painful. It’s hard to do. But the alternative to that is even worse. Cain’s failure to resolve his jealousy that he had toward Abel led to an explosive rage, when he murdered his brother. When we hold our feelings in, it feels like we’re controlling a wrong attitude, but what really is happening is, these feelings just go underground and then they’re likely to erupt later in a loss of control in some cases.
And you watch the news, and you see all these murders, drunkenness, road rage, child abuse – that’s what causes that – not dealing with our feelings in an honest way. But there’s something even worse than that. When we desensitize ourselves instead of facing the pain that we have, we also become desensitized to the pain and the needs of others. We become hard.
So now I’m going to say something really important to everyone, especially those who are coming to Christ, who will eventually have to help heal the brokenhearted. Our own unresolved losses become our greatest impediment to effective service. It’s impossible to have what the Bible calls “bowels of compassion.” Paul talked about that. And he said we should have it toward others if we’re not able to acknowledge our own feelings.
I was talking to some friends recently who started a little house church. And they said on their first Sabbath, some people came who had been abused by corporate religion some twenty years earlier, and they were still so angry they couldn’t talk about anything else. That ruined the day for everybody – and that was twenty years ago. So that’s what I mean when I talk about being stuck in our feelings. The work of healing has progressed. It hasn’t happened – maybe not even started. Something happened twenty years ago and they’re still upset about it. They’ve never acknowledged it. They’ve never examined how it felt to be devalued, to be constricted, to be disrespected, to be ignored. And to heal, they’re going to have to there and experience those feelings. You might say, “But they’re doing what you said. They’re feeling the feelings.” No, they’re not. They’re feeling angry. The point is to feel the real feeling. Anger always covers over something worse. In this case, anger is not the real feeling. Below that anger, they are deeply wounded by their experience. And they have never acknowledged it. They talked about getting even. Well, that’s from anger. They’ve never examined how it felt to be devalued or constricted. And to heal, they’re going to have to go there and experience that. The only way to get past the negative emotion is to go through it. So how do we do that?
Well, I’m going to mention four things that you might think about. The first one is to process the feelings. What does that mean – process a feeling?
Well, I used to work at a school as a counselor – at an elementary school – and a lady called me and told me that her six-year-old daughter had been having a tough time because her father left the family. So I made the connection with this child and she was going to come to my office a particular time. At that time, I heard the knock on the door, and I went to the door, and there’s this little child smiling up at me with her four front teeth missing, and she said, “Hello, Mithter Thacobs.” And she came in and sat down, and I asked her to explain to me what was going on. So she started to explain to me that her father had, as she put it, “run away from us. And he used to call me a lot, but now he doesn’t so much anymore. And I heard my auntie and my mom talking, and my mom was telling my auntie that he was living under a bridge for awhile, and another man attacked him, and now he’s in jail.” So I said, “You’re worried about your father – that he might get hurt, and you miss your father a lot.” She was nodding, acknowledging that, so I guessed right. And then I said, “If that happened to me, I’d also probably be a little angry with my daddy for leaving.” And she kind of hung her head and nodded at that, too. But she was willing, already, to acknowledge the feelings that she had – the real feelings that she was experiencing. And after we had talked quite a while, I said, “And what would help you?” And now – out of the mouths of babes – she said, “I think I just need to talk.”
Once we acknowledge what the real feelings are, then we need to talk about them. We need to write about them, if we like to write. If we’re artistic, we may need to draw about them. We may need to talk about them, if we need to talk. Sometimes, for some people, drawing and writing helps us talk more.
One of the things we do with those who have been traumatized is to let them tell the story until they get tired of it. And in the telling of it, the trauma moves from right her, in front of our face, to somewhere out there, where it’s not the whole thing – not the big thing in our lives any more. We can’t ever erase those things from our memory, but we can put them in a place where they can’t hinder us any longer – where it’s not the only thing in life. So that’s putting things in perspective, isn’t it? And talking about what has happened is one of the things that does that. When that happens, it’s easier to let go of the fear and the anger and to go on. That’s how it works.
So letting go of these things takes time. And nobody’s on the same schedule to accomplish this task. Healing from a broken heart is a process – it’s not an event – and everybody works this process at different rates. Let’s see some examples in the Bible.
David himself is one of our prime examples. Beside the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah, he wept and mourned when his son, Absalom, died. He didn’t hold it in.
Job’s an example – when his ten children were all killed in one day.
Jesus, of course, is an example – when He looked at the terrible plight of Jerusalem, and was completely overcome to the point that He wept publicly. He allowed Himself to feel His feelings.
And then there’s Ruth, who grieved the death of her husband and sought solace in the relationships with Naomi and God.
So, there’s quite a bit of history in the Old Testament, and some in the New as well, that shows us how to deal with our feelings. I think they knew a lot more about that stuff than we do today. You know, they would tear their clothes, and throw ashes – a public display of grief. I know, for some people, it was probably just an act, but I think it probably helped people to do that. Memorializing someone when they’re dead, for example, is a really helpful way to process grief.
People come to my office and tell me they have this particular problem, and I ask them what they’ve done about it, and they always think that the things are on the exterior. “Well, I try to stay away from him,” or “If I get too upset, I just go take a nap” – I don’t know how they can do that, but…. – or they say, “I do deep breathing.” And I say, “Well, that’s all very good, but it won’t fix the internal problem. You have to work on your heart, where the problem is.”
Let’s look at what the Bible tells us about that in Philippians 4, and verse 6. It says:
Philippians 4:6 – Be anxious for nothing, but in everything – by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving – let your requests be made known to God. And then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
So, when we’re suffering, it’s always good to tell God our troubles. And besides talking about our troubles, one of the things that we can also do in prayer is, to count the blessings He’s given us, and to recall how God is preparing and shepherding us for a great purpose through this sea of life, where we have to encounter all these obstacles and all this pain. And, if we do that, it helps put things in perspective for us. So it’s helpful. When we count our blessings, we know that God loves us, even if other people don’t.
So, Jesus Christ suffered so that He could understand us, and He’s designed life so that we suffer because that’s how we learn, so that we can also understand the hurts of others. We’re not having to go through anything that He hasn’t already accomplished. Wherever we are, He’s already been there. So, counting blessings and processing our hurts with God is the second thing to do.
The third thing…well, let’s read 2 Corinthians 1:3:
2 Corinthians 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
So what’s the point? The point is, it’s always helpful when we’re suffering to be with others who have suffered similar things.
In Albuquerque, where I live, we have a Children’s Grief Center, and we work there with children who have lost parents or other loved ones. And we work with them in groups, because we know that one of the most healing things a human can experience is interaction with others who’ve suffered similar losses. I ran a group once with another therapist for a group of boys in the range from 13 to 19, which is an impossible group. You think about a thirteen-year-old and a nineteen-year-old – you don’t use the same methods to connect, usually, with those two different groups. So the other facilitator and I decided the best thing we could do is just have them playing games together. And you think, “Oh wow! That’s really just, let ‘em have fun and that’s going to solve everything.” Well, we asked them, when it was over, at the end, to fill out a little survey to see what helped and what didn’t. And, of course, being boys, they all checked the area for talking about feelings as the least helpful thing. But one boy, though, on his questionnaire, wrote at the bottom, “Having fun with others who have suffered the loss of a loved one helped me a lot. I learned that I can still have fun and I learned that others know what I’m going through, because it happened to them, too. And I learned that we can all go on together.” I couldn’t teach him that, but playing games in kind of a gym room, just having fun with the guys, young and old, helped him to work through that. And we noticed, as the time went on during that group, that they all kind of got close together. The big ones were taking care of the little ones – picking them to be on their team and that kind of thing.
So the same thing worked with people who have cancer surgery, or people who are in the process of overcoming alcohol or other substances, or those who have lost a child, or for any major loss. Being with others who are working through, or have worked through the pain, can be helpful.
Now here’s a point I want to make about this. The most healing thing that we can bring to someone with a broken heart is the experience of having our own broken hearts healed. And that’s a promise that God offers to us. The scripture that He read there, when He started His ministry – when Jesus started His ministry – He was talking about healing our hearts. All the brethren in His church, from that time to the present, are under that New Covenant dispensation. And so we have that open to us. And one of those things is to have our hearts healed. So that’s one reason God requires Christians to attend services, isn’t it? So that we can help each other. Until we’ve been there, we don’t know what it’s like. And living this life in this world gives us intimate knowledge of the pain of life and the process of healing and the confidence that healing can happen to others, because it has happened to us.
A peer of mine in the ministry, a few years ago, died. And he was the first person from my college class to die. I guess it wasn’t a few years ago now. It was quite a while ago. And my wife began talking to his wife after this happened, and she was telling my wife, “You know, all these people come up to me, and they say, ‘You know you’re going to see your husband in the resurrection.’” And she told my wife, “Well, that just doesn’t help at all. I miss him now! I want him back now!” So all these folks that told her that she’s going to see her husband in the resurrection, I’m sure, had nothing but good will in mind for her. But they’d never been there yet. They didn’t know what it was like to lose a mate. So who would understand what would be helpful to her? Well, yes, another widow. Right? Somebody else who had lost a husband. That’s how it works.
So learning how to heal a broken heart is when we understand how to accept God’s healing for our own deep hurts that inevitably come to all of us in this life. And when we have accomplished that process, then we can empathize with others, and so become healing instruments of God. You know, if you think about it, if you’re an instrument, you’re not really the one doing the healing. God is. He’s the Healer! It’s just like evangelism. God gives the growth, but we do have to plant and water. And God heals the hearts, but we also have a part to play in it. And if we want to be healed ourselves, there are certain things we also have to do – that we have to participate in. And what else is that?
Well, the fourth point I have is, we need – once we have suffered a severe loss and we’ve grieved it – we need to reorient. When we suffer serious losses, it’s sometimes like falling off a horse – everything stops. We become disoriented. We forget what we were doing when the big jolt hit. So we have to reorient. So, in Colossians 3:1-2, here’s some reorientation material for us.
Colossians 3:1-2 – If, then, you were raised with Christ – were you? – even if you fall off a horse, you were raised with Christ, right? – seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. You know, if you were raised up out of the waters of baptism to a commitment with Christ – even though it’s been hard – seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth – not on falling off the horse, not on the losses you’ve taken, but start thinking about what it’s going to be like.
You know, so what if somebody insults you twenty years ago, or you picked the wrong church to be in and it was very controlling. What does that have to do with anything when it comes to being in the family and the Kingdom of God? Paul continues:
V-3 – For you died and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
So what does it mean “your life is hidden with Christ in God?” Well, what it means is, nobody can touch you now. Nobody can take it away from you. Sometimes it feels like we’re losing everything, and really it’s already stored up for us. There’s a crown of righteousness awaiting each one of us, we’re told in Revelation. So we get up, we dust off, we get back on the horse, and we start doing the heart work – where the problem is – and we talk to people who can listen to us and help us. It is a process. It takes some time, but it’s not hard to understand how it works.
So let’s sum up here. It is by successfully experiencing this process of healing that we become the healers of other people. If we don’t experience that process, we can’t be of much help to others. But, if we do experience it, if we’re willing to have the courage to do those things God lays out for us, then we can be incredibly helpful to others, and we can be well prepared to participate in the restoration of God’s way on the earth when we all come with Christ to heal the brokenhearted.