FAITHFUL LIVING: A broken heart can be a wonderful condition

Unto a broken heart, no other one may go.

Without the high prerogative, itself hath suffered too.

-- Emily Dickinson, 1864

It was during my sophomore year at the University of California that I first met Emily Dickinson.

I did not actually meet her, of course, for this famous American poet lived during the nineteenth century. But a class I took introduced me to her extensive works and I came to realize that her masterful words give us a peek into the deepest themes surrounding the human experience. I treasure the quarter I studied Emily Dickinson’s life and the writings she produced in response to her life experiences. Even today I continue to meet her in wonderful ways through her poems.

I was drawn initially to her deep and brooding words by a marvelous professor who had spent a good portion of his adult life researching, teaching, and writing about this one-of-a-kind American poet. This week I found myself drawn to her unforgettable thoughts on the broken hearted because I felt my own heart break several times this week. And right along with these ever-so-brokenhearted feelings has come an astonishing discovery: a suffering heart can be a strange and welcome bedfellow.

Sound impossible? I can understand why, for I once believed that if I felt happy, if stress was kept at bay and if I rid even the deep reaches of my mind of any sadness, these were signals that my life was going well. Success, it seemed, came wrapped in good feelings.

I no longer believe this. I believe, instead, that feeling broken hearted can be an acceptable condition. We will live through the experience and recover, ever stronger, if we allow God to interplay in the events. We will learn to live deeply satisfying lives with a heart that occasionally feels like it is breaking in two.

Early in my life I began realizing that events had the power to etch fractures into my heart. I experienced a happy and secure childhood I am thankful to say, so my heart did not break out of personal victimization. My heart began breaking in response to events around me. And as I grew in my ability to self reflect, I came to understand that God had gifted me with a tender heart with good reason and full intention.

It was a struggle, however, for a good number of years. While I approached my life with optimism and energy, I experienced moments when I simply hurt. I would hurt for my friends and family members struggling with one problem or another; for injustice, famine, war, disease — and for myself, on occasion. I learned not to dwell on the pain, but I also learned I could not avoid or ignore it. I began allowing myself to feel it deeply and determined early on to respond in a constructive manner.

When Robert Kennedy was assassinated I felt terribly sorry for his daughter who is closest to my age. I wrote her a letter of condolence and she responded with a card, thanking me for my sympathy. I still have that card.

My heart broke this week when a young friend of mine talked about his life in the foster care system and what it feels like to have a mother who can no longer care for him. It hurts and frustrates me to regularly observe his enormous sadness without a way to step in and wipe it all away.

My heart also broke this week as I watched a special young friend of mine struggle for acceptance from classmates who have yet to develop hearts that value diversity and uniqueness. Will they ever develop a caring attitude toward those they may never be able to fully understand? my heart cried out this week. It is an unanswerable sorrow.

Each and every time I feel my heart breaking I have learned to pray, asking God to move right in--right there at the very spot where it hurts the most and at the moment when I search frantically for comforting and helpful words. Right there when the immensity of the problem demands a heavenly source of hope and energy and strength because I cannot possibly respond with my own personal reserves. They are simply not deep enough.

I no longer long for the carefree life with a fully intact heart, for I know I would cease to grow if I were content with all aspects of my life. There is sweet solace knowing I will grow strongest when the fire is hot and the despair immense; when I can experience myriad ways God’s love empowers and strengthen me—along with everyone else who asks.

God will forever be the great mender of broken hearts. We are not alone.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is


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