“A broken heart is precious indeed…The best thing is to set aside a certain period each day to pray with a broken heart and then to spend the rest of the day in joy.”
-Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
How can a broken heart be a precious thing? A broken heart seems like a disaster to be avoided. Many of us go to great lengths to avoid heartbreak. Yet it is an inevitable part of living and loving. To think that we can find joy while experiencing a broken heart is hard to wrap our heads around. But it is hopeful and merits consideration.
I have recently found myself in meaningful conversations with numerous people who are experiencing heartbreak due to the death of loved ones or the death of relationships, jobs, institutions, and ways of life. It makes my heart hurt, too. Life is filled with endings; death comes in all shapes and sizes. Grief and pain can often take us by surprise. But so can joy.
As a culture, we don’t deal well with emotional pain and brokenness. When we experience heartbreak of any kind, we often try to push the pain down below the surface in an effort to resist, ignore, and/or numb over it. Oh, there are so many ways that we try to ignore the pain- let us count the ways! In doing so, the pain can creep into all the nooks and crannies of life, weighing us down, creating anxiety, stress, and unease. Emotional pain impacts our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Rabbi Nachman suggests another approach. A few days ago I shared the quote above with a dear friend as we spoke about grief, and she told me a story. When her son first went to preschool, he would cling to her, crying unrelentingly, unwilling to be separated from his mother. (Perhaps that is one of our earliest heartbreaks- being separated from our mothers). Once the teacher was able to peel him off his mother’s leg, she led him over to a quiet corner of the classroom with a timer. She told him he could cry until the timer went off, but then he must join the rest of the class. That approach helped him navigate his separation and entry into the class. What a wise teacher!
Spiritual teachers tell us that a broken heart can help us to grow. We can become awakened, and it can help us blossom into the people we were meant to be. It is possible, but it doesn’t always happen. Perhaps that is why we are advised to pray with our broken hearts. When we ask a loving presence larger than our small self to come into our lives with goodness and healing, transformation occurs. Given time, attention, and grace, we can discover that Love is at work accompanying, guiding, and healing us in surprising ways. By honoring our broken heart as a treasured guest, we create the space and opportunity for joy. (For more about the profound nature of joy, see my previous blog of December).
Blessings and love to everyone who is experiencing a broken heart. We have all been there and we will be there again. May you know the precious nature of this time.
Honor the pain in your tender heart. Lean into the joy. Remember that you are loved.
With a hug,
From Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us to Grow:
“A broken heart is not the same as sadness. Sadness occurs when the heart is stone cold and lifeless. On the contrary, there is an unbelievable amount of vitality in a broken heart.”
“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”
“The experience of change and transformation is never complete. Something bigger and brighter always calls to shine through us. We are continually challenged to change and grow, to break down and break through.”
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.
-Mary Oliver, Devotions
“I further encourage you not to be concerned about your form or style of prayer. Seek only honesty and truth, come to your best sense of desire, and just be there as you are, with God as God may be…If there is any ‘right’ way of praying, it is that most simple and yet elusive one: to simply be yourself…just be real.”
-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart
“Prayer connects heart, mind, and body to a generous Spirit that stands ready to move through any available opening, bestowing whatever goodness may be possible in any given situation.”
-Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace