This is how a heart breaks

Sometimes, your heart breaks.

Your heart breaks in your own home.

Like when your daughter comes back from school, and you ask her how her day went, and she goes quiet. You know she’s been having a hard time with some of the other girls in her class. But she’s getting older, and doesn’t want her parents to fight her battles or solve her problems. So she suffers quietly, and you know you can’t do anything to help her.

Your heart breaks at work.

Like when a new coworker is struggling with his job. He’s just a kid, fresh out of school, and he’s in over his head. He keeps making mistakes. The boss is getting frustrated. He knows it, and he tries even harder, and somehow that makes it even worse. This downward spiral only ends one way – and you know it – but no matter how hard you try you can’t help.

Your heart breaks out in the world.

Like when you’re at Wal-Mart and a mom is at the end of her rope, with three crying kids clinging to her. She’s swearing at them and raising her voice and making a scene. And your heart breaks for her – for her stress and for her inability to cope. And your heart breaks for her kids, who can’t understand why mommy is angry and sad.

All of these heartbreaks are happening around you, every day.

Daring to hope

Sometimes your heart can even break for things that happen nowhere near you. For people you’ve never met, in places you’ve never been, in circumstances you’ve only read about.

There’s a lot of that kind of heartbreak, these days.

Your heart breaks for Paris. For the bodies beneath bloodstained sheets, lying in alleyways and on sidewalks. For the young lives cut short.

Your heart breaks for the Middle East. For the little three-year old Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey. For his family, who want nothing more than to live lives free of terror and murder.

Your heart breaks for all the people living in ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq under the rule of an oppressive, insane fundamentalist regime. People who plant bombs in dolls to kill children. Who behead the clerics of their own faith for standing up to them. Who set enemy soldiers on fire and behead them. Who have stopped being human and have turned mindless and pitiless.

All of these things break my heart, too.

But there is one thing that breaks – no, shatters – my heart more than any of these.

Maybe it is because I have already lived too long, and seen too much, but I’m no longer surprised by all the cruelty and evil in the world. I see it as the permanent state of things, I suppose. But living alongside of that heartbreak, there has always been hope. There is still part of me – the part that is rooted in nearly five decades of faith in the grace and goodness of God – that hopes that love is stronger than hate, that good is stronger than evil, that light will drive away darkness.

So even though I’m moved to tears by the stories of all the other heartbreaks of my world – and the world I only know through the news – part of me dares to hope. So these aren’t the stories that shatter me. That push me to despair.

What truly breaks my heart are other Christians.

What have we forgotten?

On Facebook and on Twitter, on television and on Google News, I’ve seen countless examples of hatred and cowardice from people who call themselves “Christian.” Typical of the things I’ve read are statements like this blog post:

One of the biggest errors of the Obama Administration is not only allowing but encouraging Muslim immigrants allegedly fleeing violence in their home nations. Brigitte Gabriel of ACT for America has sent out an email to raise grassroots support against Obama’s most recent plan to bring Syrian Muslim refugees into the USA. If any Syrians are allowed into our nation when ONLY Christians should immigrate who appreciate the USA rather than the hate-America Muslims with their typical rage.

When I read words like these, I don’t know where to begin. Do I begin with the word “allegedly,” as though more than 10 thousand Syrian Muslims have not been murdered by ISIS? Do I reserve my anger for the hypocrisy of Brigitte Gabriel – a Lebanese-American Christian who was a refugee from violence – and who is now trying to close the borders of the U.S. to people fleeing persecution? Do I think of my dear Muslim friend Suniya – one of the gentlest and most caring souls I know – and boil with rage at the ignorant notion that all Muslims are violent? Do I look beneath these words at the foundation of cowardice supporting them? This paranoia some Christians profess that says, in essence, “I’m less concerned that some brown people I have never met will almost certainly die than I am about the completely unlikely chance that I will.”

Actually, as hateful as the words themselves may be, and as ignorant and as false as their foundation, the words themselves are not the problem.

What makes my soul despair is how far those words are removed from these words:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Sometimes, I wonder if people who call themselves Christian have read the book that sits in my nightstand. Because I don’t read anywhere in there that the only people who deserve love and compassion are the people share my beliefs. In fact, it says the exact opposite.

I look at our community – so many of us the children and grandchildren of postwar refugees from Holland – and I worry that we’re so busy protecting the lives we’ve created for ourselves, we’ve forgotten that it was kindness and love that attracted us to Canada in the first place. I worry that we’re more self-interested than we are interested in the wellbeing of others. That we’ve become calloused and cowardly. Uncaring and unchristian.

I still want to believe that God’s love can change the world. But when I listen to the people who claim to follow his word, I lose that hope.

And that is what truly breaks my heart.


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