Broken Hearts

© Copit1606 | Dreamstime.com - Broken Heart Photo

Yes, it’s been a while. Some of you have emailed me out of concern, and I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness. What of the letter to my parents explaining my turn from faith? I wrote it, but I never sent it. I’ll explain further in another post on another day. How have I been? The desire to believe has been intense for no identifiable reason. I have spent my mornings devouring scripture and writing down every moment where I see God’s goodness and mercy—instead of writing down the inconsistencies or attributes of God that seem corrupt. I do still see those things, but I’m shifting my focus and forcing myself to read further when I get there instead of slamming my Bible shut. With every question my skeptical mind raises, I ask myself “How would I answer this if I believed? What evidence would I point to? Is there any way I can make that evidence sufficient?” Is this a fair method for examining my faith? Not at all, and I don’t advise anyone to use it for such a purpose. I do think it keeps my thoughts dynamic. In high school debates, I was most successful when I learned to think like the other side.

I’ve been praying—a lot. I don’t really feel heard, but the longing to do it is there, so I just do it anyway throughout the day, and sometimes I imagine God responding. It’s not hurting anyone else, and I don’t really care if it’s hurting me. I’m already broken.

Broken. Perhaps never more broken than I was yesterday in a church service. At least, it’s never affected me so suddenly and so strongly and so publicly as it did yesterday. We went to the early service at the First Baptist Church in our new city (we’re in the middle of a move to get our older daughter into a better school district). We have been going for a few weeks now to the late service, but yesterday we tried the early one because I love a good Baptist choir (the late service is contemporary and choir-less).

God, let me find you, I silently prayed as the service started.

One praise set complete. So far, so good. Next came a scripture reading by the music minister from Luke 16:19-31, which ended with “…neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Will he end it with that? Where is the hope? What is next?

I turned to my husband. “Is that it?” I asked. “Are they just going to leave us there?”

As I spoke, the minister turned to face the choir, and they stood. “I think the scripture was to introduce the song,” Russell said as a single note played to give the pitch for the a cappella piece.

What I heard next was nothing short of bizarre. This was the song they sang:

Most of you won’t click on the link, so here are the lyrics:

Poor Man Lazarus (American Spiritual)

1 Poor man Lazarus, sick and disabled,
dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame!
He had to eat crumbs from the rich man’s table
dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame!
Refrain:
I’m tormented in the flame!
I’m tormented in the flame!
Dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame!
2 Rich man Divies, he lived so well.
Dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame!
And when he died, he went straight to hell.
Dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame! [Refrain]
3 I love to shout, I love to sing.
Dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame!
I love to praise my heavenly King.
Dip your finger in the water;
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame! [Refrain]

This was sung in chipper voices that came from people with bright eyes and broad smiles. I don’t remember if the pitch or tempo were perfect. I don’t remember if the harmonies were tight. All I remember is the oppressive feeling that this was a cruel joke and that I had to escape. During the first verse I looked at my husband with incredulous amusement. By the first refrain, my eyes were full of tears. By the third verse, they were pouring down my face. This isn’t a normal response for me under any circumstance. I cry alone, usually long after the inciting event is over. Yesterday was different, and I had to leave before someone thought I was seriously being “moved” by the “worship.” I slipped out during the applause. Applause.

I walked through the foyer and out the nearest exit I could find with tear-blinded eyes. I drew in cool air and shakily exhaled as more tears emerged. The last verse replayed in my mind:
“I love to praise my heavenly king.
Dip your finger in the water;
Come and cool my tongue,
‘Cause I’m tormented in the flame.”

Is this how I’m supposed to find you, God? Are you clapping too? I whispered accusingly. There was no audible answer. Just the one my mind made up—the one my God would give.

No applause; I’m crying here with you.

If Luke 16 is true, they should all be crying too. This time my words were silent, not whispered. Someone had walked out of another door on the other side of the sanctuary, and I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. Was this worship? The God in my head replied again.

They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…

The man approached me, but he didn’t seem to notice me. He re-entered the building through the door next to me, whistling the morbid song as he walked. Tears filled my eyes again. They just don’t see it at all. This song destroyed me, and he is whistling it without a thought. Back to the late service next week. I’m sick of their songs too, but at least they don’t crescendo to the words “he went straight to hell.”

The God my mind made up didn’t respond this time, but two phrases from two songs came into my head simultaneously. Two overdone songs. Two songs that often end up seeming more like performances than opportunities for worship. Two songs that define the Baptist contemporary “late” service in America.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander from “Oceans” and Break my heart for what breaks yours from “Hosanna,” both by Hillsong United. These were the phrases that replaced the tragic song in my mind. I must confess that both of these lines have been my prayers—I am often moved deeply by the most overdone youth group songs. I have no idea what was sung in the late service yesterday at my church—but in a late service somewhere, I am almost certain that a group of people sang the words “Break my heart for what breaks yours” as they worshipped. How many people thought of Luke 16? How many hearts broke for those who fear hell or for those who they think might already be there? How many hearts broke for the spiritually abused or the confused or the apostate? How many hearts broke for me? If I could build my own God, he would weep over a tormenting flame—not condemn people to it. His heart would break for this.

What of the other phrase—Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander—? If I could create the God I want, he would answer that prayer.

So, readers—what breaks your heart? How does your life reflect this? And if you believe, how does your heartache over these things reflect your God?

Photo credit: © Copit1606 | Dreamstime.com – Broken Heart Photo

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33 thoughts on “Broken Hearts

  1. Umm..Wow. I haven’t heard that one before, and I can’t say I’m sorry about that. You ask what breaks my heart? Pretty much stuff like that.

    There does seem to be a certain glee that creeps into the Christian voice when talking about eternal damnation…especially when it involves someone we’re not huge fans of. My father-in-law gets that way when talking about gays, or Muslims, or Rick Warren (still haven’t quite figured that last one out yet). This weekend, I heard a Tibetan Buddhist speak about sympathetic joy, and wishing happiness and an end to suffering even on our enemies. Odd that the religion (Christianity) that purports to be all about love and unconditionality often seems to want the exact opposite. Something about the “They’ll get theirs” mentality conflicts with the whole Gospel thing…

    Liked by 4 people

    • Toad, my parents feel the same way about Rick Warren!

      I’m fervently hoping that the bright smiles on Sunday morning during that song were because of a combination of enthusiasm for worship and thoughtlessness about the actual words being sung. I just can’t handle the thought that this was all an exhibition of glee over the idea of eternal damnation. For at least some, I know it must be. But for me, for so many years, it was just thoughtlessness. It is a crime as well that I grieve over—but to a lesser degree.

      I’m too prideful for Buddhism…which is probably why I should adopt its worldview.

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  2. Hope the move isn’t too stressful, it’s good to read an update of sorts.

    “Break my heart for what breaks yours” is a favorite at our church also, though the worship leader will often encourage the congregation to think of it in a personal way, as in, to personalise and internalise it, search within ones own life for that which would break Gods heart. Not as a way to break ones heart for those lost, searching, hurt…

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  3. From your post CC: “One praise set complete. So far, so good. Next came a scripture reading by the music minister from Luke 16:19-31, which ended with “…neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

    Will he end it with that? Where is the hope? What is next?”

    Sounds so familiar to me. It should. I spent the majority of my life hearing it within not only the context of a rebuke to those who were doubting & a warning for those questioning, but also as a moment to shut the door on all the Lazurus’s now in the flame. No better time to sing a rejoicing spiritual then at the end of that scripture. It’s a perfect way to silence our legitimate agony and uneasy knowing that others burn and we get to rejoice that unlike Lazurus we got it right, thank God!

    As to your three questions you ask. 1. Yes. 2. Jesus. 3. Heaven if you believe; flames if you don’t.

    The broken are the ones who know that salvation is not simple.

    I’m not a believer now. What breaks my heart? Posts like yours. That’s why I am still here. I enter into posts like this with a non-theistic reverence. The journey itself is hallowed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “The broken are the ones who know that salvation is not simple.”

      —I loved this, Zoe. I thought of you yesterday. Not fleetingly, either. I don’t know much of your story, but I know that many of my tears were for you and for other people who have a story like yours.

      I have believing friends who are broken too. They know that salvation is not simple. We disagree about many things, but I think they would cry if they heard those words the way I did yesterday. We can at least be united with them in our humanity.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Whenever the pastor preached about the end times at my old church, people would discuss it afterwards like it was a great thing. All I could think of was all those souls that would burn in fire at the end of it all, and then look around at all the gleeful faces of my “friends” as they thought of “justice” finally being done.

    I couldn’t be there any more. I couldn’t ever be in any church any more. It just wasn’t right. People shouldn’t be celebrating the eternal torment of others. That’s monstrous, no matter how they try to dress it up. I’m sorry that you went through that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can relate to your response to leave the church altogether. It was hard for me to go back in. But I want things to change. If I could patiently, gently, respectfully teach their hearts to break…

      I don’t really know what I’m hoping for. But it almost feels like a calling.

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      • I just hesitate so to comment here. It may seem easy but it really isn’t. There’s two things in play for me. Honouring/respecting your journey and honouring/respecting my own. Sometimes not knowing if I should continue to participate or simply keep at a distance.

        I think it is a calling but a calling doesn’t require a God. I know I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. I do think our callings have everything to do with who we are and exist prior to cementing any sort of belief-system. When I see you write words I’ve written, words I’ve said it touches the part of my journey I’ve already lived. The reason I stayed was the hope to gently break hearts. I stayed too long. I know I was still believing during my stay and years away from actually leaving the faith/belief yet. You if I understand don’t believe as things are now but want to believe. That part of your story is different.

        I can’t tell you how many broken moments brought me out of my pew, through the aisle and out to the lobby. Not one person ever assisted me in my agony. In the circles I was in it would have been understood that I was being convicted of sin.

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  5. Pingback: Ignoring Atrocities | Amusing Nonsense

  6. I know the feeling. I felt it every time there was a picture of drowning mothers, children in their arms, during Noah’s flood. I felt it when the pictures depicted happy, smiling people with Armageddon raging on behind them.

    I’m sorry. hugs

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    • I almost feel like we all start out that way. My four-year-old would say “But that’s too sad” or “But that’s not fair” if she understood some of the faith-related things she comes across in pictures, in songs, and in written words.

      At what point does faith cause our humanity to break? Does it cause it at all, or does it just require us to set it aside in order to possess faith? My child can choose to believe what she wants, but I will not let her lose her humanity. Noah’s Ark will break my children’s hearts, not decorate their nurseries.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Noah’s Ark will soon grace the walls of our first grandchild’s. It’s been in the in-laws family for years. It will greet me every time I step into the bedroom. I must see it as harmless in order to cope with my own trauma and my own truth that I too passed on this brokeness. I have at this moment become overcome with emotion and tears.

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        • Oh Zoe. I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I actually do think it’s harmless in a nursery. The harmful thing is to not tell the story of what happened outside of the ark—when children are old enough to hear it. Whether we believe or not, our hearts must still break for these things, and we must teach our children’s hearts to break. Until then, babies like animals. And they like symmetry. Two by two. Harmless. Enjoy the new life!

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  7. What I heard next was the nothing short of bizarre.

    Yeah, that sums it up well. Hell is such a horrific concept and to sing with bright eyes and smiles about it is anti-human. I’d like to think everyone was just listening to the music and not thinking about the lyrics but I’m a little doubtful of that.

    I was afraid of hell for many years after I left Christianity (and even for some years during). I had a very hard time shaking it. But time, learning about it, thinking about the absurdity of it, and realizing the fear was unproductive helped a lot to the point that I now hardly ever think about it. I haven’t completely shaken fear of the unknown in death – fear of the unknown is natural, but I’m happy it’s so rare now and unfocused. It was also a source of huge cognitive dissonance for me as a Christian, especially given that growing up I was surrounded by many Jewish people who were very caring and who loved me. My grandparents died with a Jewish worldview and had beautiful hearts.

    btw, I’m sad that you’re broken and continue to hope that you heal, and I’m not so sure prayer is bad for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howie, I can’t find words to express how your words make me feel. Maybe I should put this on one of you comments on my own blog, but right now here I am and what you say moves me. Your so kind and gentle, patient and accepting. It’s special. I’m thankful for you in this world. Especially for your participation in my part of this world… And being able to read your participation in others who are on this/or similar journeys…
      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m glad you quoted me, because I recognized (and corrected) my error.

    I think many of them were thoughtlessly singing without considering the lyrics. Some were legitimately enthusiastic about the idea of eternal torment for the “deserving”, no doubt. Some didn’t consider the words deeply enough to be bothered. Perhaps others were broken like I was. I don’t know if Pascal heard it, but the timing of his post on Sunday tells me he didn’t (I’m not sure which service he goes to—it’s a big church for our area, and we haven’t seen him there since we started attending). But if he had heard it, I think he would have been broken. Or at least he would have thought “Oh no. This will be on CC’s blog tomorrow.” I don’t really think I’m alone in a church that size. At least, I’d like to pretend that I’m not.

    I used to fear hell, too. That’s getting better—and I’m glad it’s better for you.

    Thank you for your kindness to me, Howie. I especially appreciate your patience with me—I feel like many want me to either believe or don’t believe, and own it. You accept me wherever I am, and that means a lot.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think many of them were thoughtlessly singing without considering the lyrics.

      I think so too because after I listened to it yesterday I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. I had to start singing another song to get it out. It’s too bad the tune is so catchy.

      Thank you for your kindness to me, Howie. I especially appreciate your patience with me—I feel like many want me to either believe or don’t believe, and own it. You accept me wherever I am, and that means a lot.

      The essence of who we are as individuals (what I still call soul even though I don’t believe it lives forever) is much much more than the worldviews that we hold. So you and Russell can believe, or not believe, or stay in limbo between the two – won’t change how I view either of you.

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    • “I especially appreciate your patience with me—I feel like many want me to either believe or don’t believe, and own it.”

      This is why I have been considering not commenting further. I abhor the tug-of-war scenario and if I sense or have been told I’m part of choking someone to death I will exit. I can say what I want on my own blog but when it comes to entering into another’s blog and their journey that’s another thing.

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      • You are always welcome here, Zoe. I once depended too much on another person’s input, and it devastated me when they stopped giving it. I hold my attachments more loosely now to protect me from heartache. If you stop commenting I’ll survive—but I will miss you. Your comments are quite often the most meaningful to me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you CC. I am one who was often leaned on far too much. It’s what gives me insight into the issue. It wore me thin and when I pulled away being the human that I am it caused others to turn on me and I hurt them. (Not referring to online issues.)

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          • I don’t think I said this correctly. My pulling away for my own sake hurt them and they accused me of not caring. It wasn’t the case. It’s just that for them I was becoming their Jesus. I never had any interest in being God. o_O

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  9. This post came to mind when I did my day 4 of Jonah study today, titled ‘what God delights in’, It touched on how people delight in the idea of judgement for those who choose to reject. But that God does not… God is (apparently) concerned with forgiveness as a primary, not judgement…

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  10. My heart breaks for you here. I would think that if you wish, and felt that you could, would be that moving might be a good time to slip out of church. I wish you the best.

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  11. I have been away for a while and just read this post today. Very sad. J, I wish you were in a different church. If I had visited a church like this today, I would have walked out too …and never come back. For me personally, I had to stop going to church altogether and explore my own faith a bit more deeply before I could return to going to church. I have turned away from evangelical churches altogether as they all seem to have that fundamentalist bent. Even still, no church is perfect and I returned simply for service and fellowship. Your comment about your four year old is something I would like for you to return to. Jesus said we must be like children ….if your child thinks that hell is terrible and unfair than even so much so does God. 🙂 George MacDonald taught me that anything that contradicts the love of God cannot be true…that is where my faith now lies.

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    • I like that view of God. So do you not believe in hell?

      It is tempting to leave that church because of things like what happened last Sunday. But like you, I enjoy the fellowship—and even the worship. And I want to develop the kind of relationships with believers there where I can maybe someday gently and lovingly help them realize the picture of God that they paint with words like these. Most of the believers there have been so wonderful and welcoming to us. I think that song was not sung out of malice or mockery of those who don’t believe—they just weren’t being thoughtful. I’m probably guilty of the same a thousand times each day—just in different ways.

      My absence won’t change anything. My loving presence might.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That is a beautiful thought. I thought the same in a church I was previously in but left in the end because it was hurting someone I love.

        As for hell. …For the moment I am content with theories. I don’t think we can know for sure what it is all about. George McDonald’s theory was that hell is a place made for the betterment of certain individuals, a sort of purification by fire and temporary. I know that God wishes all to be saved and whatever the plan, I am sure it is one of love. I am also sure in my heart that all will be saved eventually. I leave the how to God.

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