Scorn has broken my heart . . . Psalm 69:20
Jesus tells us that he came to “bind up the brokenhearted.”
This definition of His ministry is not limiting, but expansive, for the only hearts that have not been broken are those that never opened at all. Heartbreak is not some esoteric experience known only by poets, artists and musicians, it is universal.
In Psalm 69, David laments: “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness:” The heartbreak David complains of here we might classify as vocational. That is, he now laments his loss of authority and status and influence in his kingdom. He was once a rock star – a famous warrior, a poet and singer of songs, “a man after God’s own heart.” But now, he says, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien to my mother’s children.” He is “weary of crying.” That is not to say that he is tired of it and would like to be doing something else, rather that the physical act of crying – its intensity and duration in this instance and experience – has exhausted him.
You and I may not have been rock stars, even in our best days. But, if we have lived very long at all, we may well relate to what David is describing here. Once we had the trust and confidence of our friends and co-workers. We were sure of our own abilities and place in the world. And then things fell apart. We woke up to see that those we trusted, in whose friendship we rested, may have plotted against us. Where we were once valued, we are now second-guessed. “But now old friends are acting strange. They shake their heads. They say I’ve changed.”
We may also experience heartbreak in intimate relationships.
We may experience a terrible break in a relationship with a child, a parent or a sibling. David knew this pain, too. There may be no more poignant human story in the Bible than the story of David and Absalom.
If David’s life on the battlefield is an example of how men should approach their careers – being brave and bold and strong and fast – then David’s family life is an example of how men should not approach their domestic lives. Life in David’s household was marked by one tragedy after another.
The story of David and Absalom is a long and complicated, but for our present purposes we’ll just say that Absalom was David’s favorite son and that when David was old Absalom organized a rebellion against his father, King David, and worked to turn the people of Israel against him. This rebellion escalated into open battle between those loyal to David and those who had joined Absalom’s rebellion. In that conflict, Absalom was killed. When David got word of Absalom’s death, this was his reaction:
II Samuel 18
31 And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” 33 [d] And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
But the kind of heartbreak that is most often described in popular culture – in our songs and in our movies and television drama – is the heartbreak occasioned by disappointment in romantic love. The heartbreak that results from unrequited love or a faithless lover. In fact, this sort of heartbreak is so often the subject of poetry and song that it becomes a target for parody. We think of the Mason Williams song, for example: “You Done Stomped on My Heart and you mashed that sucker flat . . .”
Joni Mitchell had something to say about this kind of heartbreak – about how it is so common these days that we just ignore it – act like it never happened.
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
A dizzy, dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way.
But now it’s just another show
You leave them laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away.
Some will say that this is healthy. You know – there’s nothing to be done. “Just get over it and get on with it. No big deal. No great loss. You should be glad.” But sensibilities have not always been such.
In Jane Austen’s masterful novel, Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet confronts the man who has been responsible for separating her “most beloved sister” from the man she loved and hoped to marry. Miss Bennet’s idea of romantic love is not so dismissive as Joni Mitchell’s:
“I have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you acted there. You dare not, you cannot deny, that you have been the principal, if not the only means of dividing them from each other — of exposing one to the censure of the world for caprice and instability, and the other to its derision for disappointed hopes, and involving them both in misery of the acutest kind.”