Thursday, April 9, 2009

How Can you Mend a Broken Heart?

Are you participating this month in the Turning the Tide! Prayer Thrust? I've been praying the prompts that Children of Destiny has provided for each day. Have you printed out the calendar? Or are you using the pop-up windows online each morning?

They do an awesome job leading us in corporate scriptural prayers that are relevant and specific. Praise God for the Systema's! Bless them with continued wisdom and stamina. Yesterday's theme "Healing for Broken Hearts" got me thinking...and is as good a template as any for blogging.

The Lord surely can mend a broken heart. Indeed, it is the expressed reason why He sent Jesus to earth. The Isaiah 61:1 verse, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” prophecies Jesus arrival and declares the Mission Statement of His ministry. I remember learning this verse in Stephen Ministry training as the foundational reason Christians come alongside others, in His name, to offer comfort and healing. Further, we are more effective and empathetic doing so when we ourselves are wounded healers, with our own firsthand experience of having a broken heart bound up, healed, mended.

This side of Heaven, there are a myriad of reasons our hearts break. Autism is but one. Crushing experiences throughout any one lifespan run the gamut from not being invited to not knowing a harsh words from a cancer, poverty and murder. Certainly in this country, our struggles are all relative. On the one hand, I think we can get out of the brokenhearted mode by being grateful for all that we do have--the joy of celebrating hard won victories, the laughter with other moms, the blogging community, the incredible availability of services, the benefit of articulate adults on the spectrum, the time we live in (post-Bettleheim) and so on and so forth....

I need to guard against complaining or using autism as a scapegoat for all my problems. In our household, we are starting to recognize that this may be a pattern to correct even in casual conversation. It can sound like this:

"Are we going out of town for spring break?" Can't...autism.
"Will we be flying cross-continent for Thanksgiving?" Can't...autism.
"Why don't we replace the ripped leather trampoline, I mean sofa?" Can't...autism.

Autism becomes the excuse for everything, the reason we don't do anything! And then we become dangerously close to being in bondage to it. And we are not. We make choices based on the needs of each individual in our family--Jim needs gluten-free food; Allie likes to sleep in; Reid can only fly so far; I hate the heat.

"Who left the car door open?" REID!!
"Who forgot to flush the toilet?" Reeeid!
"Who spilled the water over here?" Reeid!

Blaming autism can feel awfully close to blaming Reid. That's not fair or fun or accurate. Truth be told, lately it is not always him. I give a silent cheer--and so does he--when someone else slips up and he can point the finger at their minor offense.

I have a soul sister friend who is much better at separating her child from the his disorder. At our most aggravated junctures in the last 12 years, we call each other to vent. Her common opener has been, "I just gotta say, I hate autism right now." Not once have I heard her attribute her frustration to her son. Sometimes I must confess to at least mentally saying, "he's driving me crazy." Hear the difference? It's the old maxim with a new twist: Hate the sin, love the sinner.

That's part of it, the other part of it is freeing up our kids to have new wineskins as the Bible calls them, rather than holding them to old ways of coping. Raising the bar and filling in the old notches, so to speak. Are there ways that my expectations (or habits) hold Reid in an old behavior pattern? Small example: Reid used to wait for me to open the garage door for him. He insisted and waited as long as it took. Well, one day I was a couple minutes late for his bus. I pulled up to see the garage door open. Given the necessity, he had been able to key in the code and let himself in. Note to self: now he can open the door for all of us, carry in groceries, and get the mail.

Back to mending the broken heart. Fortunately or unfortunately, we don't get to choose our own category of suffering. A Sovereign Lord does that, all the while ensuring that He will work it together for good and never give us more than we can bear. What we can control is what we do with the particular challenges He allows in our life, how we respond, what we learn from them.

Our first reactions may not be our ultimate response. At any time along the journey, the Lord invites our hot tears and waits with His hand extended for us to give Him our hearts. He is like a father who's willing and able to fix a broken toy, if only the child will hand it to him--and part with the fractured pieces. Turning our broken hearts over to God in prayer is the first step to being mended.

I learned this the hard way when Reid was being diagnosed. We had moved to Chicago for what ended up being 12 freezing months. In what felt like a cruel joke, Jim was traveling back to California Monday through Friday; my mom was newly engaged and pre-occupied in head-over-heels infatuation; and I knew not a soul in this new town. My dreams were being dashed by total strangers who'd arrive at the doorstep, assess my 2 1/2 year old with a list of deficits and a grim prognosis, then leave never to be seen again. Suffice it to say, I cried myself to sleep on the sofa regularly.

Heartbreak turned to anger. I was mad at Jim for deserting me, mad at my mom for being happy, mad at the therapists for judging my little pride and joy, and ultimately mad at God for letting any of this be. I felt tricked like he had pulled a fast one on me while I wasn't looking.

Somewhere along the line in that isolation, I also realized it would be shooting myself in the foot to stay mad at God. Clearly, He had more power to help me than my mom ever will. At that time, He seemed a bit more attentive than my husband. Certainly, He was more knowledgeable about the course of action we needed to chart than the best specialist. I think I actually realized this faster and more acutely because I was separated from my usual support system. I was left alone with the One with whom the buck stopped. Not a bad place to be, actually!

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:3-5 As I moved closer to Him in prayer--or rather stopped backing away in anger--I was happier. To be in His presence always feels good. Worship and prayer put us there.

Psalm 120 gives us clear permission to vent our distress and misery. God can take it. Not only that, He is close to the brokenhearted. Let it out! I just returned from our Maundy Thursday service so am freshly impressed that He is the One who endured watching His own precious Son eaten alive by the angry mob. This God can sympathize with every affliction known to man. We have something in common; we're made in His image with a soul and a heart that has the capacity to love, feel, and therefore break with sadness, regret, and loss.

The Psalmists approached God with every single human emotion--distress, desperation, vengeance, impatience, gratitude, anger and hatred. The fact that the Psalms are included in Biblical inspiration proves that honesty is not inconsistent with worship. Remarkably, something about relinquishing every single heart wrenching feeling results in His making us whole again. We were made to worship and be in His presence. When we do, our attitude and our perspective changes.

Psalm after Psalm begins with self and ends with God. Our emotion, His truth. Our honesty, His promises. Our pain, His comfort. Our weakness, His strength. Our broken hearts, His healing. Our suffering, His redemption.

I know it is OK to woe and yet, I don't want to be so "woe is me" that I make autism out to be worse than the horrific things happening around the globe that also break God's heart. Cancer, slavery, torture, paralysis, murder. Would any of us prefer to be living in those conditions? I love my life and how God has redeemed it; and I pray there is joy that comes through the end of each post even if I begin with brutal honesty. If not, read a Psalm instead! There are 150.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:25-27

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-27

I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you..." 2 Kings 20:5


  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I remember trying to take my two to a Good Friday service right after my daughter had been diagnosed in 2002. It was a disaster. I haven't been back to church since then. I can't ask anyone to understand that my kids WILL ESCAPE, and my husband is afraid to trust anyone to watch them. I don't think I've ever been angry with God, just bewildered. But I'm thankful too that I have this unique experience. I just wish I could have more humans to hug and share with in person. This ended up being a really lame comment. I'm sort of still letting the feelings from what I read come to the surface. I spend a lot of time keeping feelings weighed down. I don't let them breathe too often.

  2. I went through a similar process to the one you describe (when you lived in Chicago) - only mine lasted for two years. I was angry, hurt, disappointed and so bitter when my daughter was diagnosed. Finally, one day, in a her hospital room I threw my hands up and said, "Lord, she's yours. I'm trusting you to take care of her and make something beautiful out of her life." I still have difficult times, but since that day God has blessed me with such a peace. He truly can heal our hearts.

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