Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Loving with a Broken Heart

By Abbey Tennis

“There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”
—Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

My friend Rev. Debra Haffner shares with people that when she read fairy tales to her children as they grew up, she would skip the “happily ever after” part. When the epic love-at-first-sight between the princess and prince finally overcame whatever witches and thorny forests got in their way, Debra would say, “And it was a lot of work. The end.”

This always struck me as funny, but also left a little knot of sadness in my gut. Part of me wants to believe that a connection’s powerful beginning will be enough to sustain happiness forever, and win out over the “and it was a lot of work” part.

It’s not. Sooner or later, every powerful new commitment hits a roadblock: a fight with a lover. A limit of our body or our skill. Simple exhaustion. Casual boredom. Complicated betrayal. Sooner or later, we wonder whether it’s worth remaining devoted to that which used to light us on fire and now leaves us tepid—including our devotion to our religious community.

An illustration, in tones of peach and pink, of a spiral of people holding hands, as seen from above.

Episcopal priest Gwen Buehrens asks of each seminarian she talks with, "What are you going to do when the church breaks your heart?” It’s a question that I return to regularly—because if we spend enough time in this faith tradition, or any faith tradition, it breaks our hearts. Religious community has broken your heart, and it has broken mine.

Our hearts get broken in religious community when we act with selfishness rather than compassion. When we become more attached to our history than to today’s call for justice. When we lose sight of our integrity. When we are devastated and no one shows up for us.

The richness that comes from commitment, though, isn’t just about one choice. We must choose each other again and again, though conflict and through plenty. The hardest moments of life are the moments when we must choose each other even when our hearts are the most broken.

I do not mean we should never end relationships or commitments. In times of abuse, or in times when our deepest truth calls us in a new direction, ending connections is what is needed.

But it’s only when we choose each other again and again—not those who cause us harm, but those who bring healing to the world—that we can cut through the shallowness of our culture that starves our souls. Choosing each other, and choosing once more, is the only way we can become fully known and fully loved.

Prayer

May you choose your people, and be chosen by them, again and again and again.