When was the last time your heart broke? That time when “broken heart” became more than teenaged disappointment. Was it when you saw planes racing into the World Trade Center? When you watched people hurtling down to certain death from that burning building? Or did your heart break over a more personal matter? When the words “terminal cancer” altered your existence? Or when you stood beside the bed of your dying child?
I still remember the physical force of my breaking heart. It happened when the doctor said our teenaged son’s cancer was possibly beyond treatment. I remember signing authorization for hospitalization and surgery with my mouth dry, my arms and legs weakening. I later read Psalm 22 with new understanding:
…my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax. My mouth is dried like a shard of broken pottery… my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth…
I remember another broken heart experience. When the optometrist on our mission trip said the curly haired redhead who bounced with enthusiasm would soon lose the sight of her remaining eye, cancer quickly spreading to her brain. That same week tears fell from my breaking heart when I saw a wraith-like girl nearly faint in the hot afternoon sun because she’d eaten only a small bread roll with her early morning weak tea. I began to understood why Bob Pierce prayed: “God, break my heart with what breaks yours.”
But during recent days my heart has broken yet again. I’ve wept over the senseless murder of George Floyd, a man I never knew. I’ve imagined his mother’s heart breaking repeatedly as she learned of her son’s horrific last moments. I’ve felt anger churning over thoughtless words of both those in power and those who seek power. I’m tired of people—especially my white Christian brothers and sisters—saying things like, “Yes, it was wrong BUT…” THERE IS NO ‘BUT’ WHEN WE WHO HAVE PRIVILEGE AND POWER REFUSE TO TAKE SERIOUSLY THE ABSENCE OF JUSTICE FOR ALL.
Those who turn legitimate protest into terrorist war are wrong and swift retribution is necessary. Recently, however, I heard someone say that protesters should not have been “out” in front of the small Washington, DC church when riot police with tear gas cleared the path for President Trump. I began to wonder about the history of protest. Books overflow with stories of brave people who gave their lives to promote justice. Our own Christian heritage is rife with historic accounts of women and men burned at the stake or tossed to lions for the sake of truth. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for “protesting.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed and assassinated. Suffragette Lucy Burns was arrested for picketing the White House, then imprisoned at a notorious workhouse, beaten, hands chained to the cell bars above her head, left in that position for the night, then force fed when her fellow protesters went on a hunger strike. This so I and my sisters could vote. Protests have been and can be—perhaps must be?—instruments for change when all other efforts prove futile.
Yes, my heart is breaking. Again. And this time I’m not praying for the ache to go away. I’m asking God to reveal with strong conviction any hidden racist tendencies of my heart and mind. What stories have I heard and believed (perhaps from childhood) that deny the worth of every human, that deny that every person is made in the image of God? What tendencies toward power do I possess? Flannery O’Connor wrote: “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around.” With a contrite heart, I’m lamenting and I’m asking God what I can do. I’m listening for his voice. I’m determined to keep listening. God, help me obey what I hear.