A Message to the Heartbroken

At times like this, feeling is hazardous to one’s health.

A working heart can be a liability in these days because its treasure, its beautiful, sacred tenderness—is the very thing that leaves it vulnerable to injury. Every false word, every act of violence, every appearance of injustice strikes a vicious blow to its surface. Like a twisting piñata, it sustains the damage until it can no longer help but to break and spill out all the goodness within it. It is a bloody and brutal thing to endure, to be emptied in this way.
And so to prevent this daily breaking, most people decide that their only protection is to stop feeling altogether; to become so calloused and so hardened that they are no longer moved by the pain in their path, no longer burdened by the suffering of another. They begin to stop caring until one day their hearts become stone things, heavy and cold and immoveable. Yes, they’ve escaped further wounding but they’ve lost their softness, they’ve surrendered their supple flesh—they’ve become stone themselves.
These are days that will break the working heart, and I imagine right now you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth it to be this badly broken. You’re so exhausted by the feeling and the breaking and the bleeding, and you’re asking yourself if you should just stop giving a damn.
You shouldn’t.

Empathy is the lifeblood of our fragile humanity, dear friend. It is the thing that sustains us all, and in moments like this it is more precious than ever. The world needs people like you who are willing to have their hearts broken; people who wake every day prepared to be wounded on behalf of another, because they know that this wounding allows someone to be seen and heard and known when they most need to be.

It is in inviting ourselves to feel the pain of each other that we see our kinship with them, our connectedness, our sameness. It is in the crucible of such bruising that the best parts of ourselves is formed. 

And the thing is, we’ve seen the price of becoming heartless. We know what happens when a human being loses the ability to grieve for another’s suffering, when it disregards everything but itself. We’ve seen what such a life yields—and this is not the path worth walking, pain or no pain. You know that and I know it.

No, you and I are doomed to live this way because that fragile, flexing muscle in the center of our chests will not let us live any other way. And yes, this heart is a weakness make no mistake it is a weapon, too. It is the thing that lifts us and moves us and propels us straight into the bloody battle when every instinct says to run the other way. It is the defiant, relentless, rebellious force that will not allow us to turn away when someone is hurting.

And it is the one thing the heartless people are threatened by, because they know that there is no more formidable adversary than a pissed-off, heartbroken human being who refuses to stop giving a damn. This is who you are.

So nurse your wounds, sew up the gaping holes, and rest until the blood returns—and then jump into the fray again; heart affixed to your sleeve and prepared to break once more.

Yes, you are hurting—and you are the person the world needs right now. 

Be encouraged.


“if Order Now:
AmazonBarnes & NobleThe Thoughtful ChristianWJK Books

146 thoughts on “A Message to the Heartbroken

  1. John- this morning was the first time I visited your site, driven there by an unrelated article about you. I’m agnostic at best, some days I think I should just fess up to being atheist. I see so few examples of religious leaders who inspire me to believe- who aren’t drowning in hypocrisy. This post, the understanding that you show, gives me hope that one day I will see differently. This post gave me life today and that you were able to put words to what is in my heart was appreciated beyond measure.

    • {{{{{{{{{{{{{{Amy}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

      Welcome. I hope you’ll stick around and share your thoughts. There are those of here who really appreciate John P. And then there are the trolls. They don’t like their reflections in the mirror that is John P’s blog so they lash out at John. Please do yourself a favor, ignore them so you can relish John’s thoughts and words.

    • Amy. Look at Jesus. Get to know Him through reading his word, praying his word, and meditating on his word. ‘The JOY of the Lord is my strength!’

    • Hi Amy. All atheists, agnostics, “nones,” LGBTQ people, poor people, sick people, hungry people, and other “unwanted” social and societal outcasts are welcome here at the John Pavlovitz blog. No pressure. We do have some Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical scoundrels that come here to be mean-spirited to people, be disruptive, and point the gnarled old witch’s index finger at all us sinners here. They are mostly people who avoid looking in their own mirrors lest they see themselves for what they really are—like in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

  2. John, thanks so so much. We are doing what we can to counteract the hatred, bigotry and greed that is characterizing our political arena. But there are times when we are overwhelmed with grief and our hearts feel as though they are breaking. We have been resisting the temptation to close off. Don’t want to do that. Have thought that we might have to leave the country if we are to survive mentally, emotionally and physically. Don’t want to do that. But, boy, it is so hard being this open. Your article helps give us strength and courage to continue. Much gratitude.

    • Joe you came back or have you been here the whole time? I am happy you are ok and that you must have had much more important things to do.

      Although I vote Democrat I am not a sore loser or a hater or a bigot. I do admit to being a little prejudiced against the wealthy and powerful who use their wealth and power to do harm. Other than that, any power or wealth they have earned righteously they certainly deserve.

      I am saddened and frightened of all the hate out there from both sides.

      I am happy you are working to make American great. I have until this last year always thought American was great even through the ups and downs and at my age I have lived through plenty.

      People here say you have numerous names. Are you Don the hero veteran of the Vietnam War? Are you Anonymous who was so dismissive? I hope you are not Zaglog. I tried to reach out to him once and he was quite off putting. You were much more pleasant.

      • Your sons sound great to me which speaks to you as their father. They do not need to listen to a 19 year old who has all the answers without ever living on his own or being responsible for anyone but himself. Although my grandson has told me that someday (somehow?) he is going to be very, very rich. So there is that.

        We will never agree about many things. We can agree that we love our sons and our families, the beauty of God’s creations, and all the other blessings we have been given.

        I am sorry you cannot find anything fun here. I think I am loads of fun and there are others here who find joy in many different things also.

        It is good that you share your pearls of wisdom although there have been times, I admit, you have over shared way too many in a hurtful way and have gotten on my last nerve.

        It is good to know that you are well, and that when you are not here, you are just elsewhere sharing your pearls.

        • Dear Joe,
          You gave your boys a foundation. For what it’s worth – this matters.
          I suspect my father harbored similar reservations about me in my youth.

          Be of good spirit – they will find their way and come back to you as men with stories of love, regrets, mistakes and thanks for you being their dad.

        • Yes, I knew you were joking. I thought I reflected that in my comments. Sigh

          I saw your sense of humor early on and that is why I wasn’t scared off. I think the first thing I told you was that I appreciated your sense of humor.

          Your boys are strong enough to have a mind of their own. I hope you are not disappointed in that. I have never seen another Catholic come across as you do sometimes. Maybe you were just too tough of an act to follow.

      • Dear Joe Catholic,
        Respectfully, I kindly recommend, in the future, your charity be directed towards organizations with actual legitimate needs. In my opinion, being walked on here is less insulting than the carpet being walked on – that you directly or indirectly funded.

        Moreover, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for you to keep in mind (though I would caution skepticism) the growing social security disability resume your interacting with – dyslexia, bipolarism, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and for good measure, carpal tunnel syndrome.

        Arguably, euthanasia and abortions would save California taxpayers a lot of money on health insurance.

        With respect to your perceptions – this is blog, whose owner possesses – let’s just say, a unique world view – and employs rhetorical tactics – one of my favorites – the “bait and switch”.

        Additionally, and more than often – the secular is diffused with religion, ethics, logical fallacies and emotional appeals.
        This is a potent mixture and one specifically used to create tension and of course, argument. For example, would you agree – a great deal of the commentaries are driven by an “us vs them” theme?

        If so, it should be no surprise, your opinion may generate a vitriol response – especially, if it successfully contradicts the commentary and the similar world view of his followers. True in some but not all cases, this is perceived as a threat – your expectation for empathy quickly becomes meaningless.

        In my opinion, you have presented your opinion(s) with consistence and have avoided descending into adolescent crap traps.

        Perhaps you would have more fun without expectations of returned civility, understanding or your own personal need to convince.

        I encourage you you – don’t give up – you never know – people are generally smart and have a way of choosing on their own what is wisdom and what is madness.

        • Dear Joe,
          I’m uncertain if the commentator is presenting his case in good faith. In my opinion, this can be seen as a moral or ethical question of intent. As such, it stands to reason – any expectation you may have of reflection by the writer, is misplaced as it assumes the writer has a responsibility to the expectations of an unknown audience.

          However, I do believe he has an agenda and purposefully writes titles and commentaries, designed to drive traffic to his site. So be it. Just be aware of the language techniques and tactics – in other words – be a critical thinker and remember this is a blog….not a holy place occupied by a prophet.

          I place little value on a person calling themselves “pastor” as history is chocked full of people claiming some divine spiritual authority when in fact they are something else and usually much worse.

          There’s a fair amount of research on the characteristics of leaders in “sects”. Guess which tactic is prevalent and used most often as a group inhibitor or facilitator ? You got it – “us vs them”.

          Regardless, I encourage you to stand strong. Challenge yourself and your principles. Measure your position by the strength of the disagreement – and relax, mediocrity eventually reveals itself.

          One caution – this approach is not appropriate if you suffer from low self esteem.

          You know, it’s possible to be wrong – this is where things get tricky – what are you going to do with this new revelation? Ignore it, fight it or try and make sense of it in your world view?

          Last, yes.
          Which is not to say this person is not mentally and physically ill.
          Again, it is best for others to decide for themselves.

  3. Folks. I would kindly like to make a request. There are so many “Anonymous” people here with the gray quilt gravatar that I have no idea who I am speaking to anymore when I write a response. Could you people please choose a fake name for yourself and insert it at the bottom of your reply (scroll down). Your e-mail address is ALWAYS kept confidential and you DO NOT have to have a website or blog of your own entered to post. With the names, you can call yourself anything you like: Crocodile Man, Snake Woman, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Roofus Doofus, etc. Just put down a name and stick to it so we can all know who we are talking to. Thanks!!!

        • Previously, the scavengers called out & slandered (dozens of times), any who used fake names — this went on for months on end.

          My 2 cents: ‘We have no compulsion to control you. Use what ever name you wish to, as many times as you wish to. Anonymous is fine. When I respond to your post, I’ll just hit ‘reply’. ‘

          • I remember this – when I choose and used a moniker – I was then accused and as I recall – in some most unpleasant interactions – of being somebody else….so, for now….I’ll just be no one and everyone or is that just too dismissive?

  4. I could not have expressed this better myself. Having recently experienced three losses over a two week period of time, I found myself trying to cut my feelings off – and everything flooded back a few days ago. Grief has no timeline, and because you do not understand that fact that someone is grieving a loss does not give you the right to tell you that you are wrong for feeling it (two of my losses were pets). This affirms that my heart has the right to feel the loss of being broken, and I thank you for writing this.

  5. {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{kittymom22}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

    I am so very sorry for the losses you have endured. Please accept my condolences. You do indeed have every right to everything you are feeling.

    • Thank you so much! I appreciate that, really. Loss is loss, regardless of whether it is a pet, a person, a job, health. In many ways, I have lost all, but now is the time for me to really deal with it and allow it to come out!

      • I truly hope you are not left all alone with it and that there are loved ones or trusted ones to share it with you.

        • I am kittymom22 because I have 2 left. Luke and Daisy were adopted when they were 4 months old. They are now 3. My remaining family does not understand, so I share with the fur babies. Luke will lay in my lap when I am sad. Daisy will lay next to me, when I nap. I am seeing a new therapist next week, I hope that will help.

          • Well, for what it is worth to you, kittymom22, I understand about loss and suffering All Too Well, at least within my own personal experience. In the last 20 years I’ve lost five cats, one in the last twelve months. Their ages varied between 21 and 15, so we had a long time together. I’ve adopted 2 who love each other devotedly.

            I also hope the new therapist will help.

  6. I’m reminded of Don McClean’s Starry Night lyrics to Vincent Van Gogh. “But I could have told you Vincent, This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you” .
    Beautiful hearts must be protected. We find courage and strength in cherishing our own tears. We’re the lucky ones.
    Thank you for your words, John Pavlovitz. You inspire me.

  7. How does one reverse the hardened heart? My greatest fear is that I will not grieve for people I will lose and my thinking is that maybe I’ve already considered that they are gone and my grieving has passed. My parents always told me I was a selfish child when I was growing up. I never believed that was true until recently (I’m 53 years old now) while attending a funeral and realizing that I just didn’t care. I have no hate towards anyone – no anger.

Comments are closed.