Moving Toward Compassion

Leif Kehrwald

While my wife always reads the newspaper stories designed to tug at your heartstrings and bring a tear to the eye, I steer clear of them. I avoid a heartbreak — either my own or another's — at nearly all cost. Whether in romance, in friendship, or in misfortune, I don't want to hear the stories of heartache, tears, and injustice.

So the first time I heard Jennifer Martin's song Break My Heart I didn't much care for it. I tried to dismiss it, but her deeply prayerful tone wouldn't leave me so easily. She sings:

Not that you need this invitation,
not that you wait for my permission,
still this is my humble contrition:
Please, break my heart, O God,
with what breaks your heart, O God.
Please, break my heart.

Later, her haunting melody and convicting words came involuntarily back into my head:

For the lost, for the lame,
For those suffering in pain,
help me see you in each face
through a broken heart.

I was beginning to realize that my heart needs softening. I need to replace judgment and anger with compassion. I asked myself, what do I allow into my heart and risk a break?

It breaks my heart that my 21-year-old son is in terrible angst over his relationship with his high school sweetheart. It breaks my heart that my best friend from college is moving to Taiwan, and in recent years I haven't made much effort to spend time with him. It broke my heart to arrive home after 18 hours of travel to discover my home had been burglarized and a car stolen.

Are these the same things that break the heart of God? Perhaps. But perhaps there are other, more heart-wrenching things as well.

Still troubled by this notion and haunted by the song, I went in search of others who might have similar notions. Indeed, some of the people I admire most share this vision. Mother Teresa is quoted saying, "May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in." In his retreats on adult spirituality, my friend and colleague Tom Zanzig describes how when we experience heartbreak it sometimes takes us into despair. But at other times, our hearts are broken open and the experience transforms us. Clearly, that's what Mother Theresa is talking about. Zanzig also believes that the deepest learning we have, our most powerful wisdom, comes from heartbreak and times of pain. And along these lines, Richard Rohr says "All spirituality is about what we do with our pain. . . . If we do not transform our pain we will transmit it in one form or another."

My research convicted me further . . . so I listened to the song again.

Not just some empty repetition,
No, this is my sincere confession,
That I need so much more compassion.
Please, break my heart, O God,
with what breaks your heart, O God.
Please, break my heart.

I now have great admiration for the one who can pray this way, and even more so that she publishes her prayer in song for us all to contemplate. I am humbled to realize how cold-hearted I was becoming and I didn't even realize it. I pray that I can reverse the tide. How about you?

Lord, lift the veil that clouds my vision.
Loose ev'ry chain and inhibition.
More than a prayer, it's my decision
To break this heart, O God,
With what breaks your heart, O God.
Please, break my heart.

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