This has been a season when my heart has been heavy. I know where it comes from. I have a niece who is dealing with a life-threatening disease at too young an age. I have friends and colleagues who are walking in the muck of their own illnesses, trauma, and challenging situations. I feel the weight of what they are going through, and my heart is heavy with sorrow for what they are experiencing.
And then there is the daily news, and the unrelenting wave upon wave of human suffering: hurricanes that have left communities devastated and, on Oct. 2, a mass shooting where a simple concert outing became 10 minutes of terror and a life-and-death event. How does one hold the pain of the world without either becoming callous to it or being overwhelmed by it?
And if that were not enough, all this is occurring in the context of the free-floating anxiety that is our country and denomination right now. What will become of us? In the midst of division and debate and dueling blogs and tweets, it is easy to be caught up in the drama. We don’t know what the future will bring, and it is hard to plan and prepare when the ground is so uncertain and unpredictable.
So let me take a brief detour. One of the things I have noticed in my own life is that when I am sleep-deprived, I am more emotional, more impatient, and have less capacity to deal with challenging situations. It has occurred to me that our current times cause me to feel like I am living in a constant sleep-deprived state. How much can we bear? And without rest and respite, our resilience is depleted. And therefore, when I am dealing with the things that come along in life, like loss and illness and grief, my heavy heart is even heavier. And my cry becomes: How long, O Lord, how long?
These words are familiar—often read at funerals. They sound nice, don’t they? But is Jesus really suggesting that we never have a heavy heart? I believe there is a fundamental difference between a heavy heart and a troubled heart. Sadness is a normal part of human existence. When we open our heart to people and the world, we make our heart vulnerable. It can get broken. It will feel the weight of grief. It will also experience the leaps of joy, and burst with love. This is what makes us human and connected and caring. It is how we find our way forward together, when we are willing to open our hearts to one another. A heavy heart is one that is willing to go to the depths and trust that God will be there in the midst of it.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. –John 14 (NIV)
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church