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My heart breaks daily. And every single day, God patches it up and fills me again with peace.
Being in the service of others, truly committed to serving the suffering, will at some point break your heart. Not exactly the best sales pitch for service, I know. But serving others opens you up to their stories, and you simply cannot hear people’s stories without being affected. Of course, some stories and some people will resonate in your heart more than others, but if you allow yourself to truly hear and bear people’s stories, you will be moved and it will often be painful.
For example, hearing a mom describe how she and her young daughter have not eaten in three days because they have no money will tear you up inside. Hearing a grandparent tell you that her grand-baby was molested by a family member will blister your heart. Hearing a street dweller tell you about having to give up his beloved dog to a pound that likely put the dog down, and realizing that the dog was his singular source of earthly love and affection will rip you apart.
Do not let that feeling of being broken-hearted discourage you from serving or engaging directly with those you serve!
When we serve indirectly through things like food drives where the giver never comes in contact with the receiver, we unwittingly guard ourselves from being touched by the stories to quite a large degree. The people dropping food in bins or writing a check will inevitably be touched more gently than the person serving the food. As a matter of fact, the giver can easily be entirely disengaged from the receiver, if he/she is not careful. And what purpose does it serve to be disengaged from the reason for our giving?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not insinuating that you’re not getting enough by giving to drives or that we should stop participating in drives. If you feel called to and can give to whatever the need is, food or otherwise, by all means, please do. What I am saying is to be careful not to detach emotionally from the stories. It’s incredibly easy to do.
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One reason for including stories from our Hands & Feet social transformation ministry in the Digitized Discipleship publication is to help you engage with the people we serve. I truly hope the posts touch your heart, and I hope they inspire you to give from both your places of abundance [those areas where you have been richly blessed and from which you can give comfortably] AND from your places of poverty [those places where your personal stores are tighter and from which you may not be entirely comfortable in giving] whether those areas are your finances, your time, your heart, or something else. But personally, I find that when giving is too comfortable, my heart remains untouched, and so I try to challenge myself (and I’m challenging you, obviously!) to give in a way that pushes me out of my comfort zone.
A word of warning though, and back to my point:
As you get out there and serve, as you read the stories of the folks we serve through the Hands & Feet Ministry, and even as you hear the stories of those serving alongside you, your heart will break.
I URGE YOU TO LET IT BREAK.
Seriously. As counter-intuitive as that may sound, let your heart be vulnerable. Don’t resist. You will hear stories of physical abuse, substance abuse, loss of job, bad choices, and homelessness; you will witness mental illness, hunger, sickness, loneliness, and more.
I IMPLORE YOU: HEAR THE STORIES AND LET YOUR HEART BREAK.
In the movie, “Shall We Dance,” Susan Sarandon’s character says about being married, “You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.” (click to see the YouTube clip). As I said, she was talking about marriage, but I think the sentiment applies to any relationship. And serving others is, after all, about relationship. Witness what others are going through. Be in relationship with them. Let their stories break your heart.
I know that might sound a little off to willingly open yourself up to heartbreak, but bear with me.
When we truly engage with those we serve and we allow our hearts to be utterly wracked by their stories of pain and suffering, I tell you, we honor Jesus’ own suffering. We say:
I wasn’t there when they crucified Christ and He was bleeding out. But I can be there when His people suffer. I can see their pain and hear their cries.
I can sit with them in their suffering as I hope I would have done for Jesus the way Mary and Martha did.
I honor Him by letting my heart break for His people the way His mother’s broke when He was dying on the cross. The way His heart surely breaks for our own suffering and pain.
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The deeper into ministry I get, the more profoundly I realize that the stories I witness are being woven right into the fabric of my own heart. I carry the stories and the people with me. They change me. And my heart breaks frequently.
But the most amazing thing happens each time my heart is broken: God patches it right back up and renews it. He uses my brokenness to re-energize me and drive me deeper. He gives me even more passion for bearing witness to the suffering of His children and serving them in their need. He gives me unexpected moments of spectacular joy and unrivaled beauty, I don’t know, perhaps as a little reward for holding precious the suffering of others.
Another warning though: when God heals my broken heart each day, the cracks don’t go away. They remain even as the joy seeps through, helping to light a dark world. They’re tender to the touch and sometimes even leave a scar, but I think those cracks help define me and, I hope, make me more beautiful in God’s eyes.
Friends, I pray your hearts will break for God’s people, and that you will experience the wonder of having Him patch them back up so His light can shine through the cracks.