A Vision for the Broken Hearted

Grief Can Be Unpredictable. But So Is Healing.

Sarah Condon / 8.19.21

Any grief expert these days will reiterate to all of us how unpredictable grief can be. We never know when our sadness will consume us or how long it will last. But I have learned to sense when a wave is about to overtake me. And I have learned that I cannot outrun it.

I’ve recently learned that healing works the same way.

This summer I found myself alone, wandering through small town Oxford, Mississippi, and I could feel the onslaught of sadness about to take hold. I wandered into St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on the historic town square, remembering from my undergraduate years that the beautiful jewel box sanctuary was always open. I used to stumble in drunk with dates and we would play the piano. Now, like then, I was not exactly sure what I was looking for.

As I sat down in a pew, I thought about something Paul Zahl has often said over the years. He has commented that we do not often think that real healing is available to us at church. Hell, I think most churches do not believe it about themselves. Real healing is, at best, for the people in the New Testament. At worst, healing is for those Christians who are often pegged as less “dignified.”

So we can sit on our pews with our misery, thank you very much Jesus.

I laughed to myself at the thought and glanced around. An old stained-glass window to my right was perfectly lit in the morning glow. It read, “Blessed Are the Broken Hearted.” I remember thinking how it was certainly a bold choice from another era. We would never affirm broken heartedness in this century. It would be too much like giving up.

But giving up was exactly what I wanted to do. After weeks of crying and lostness, giving up was all that I wanted. I do not mean a kind of self-harm. I simply mean I wanted to give up some grief. I was longing for healing. Desperate for it, actually.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and God gave me a vision.

I suddenly saw both of my parents arriving in heaven, being embraced by both of their parents. Given that my mother had no memories of her father, this would have been a first experience for her. And honestly, nothing about my paternal grandfather makes me think he gave my dad many hugs. Imagine, being held by your parents for the first time. For just a moment, I felt the complete joy they must have felt. And, despite my loss, I felt happy for them.

I also felt so much relief. In the weeks after I lost my parents, one thing I kept saying to the most faithful people in my life was that I could not imagine my parents in heaven. I needed answers. “They had just been here! We just saw them!” I would cry out, “How could they be there now?”

Several minutes went by like this and then I heard a noise that made me jump. I opened my eyes and I was still alone. But when I looked to my right at the window again, the words had changed. I know. Me too.

It said, “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart.”

I started to laugh and cry. The window had just read, “Blessed Are the Broken Hearted.” What was happening? I closed my eyes again and quickly looked at the window to see if the words would somehow flip back to what they were. They did not. The window had always read, “Blessed are the Pure in Heart.” But for a moment, God had given a healing vision directly to my very broken heart.

Purity is not a thing I identify with, generally speaking. Even as an ordained woman, perhaps especially as a woman, it feels like a word that is not for me. I was too wild in college, clearly. I like gossip and am incredibly vain. Sometimes I drink too much. When I see the word “pure” I usually think it’s a little late for that.

When I said this to my husband later, what he said knocked me over: “But Sarah, a broken heart is a pure heart.”

I did not cry for three weeks after this happened. I went so long without sobbing it was almost alarming. My prayers have changed from pleading with God for understanding to telling God to let my parents know that we are okay. Because I know, finally, that they are okay.

Life is one brutal lesson in learning that nothing is linear. Not childhood, not parenting, not marriage, not sanctification, and definitely not grief. But it is not shapeless either. So much of my loss and failed ambitions are really just cross-shaped. Where the purity of God’s love meets the brokenness of my heart, again and again and again. Healing never happens the way we want it to. It can’t.


Feature image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay