on self-help and broken hearts: Luke 10

Read Luke 10.  Despite flagging booksales in so many areas, the self-help book market is thriving.  In an article in ABC News entitled “Want to get rich?  Write a self-help book,” the authors summarize the self-help message as one in which — wait for it — you have the power to help yourself.  The idea is that “we alone have the power within us to solve our problems, relieve our anxieties and pain, heal our illnesses, improve our golf game or get a promotion.”

Really?  If we alone have the power to do all that, then… why do we need self help books? Isn’t it a contradiction in terms?  I mean, honestly – if the self-help message were true, there would BE no self-help book industry.  If we could really help ourselves, we wouldn’t need the books.  Right?

In one of my favorite Sex in the City episodes, Charlotte tries to buy a self-help book with the wonderful title: STARTING OVER – ALL OVER AGAIN.  Charlotte can’t even buy the book because she is deterred by the number of sobbing women in the self-help section.

One of my friends is reading a self-help book called Wisdom of a Broken Heart.  Crack open any page, and it’s pretty easy to make fun of.   Your broken heart is actually good, it says.  You will learn from it.  You will grow from it.  You will be a better person.  Yes, yes, we think, as we dip into our third pint of Haagen-Daz while reading it.

“We should write a self-help book,” another friend told me in Florida after Christmas, as we ate lunch at a club on the ocean.  “We’d make a killing.”  We laughed and eyed the ocean front mansions surrounding us.

But broken hearts are no laughing matter.  The Science Times reported yesterday that grief really can cause a heart attack:  “The so-called broken heart syndrome is real.  The study… found that a persons’ heart attack risk is 21 times higher than normal the day after a loved one dies.”   21 times higher?  That’s huge.  Your heart can stop functioning, literally, when you are broken hearted.   The article goes on to explain the risk: “Over time the risk of an attack declines,  but it remains elevated within that first month.  In the first week after a loved one’s death, for example, the risk was six times higher than normal…..  Other studies have uncovered greater heart and mortality risks in the weeks and months after the loss of a spouse, a child or another loved one, but the new study is the first systematic look at the immediate effect.”  NY Times Jan. 10, 2012 D 5.

So how do we solve the problem of a broken heart?  Do broken hearts give wisdom?  All truth is God’s truth.  That means that while the self-help industry has part of the truth, only Jesus has the full truth.

Here’s the partial truth: broken hearts do give wisdom.  Yes, of course.  But not if you try to fix yourself all by yourself.  The message of the Bible is that we can’t fix ourselves.  The message is that we should give up trying.  The deepest wisdom of a broken heart is that we need God to fix our hearts.  He made them in the first place, after all.

And the message of the gospel is that God’s own Son had His heart broken on the cross, so that He could heal our heartbreaks.  Look at who Jesus is.  He says in this chapter that He saw Satan thrown out of heaven like a lightening bolt.  Just think about that.  As C.S. Lewis so famously put it in Mere Christianity, we cannot say Jesus was just a nice man who gave us a good example.  Either Jesus was insane, on the level of a man who thinks he’s a poached egg, or He really was the Son of God.

And as the Son of God, Jesus came to earth to mend our broken hearts.  His message is that our hearts are so broken God Himself was broken in order to mend them.

So what’s the true wisdom of a broken heart?  One of the ways God brings good out of our heartache is that heartbreak enables us to hear His message.  Broken hearts make us realize that we can’t heal ourselves.  Broken hearts make something leap inside us when we hear that Jesus was ‘filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”  Luke 10:21.  We wonder if we can have that joy, too.  The answer is yes.  The joy comes from God’s presence, and it exists irrespective of our circumstances.  This is the message that humans have been longing to hear since we were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

Jesus’ love heals us of our hard hearts, too.  It heals us of our tendency to look the other way when someone is in need.  It enables us to have mercy on others, because we know how much mercy God has had on us.  And His love heals us of the tendency to overwork.  We are all Martha’s, running around cooking 10 dishes in order to win the approval of some imaginary judge and jury, when Jesus says we only need “one thing.”  Like Mary, all we need is to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen.

Yes, it’s that simple.  It’s so simple, I have to end this post here.  Because what else can I say?  Jesus can mend our broken hearts.  He wants to.  He isn’t just dying to – He died to.  And why would we let any power on earth stop Him from helping us when He loves us so much He left heaven so He could carry us there?

posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on January 11, 2012