Season 11 - Week 4
“Hope With a Broken Heart”
If you’re a leader, you can expect to go through the mill, many times.
If you’re a leader, you can expect that your suitability or ‘rightness’ for this role will be called into question, many times. If not by others then certainly by you.
If you’re a leader, you can expect to climb more than you walk and to limp more than you run.
If you’re a leader, you can expect your heart to break. And break. And break some more.
Welcome to today’s Open Me reflection!
But it’s true.
How many leadership talks have you heard where speakers have used the ‘guard your heart because everything you do flows out of it’ passage (Proverbs 4: 23)? Many. Maybe too many to actually drive the point home that the reasons we need to be warned to protect our hearts are because a) the fruit of our work will never outpace the condition of our heart and b) we’re really expert at prioritising the condition of hearts, just not our own. Do you ever contend for the well being of young people in your context even as your heart is breaking to pieces for them? Have you found your hope draining away even as you seek to build hope into the youth group or your volunteers? Maybe a young person you’ve journeyed with has walked away from their faith identity. Maybe the needs in your area are so acute and persistent that you can literally hear your resolve, faith and confidence in what God can do, drain out of you.
For whatever reason, a broken heart is often the mark of a leader who is leaning in, loving well and taking risks.
I think it is often the mark of a hope-full leader too.
A broken heart isn’t always the same as a hope-less heart. Sometimes our hope-hardened hearts need to break in order that we are both willing and able to be the Gospel hope-carriers we’re called to be. I once met a church leader who told me that youth ministry won’t happen in his church because ‘no one round here is interested in church anymore. All the young people want to do is destroy everything.’ Before hope for the power of the Gospel in the lives of young people can grow in that church community, hard hearts have to break. And breaking always involves some kind of hurting.
We see this powerfully through Hope Herald, Emma González; High School Senior and survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. With a tear-stained face and snot running from her nose she screamed out her anguish, pain, and anger as millions watched on. It's hard not to feel deeply affected watching her now viral speech (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxD3o-9H1lY). There is no denying she was completely and utterly heart broken in this moment. Her explosive tears and anger were the things that compelled many of us in her speech. Her totally broken heart is what gave her hope and fight.
As youth workers we’re not immune to having hard hearts. It’s not that any of us woke up one morning and said ‘This year, rather than operating in faith and hope that the good news of Jesus will be both powerful and transformational in the lives of young people in this community, I’m going to stop believing that hope is here and let my heart grow cold and hard’. Not a single one of us willingly gave-up on hope. But when the reality of how hard this calling can be kicks in, we can find ourselves holding back our hearts, steeling ourselves against naive optimism when all the signs are bleak.
You can always tell when your heart is hardening because your stirred less by what matters most.
Recently the Church of England released stats about the demise in under-18 church attendance in the UK. Lots of us jumped to the defence or the offense. Lots of us rolled our eyes. Lots of us didn’t even clock it or think it tells us anything we don’t already know. Fine. We all engage differently with things. But you know your heart is hardening when the bigger, more complicated picture behind the cold stats fails to get into your heart and, well, hurt.
Pause for a moment.
Is this resonating with you?
Are there things in your ministry among young people that before would have broken your heart, but now don’t have much impact?
Is an alarm going off in your heart, warning you that you’ve not been protecting your heart to remain open to the lives you serve, instead you’ve been desensitising your heart to the pain you can’t fix?
Does your hardening heart need breaking again in the service of Hope?
If the answer is no, then have a great day.
If the answer is yes, then read on.
You’re not alone. I’m here too. So is a multitude of saints throughout the ages. David puts into words the moment when we invite the Breaker of Hopelessness to break us open for hope. "Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice." Psalm 51:16 MSG
The story of Jonah in the Old Testament tells the story of a leader who’s hard-heart has to break before he can be both willing and able to fulfil God’s call on his life. The breaking happens in the belly of a big fish even before his feet are on dry ground.He’s not dead, but he’s not in a great state of living either. (He’s also a racist whose objection to doing what God wanted was that he just didn’t like the people God wanted to save. Scripture is complicated because we’re pretty complicated.)
Covered in fish-gunk Jonah admits his need for rescue, not just of body but of heart too. "Ocean gripped me by the throat. The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive…"(Jonah 2:5-6)
He goes on to express how amazed he is that his voice gets through, all the way to God. Maybe he’s also realising that God could have chosen to reduce him in any way (isn’t being swallowed by a big fish proof of that?!) but that God chose this method because of the impact it would have on Jonah’s heart.
Maybe your broken heart is exactly the place that Hope will both grow and flow into the lives of others around you.
Maybe the grief and pain you’re feeling for the lives of the young people you serve, is a sign that you’ve already been rescued from the despair that would harden your heart.
Brokenness is here because Hope is here.
"Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice."