Where do broken hearts go?

On bereavement (24/1/21)

Dr. Mano Emmanuel

It’s impossible to open a newspaper or listen to a news bulletin without being struck by the number of deaths due to disease, war or famine.  We have got used to graphs and statistics, but it really takes only the death of one person to break a heart.  Death is a subject we don’t like discussing, and bereavement is a condition that often leaves those around the bereaved feeling awkward and inadequate. Grief isolates us as if we are in an invisible prison, as every grief is unique. No one really feels exactly as we do. In fact, sometimes, as Christians, we are made to feel guilty for grieving. What is there left for us, whose hearts have been broken by grief? 

1.      It’s okay to grieve. Death is an enemy

Christians believe in the resurrection to eternal life for those who trust in Jesus’ saving work for them. That sometimes leads people to attempt to cheer the grieving with words like “he’s in a better place,” or “death is part of life” or “God chooses the best.” There is truth in the first (though, not always helpful), an element of truth in the second and none in the third. 

The Bible treats death as an enemy (1 Cor 15:26), an intrusion into the good world God created. Death tears apart a human relationship. It leaves behind a person who can no longer be the same because they have lost a part of themselves. The loss of a life means someone left is no longer a spouse, no longer a parent, no longer a child. At death, we mourn the loss of a unique blend of personality, gifts, knowledge, affections and idiosyncrasies that makes a person irreplaceable. God knows this. In John’s gospel, we read that Jesus once stood at the tomb of a friend he loved – Lazarus. Jesus displays strong emotions – anger and grief. John says, ”deep anger welled up within him” (11:34). Jesus is outraged that death should dare invade and destroy human life. It is not the way God intended life to be.  And Jesus wept (Jn 11: 35). Timothy Keller asks, “why did Jesus weep when he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead?” His answer? “Jesus wept for all of us who stand at a graveside and do not receive our loved one back from the dead.” So it’s okay to feel. If someone was worth loving, they are worth grieving.   

Jesus came to destroy the sting of death. With his own resurrection, Jesus ensured that death no longer has the last word. So we grieve, but not as those without hope.


2.      They are gone but not lost.

In the film Mary Poppins Returns, the children are grieving the loss of their mother. Mary Poppins sings them a song, reassuring them that their mother is in the place “where the lost things go.”

“Smiling from a star
That she makes glow

Trust she’s always there
Watching as you grow
Find her in the place
Where the lost things go”


But the Bible goes further than these sentimental words. It says that those who die in Christ are not in the place where lost things go. Rather, they are in the place where the found things go. They are with Christ. They have gone home. It is we who are still on the way. And although it may be comforting to think of our loved one in the wind or the stars, deep down we want more than that. We want to see their face, hear their voice, hold their hand, to have a future with them, not just the memory of the past. The good news of the resurrection is that those who are in Christ will rise bodily with the splendour of a resurrection body (1 Cor 15). The God who created us as embodied beings will resurrect us to enjoy eternal life the way we were meant to – with faces, hands, and smiles. 

3.      You don’t get over it, you live with it  

You don’t “get over” losing someone you love. Time is not a healer. It depends on what happens in that time. The grief does not go away. We might think it has, only to be “ambushed” by it at an unexpected moment. But God will, if we allow him, teach us to live differently – a life that is not lessened or engulfed by grief, but enlarged by it. Jerry Sittser, who lost his wife, daughter and mother in a car crash, likens grief to a large tree stump in your garden. The tree stump is always a reminder that there was once a tree that has now been cut down. But around the tree stump, in time, flowers grow, and the stump becomes part of the landscape. Still there – not gone – but changed by the appearance of blooms around it.  

He writes,

“I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it… However painful, sorrow is good for the soul… The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.” (A Grace Disguised)


God can do something with broken hearts if we let him.  He can soften our hearts to empathize with others, he can provoke us to activism to alleviate suffering, he can teach us dependence, he can challenge us to re-order our priorities, and he can awaken us to the fragility of our own lives. He can make sure that death does not win. Grief changes us, but it does not have to be for the worse.

Where do broken hearts go? They are held in the hands of the God who has suffered and died so that those hearts can be made whole again. It is his grace that sustains us, carries us and comforts us. He is close to the broken hearted (Ps 34:18); he heals the brokenhearted (Ps 147:3); and one day, he will wipe away every tear, and sorrow and sadness will be no more (Rev 21:4). 


Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 4:13, 14, 17, 18).


*Dr. Mano Emmanuel worships at the Kollupitiya Methodist Church, where she has a ministry of preaching. She serves as Lecturer and Academic Dean at the Colombo Theological Seminary, which trains men and women for Christian life and ministry.

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