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THE NECESSITY OF BROKENNESS
THE NECESSITY OF BROKENNESS
“Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” —Tina Turner
“I have come to bind up the brokenhearted.” —Jesus
The Winds of Change
It was a rainy Virginia day, warm enough to sit outside with a cup of tea but too dark and dreary to really enjoy it. Just the kind of day that surrounds one in melancholy. And that morning I had a reason to be sad. My faithful companion, my dog Spanky, had died the week before.
Wait, I am going to open a book about grief and loss by talking about my dog? I am. In the pages that follow I will share more of my story, about the seasons of heart-breaking loss that led me to write this book. But loss comes in many forms, and that morning on the porch, my sadness was about more than the loss of a pet. Spanky’s death represented the loss of an era, a snapshot of my life that I would never fully reclaim.
Sometimes we don’t notice how loss affects our heart. It can happen slowly, yet before we realize it, the effects of our grief have become catastrophic and death of our hearts inevitable. Loss throws us off balance, sometimes causing us to lose our way. If enough time goes by, and we don’t repair the distance between what we know intellectually about our grief, and what we feel deep within our souls, we’ll find that along the journey we will have sacrificed something precious at the expense of protecting ourselves from pain. That something is our heart.
The closing of one chapter of life gives way to the birth of another, offering us hope and promise—but not without cost, and certainly not without a glance backward, and a twinge of sorrow. Which brings me back to Spanky.
We brought Spanky home as a puppy, a gift to our son on his seventh birthday to comfort him after the death of his grandmother. He is grown now, a young man beginning his own journey. Our home is quiet, void of the cacophony of children’s voices and the sense of security provided by my parents’ presence. Another twinge of sadness. There was a time not so long ago when my soul was in mortal agony over the very thought of losing them. Where did the years go, and how could the pages of my life turn so swiftly?
Telling the Story
Everyone loves a good story. Stories are full of adventure, passion, love, and mystery. But the stories of grief and suffering aren’t usually happy, and they are not always easy to tell. So we don’t. We bottle them up, push them down, and close up shop. And our pain sits, sometimes for decades. We don’t pull it out or look at it, and so we miss the opportunity to really understand the event or series of events that were responsible for breaking our hearts.
Yet we must tell the story to walk the healing path. That is why I wrote this book—to help you understand your own story of where loss and grief have affected your journey, and more importantly, to show you where those changes will help you find and connect with the heart of God. The choices you will make will be difficult ones, but if you stay the course, freedom is possible.
How do I know? Because I have walked a journey of loss myself that has spanned twenty years.
The first real tragedy in my life, the one event that broke my heart, started one morning when my children were still young. The day started as usual with my morning devotions. I opened my Bible randomly, as busy moms are prone to do, and read John 11:25, where Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” For some reason I kept thinking about it all day.
Go here to see Rita's video on Shattered:
Tell us a bit about why you wrote Shattered.Well certainly my own personal losses were definitely a significant factor, but as a therapist, sitting with clients over the last 12 years, I noticed a consistent theme woven into each person’s story. It didn’t seem to matter what their presenting problem was, loss was always a significant piece of what had affected their hearts. Many of these folks didn’t stop to notice the affects of these losses, much less put words to them. So my observations about the nature of these losses and the effects they had on people’s hearts led me to write about it.
Why and when did you begin your writing journey?
I always knew I’d write a book. People told me I had a gift. I wrote a course on loss and someone in the group I was leading told me I needed to see this as something more than a 10 week course to a small group. That got me going to really start writing.
What sort of books do you read? Give us some examples please.
Psychology. Books on the heart. I love Eldridge, Joni Earekson Tada, Jerry Sittser,
I loved When God Weeps by Joni. A Grace Disguised and When God Doesn’t answer your prayers by Sittser and Waking the Dead, The Journey of Desire and just about anything John writes. Also a book by Paula Rinehart Strong Women Soft Hearts.
Can you share some strange act or habit you have?I use to keep a loaf of raisin bread in my bathroom because I’d always get up at night and need to eat. This saved time from having to go downstairs to fix something.
Where did you live as a child? What makes you think of it with fond memories?
I grew up in Northern Virginia and I love the green rolling landscape of the state. I was blessed to have a wonderful childhood with amazing parents so I can’t narrow down just one favorite memory.
Do you travel/vacation? Any special places? Have you been inspired from your travels?
I just got back from Scotland and England and loved it. My husband and I love the French Riviera, but we have recently been doing a lot of traveling out west; Utah, California and Arizona and love that too!
All my travels inspire me to write. I really connect with my surroundings and use them as a springboard to get ideas. For example, in Scotland, visiting so many castles I put myself back in the 14th century and went to town.
Do you have a special Scripture verse?
The verse in Luke 22:31-32 because it sums up what I’ve been through.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you Simon that your faith may not fail; and when you turn back, strengthen your brothers.:
What can we expect to see from you next in your writing world? Do you have a "next" book coming?
Yes. It’s almost finished. It has a working title of Imposter: finding the real you behind the masks you wear. I also have one called Think this Not That. Charisma Media is currently interested in both projects.
Imposter: Discovering the real you behind the masks you wear. Using a composite of clients from my clinical practice as a psychotherapist, Imposter guides the reader through the journey of a woman with an eating disorder and the terrible secret that drove her shame. Under the therapeutic guidance of a seasoned counselor she is given the tools to recover her true identity.
Imposter explores the messages, lies, thinking errors, social pressures, and other contributing factors that set up the false self to eventually overtake a person’s true identity.
Imposter looks at the payoffs, illusions and long- range impact of living behind masks. It encourages the reader to deal with the fears, anger, lies and facades that have caused them to build walls around their hearts; thus creating a false self.
Imposter explores how attachment theory and brain neurobiology shape the brain and wire us for secure or insecure connection with others and with God. It provides the reader with a set of tools drawn from these theories to assist the reader in learning to rewire the neural networks that foster secure connection to God where they can appropriate their true identity.
Imposter will provide the reader with the same tried and tested, hope driven strategies utilized in the author’s clinical practice to help move those who struggle toward real freedom.
Could you talk about your personal losses?The first loss that broke my heart was my mom’s death. I was an only child so I was really close to my parents. My mom died at home with me, in my arms, on my son's 7th birthday; I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. I had just turned 36. That was only the beginning. Over the next several years I lost 7 people who were really close to me. There were lots of other difficult things going on in my life and I slowly began to notice I was losing heart. The final loss, perhaps the most significant, was my dad’s diagnosis of cancer and the two-year journey of caring for him. This pushed me over the edge. All the cumulative stress from all the other losses which I didn’t have time to process, built up until the bottom dropped out for me. I was depressed and started having panic attacks. That’s when I decided to seek help---which eventually led to my becoming a counselor.
How is your book different than traditional books on grief?My focus in the book is on the heart. A lot of traditional books on grief address death, but I was more interested in addressing how the abstract losses of life affect our hearts; things like: shattered dreams, unmet expectations, loss of identity, role loss, loss of trust, the things that we don’t always think of as losses, but which we over time, have serious long- range consequences on our hearts.
The book is based on the verse in Luke 22:31-32. It’s divided into 3 premises based on the verse. First, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” That’s how loss feels---you’ve been sifted. Loss assaults our heart. Second, “I have prayed for you Simon that your faith may not fail.” The good news, the exciting part is that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf! You and I are in a battle for our hearts everyday, and he’s saying, don’t give up, press on, I’m praying for you. Our hearts matter to him. The third part of the verse speaks about re-investment in life---Simon, when you turn back, when you’ve come through the caldron of affliction, when your heart becomes whole again, turn back and strengthen your brothers. In other words, re-invest your heart in life, in others, in kingdom purposes. Find your passion and go for it. That’s when we’re found most fully alive.
You talk about the art of noticing in the book? Can you explain that?Noticing is nothing more than being mindful, or paying attention to both the internal and external responses to our losses. In other words, we need to slow down and pay attention to what’s going on body, soul and spirit, because we can’t change what we don’t notice.
There are several ways I teach to people to do this; physically we need to learn to scan our bodies for stress and tension. Things like clenching our teeth, tightening our muscles, feeling knots in our stomachs all contribute to health problems so we need to notice them and learn to release our stress in adaptive ways. We need to observe what in the outside world is impacting us at the heart level. If you’re going thru a divorce for example, a familiar place, a song, an image, can take you back to times of pain and sorrow. Those external cues impact what we tell ourselves about our lives and our losses. They also affect our emotions and speak to our beliefs about self, God and the world around us. So we need to learn to be aware of what we’re telling ourselves.
What are abstract losses? And why are they important?Abstract loss is a term I coined in the book to refer to things like shattered dreams, unmet expectations, loss of trust, hope, faith, identity. The relational losses in our lives are pretty straightforward—things like death, divorce, and betrayal. They’re not hard to miss. But abstract losses can be more elusive and known only by the heart. We don’t always notice them or label them as losses. They’re important because they dramatically impact our belief systems. If we don’t learn to pay attention to them, they can build up and weigh our hearts down, causing us to become depressed. Learning to identify our losses and put words to them is critical to healing.
How do the losses of life affect us at the heart level? Sometimes we don’t notice how loss affects our heart. It can happen slowly, yet before we realize it, the effects of our grief have become catastrophic and the death of our hearts inevitable. Loss throws us off balance, sometimes causing us to lose our way. If enough time goes by, and we don’t repair the distance between what we know intellectually about our grief, and what we feel deep within our souls, we’ll find that along the journey we will have sacrificed something precious at the expense of protecting ourselves from pain. That something is our heart. Loss, especially cumulative loss, can easily cause us to lose heart--- until one day the bottom drops out. If we don’t pay attention, if we don’t tend to our hearts, the effects of our losses can become catastrophic and the death of our hearts inevitable. We are in a battle everyday for our hearts, and we have to fight that battle because our hearts matter to God. So many people I counsel have given up, and I want to be the voice that says, press on, don’t quit, God really is on our side. He cares about your heart.
Why is brokenness a necessary part of our lives?Because how we respond to the changes and losses of life determines what happens to our hearts. We all spend a great deal of time trying to make life work, struggling to figure things out and make sense of life. We fight against brokenness and yet it’s the very thing that brings God into the forefront of our lives. It moves us from death to life if we allow it to. I believe brokenness engenders transformation, but we must first be willing to grant the father a window into our souls. If we’re faithful to stay the course, transformation will flow from two sources; the choices we make about how we’ll handle our pain, and our willingness to be personally responsive to how God is leading us through the journey. So we need to decide some things. We need to decide if the most important part of our story will be what happened to us—or what happens in us in response to our losses.
How can we change our perspective on suffering and loss? By allowing them to be our tutors. I think most of us want to hit the delete button on the difficult places in our lives, but those are places that allow us to become who we are. Those are the places we find out what we’re made of, and if we will trust God to grow us up under the pressure.
How do people recover from the losses of life?By catching a vision for the greater role that we were designed to play, and the bigger purpose beyond ourselves. In other words, we must slowly begin to see with eternal eyes, that which is so difficult to see when loss first assaults our hearts---the story isn’t finished yet.
What happens to our relationship with God after we’ve experienced loss?Our concept of God, what we think about him and what we feel about him is really established long before many of our losses actually occurred. But if we’ve experienced significant losses, I think our concept of God becomes skewed. We believe lies about God’s goodness and character because of our pain. Think about what Eve did in the garden when she was tempted. Satan convinced her that God was holding out on her, that she was lacking something that if she just had, she’d be ok. Those lies she bought into led her to take matters into her own hands. She wanted to be independent of God. She wanted to do things her way, instead of trusting in his goodness. When bad things happen to us, we often blame God or we question his ways, and this causes us to distrust him. If trust is the heart of intimacy, and it’s broken, it will was cause us to move away from him.
What are the roadblocks to grieving and identifying loss?Denial, avoidance, fear, control, anger and quilt. Read the book to find out more.
What about anger and forgiveness, how do they apply to processing loss?
Anger is a response to a blocked goal, a hurt, or a perceived loss. And loss usually gives rise to anger. I wanted something and I didn’t get it. I got something that I didn’t want. I lost something I held dear. If we don’t take care of that anger, a root of bitterness will spring forth. So we have to take care of it otherwise we’ll walk around carry a sack on our backs filling it up with stones of bitterness, hurt, disappointment and pain.
Where to buy your book?
Author Bio Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and a short form feature Consider This. Her shows air on several radio stations as well as the Internet. They can be downloaded from www.ritaschulte.com/category/podcast or iTunes. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. Her articles have appeared in Counseling Today Magazine, Thriving Family, Kyria and LifeHack.org. Her book Shattered: Finding Hope and Healing through the Losses of Life releases in September 2013 by Leafwood Publishers.
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