If I had to pick the most universal and painful human experience, I’d probably say heartbreak. It’s something all of us understand, as it comes in many forms and degrees throughout our lives. There’s the heartbreak of divorce or a hard breakup, the heartbreak of losing a loved one or watching a loved one make wrong choices, the heartbreak of seeing our families hurting, or the heartbreak of our lives going in a direction we never wanted them to.
Sometimes, heartbreak is a bearable experience that we can move past fairly quickly. Too often, however, it leaves us burdened by deep despair and hurt that can last for weeks, months, or even years and cause us to wonder, “Why, Lord? Why?”
I used to think that the Lord never answered that question when I asked it, that He just left me hanging and struggling on my own. But over the past few months, I've begun to recognize what, to me, is the answer to my plea: in spite of the aching pain and the surge of insecurity that comes with it, having our hearts broken can be a blessing, and it can be a rare opportunity for personal growth.
Heartbreak gives us a greater appreciation for and understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Several weeks ago, I was talking with a good friend about a difficult break up. I was angry, because even months later, it brought me to tears and made me question my worth as a person. The pain I inflicted on myself was almost unbearable, and I felt so alone, even when talking to someone else. In the middle of this particular conversation, however, I found myself suddenly thinking of the Savior. I was humbled by a thought that came quietly, but powerfully to my mind: He gets this. He knows how this feels. And I knew it was true.
At the conclusion of His mortal ministry on earth, the Savior felt the weight of despair, sickness, temptation, sin, and failure carried by every individual who ever lived and would live. He would atone for us, and that Atonement would cause Him to weep with us, suffer with us, and maybe even fall apart with us, wondering, as we sometimes do, why?
It is so difficult to even begin to comprehend the scope of Christ’s Atonement, but when we are pained by our own mistakes or sorrows, we are given a small, yet unique opportunity to understand. For just a moment in our lives, we can both feel and see the cross that the Savior bore for us. We then may realize that He bore billions of those crosses for each and every one of His brothers and sisters.
When life is going well for us, we sometimes forget how well Christ understands us, or even that He does. It is only when our own hearts are hurting that we can even minutely comprehend the tears He must weep for us and the empathy He must have for each one of us. In the depths of our pain, we can realize that we are surely not alone and be astounded by what Jesus Christ had to experience for us.
When our hearts are broken, we can truly weep with those who weep and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.
In the midst of heartbreak, it is too easy to fall into a cycle of self-pity and frustration. It’s easy to see our present circumstances and cry for ourselves, asking, “Why me? Why this? Why now?” Too often, we feel like the only ones who are hurting, and when we do, we sometimes close ourselves off to other people as we try to heal. But when we do that, we lose the opportunity to exercise a great gift that heartbreak affords us: understanding.
When our hearts are broken, we naturally see things differently. We are able to ache for those around us going through their own heartaches, especially ones similar to our own. We empathize like the Savior can because we have born that cross. In that way, we are in the best position to do what the Savior did. We can weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We can be compassionate. Our hearts, tender and unhardened, are given greater capacity to love if we let them. That love is something that our brothers and sisters need to feel, and if they can’t seem to find it in the Savior, they must certainly be able to find the Savior’s love in us.
I believe that the Lord allows us to hurt so much because He has other children who hurt and need to know that they do not carry their burdens alone. It might be easier to feel bad for ourselves, but the most productive and Christlike thing we can do with our heartbreak is use the perspective it grants us to comfort those around us who hurt, too. Lost in the service of each other, we then may truly heal.
After heartbreak, we can really appreciate the peace and contentment of a heart unburdened.
One last and great blessing from a broken heart is one that comes over time. We may not recognize it for months or years, but when we do, we will rejoice in the hard times that have led us to appreciate the good.
After being expelled from the Garden of Eden and God’s presence, Adam and Eve found a way to carry on despite the heartbreak they must have felt. I imagine it was incredibly lonely for them, but they never lost hope and continued to obey the Lord’s commandments. Eventually, they bore children and had the gift of the Holy Ghost conferred upon them. After that moment, they rejoiced, and Eve exclaimed, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).
It’s a scriptural pattern that the deepest despair and pain is always countered by joy unimaginable. Alma the Younger experienced both in his repentant journey. Lehi and those of his family who partook of the fruit of the Tree of Life went from chaos and confusion to eternal happiness. The Savior himself, who bled at every pore and was crucified by those He loved, returned for a glorious reunion with His disciples in His resurrected body. Each experience of joy was made sweeter because of the pain it took to get there, and the same is true for us in our lives.
We can make a new beginning.
Broken hearts are difficult, but they are not the end. If we let it, our broken heart can give us the opportunity to love one another more deeply and appreciate the Atonement more fully. It’s difficult, and often it takes long amounts of time for us to heal, but in the midst of our healing comes perspective that strengthens our relationship with Jesus Christ and our love for our brothers and sisters.
Our Father’s plan is a plan of happiness, and though we may find ourselves unhappy at times along this mortal journey, the promise for those who endure and do the Lord’s will is unparalleled joy in the Father.
Arianna Rees is a featured contributor for LDS Living. She's a recent Utah State graduate with a Bachelor's degree in English who loves reading, writing, and adventuring more than just about anything--excepting her family and the Gospel, of course. She can most often be found bushwhacking in the mountains, scouring Deseret Industries for classy shoes, or jamming out to a Beyonce song in the privacy of her bedroom.
Arianna is also a blogger and author of the popular LDS posts 5 Things You Should Know Before Going Through the Temple, 9 Conference Moments No One Saw Coming, and Why I Took Returned Missionary off My Checklist. Read more from her at igobyari.blogspot.com or find her on Facebook.