Let Your Heart Be Broken

Nobody wants a broken heart – this is an organ we safeguard protectively. But as I sat in the pew recently at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, listening to a powerful challenge by Marilee Pierce Dunker, daughter of World Vision founder, Bob Pierce … I decided I was hearing the best advice I had heard in a long time. She urged us, “Let your heart be broken – by the things that break the heart of God.

As she spoke, I felt a stirring inside me, and thought, “What breaks both my heart and God’s? And what might this require of me?”

Marilee described growing up in the 1950’s, with a father who was heartbroken by the suffering of children in impoverished countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Somalia. He didn’t simply indulge a mournful compassion for them or feel satisfied after fervently praying for them. No … he put hands and feet on his prayers.

He made it his life work to create and administer a humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting poverty and injustice – one that would eventually support the transformation of the lives of millions of children and communities in underdeveloped countries.

In the 60 years since its inception, World Vision’s work has prevented countless deaths from preventable causes such as hunger and treatable illnesses. In 2010, sponsors around the world cared for over 4 million children by providing sponsorships of children. These sponsorships provide basic necessities that help children achieve their potential by offering access to clean water, better nutrition and agricultural assistance, basic health care and immunization, school fees and materials, and economic development opportunities.

Not everyone can take on such an ambitious vision. But everyone has a heart, one that can be broken for the benefit of others. What cause, problem, or purpose is your heart breaking for? And what are you willing to do about it? As the famous African American preacher T. Garrot Benjamin is fond of saying, “Find out what makes you cry, and pursue it. This will be your life’s work.”

What makes you cry? What inspires your passion to get involved and engage in change to improve the lives of others? This is precisely the issue that will compel you to do whatever it takes to succeed and to overcome every barrier in your path. The world will then be a better place because you lived.

When you let your heart be broken … you care so deeply, commit so passionately, sacrifice so freely, and give so generously that anything is possible. Eventually, you improve the world around you, and equally important, you improve yourself.

You might be arguing, “But, I’m not that talented; I have real flaws.” When you allow yourself to be fueled with what I call “pit bull determination,” your inadequacies and weaknesses become irrelevant. You simply transcend them.

Consider Moses. An awkward man with a speech impediment, he asked of God, “Who am I . . . ?” Despite his exile and refugee status, Moses had something important to do, he accepted the challenge, and God equipped him.

It took me only a moment to answer Ms. Dunker’s question: What breaks my heart? My heart is broken by the suffering of people living with mental illness … especially when it results in suicide. Suicide surely breaks the heart of God. Depression is a treatable illness, and suicide can be prevented. Thousands of lives are cut short every year by suicide. More people die by suicide in the world every year (883,715) than by war, murder, and forces of nature combined (669,956). [Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Global Burden of Disease 2010].

I have been trapped in that dark and desolate place, believing there was no way out. Yet, by some miracle, I was blessed with recovery. In a chapter of my memoir on my experience with depression, I write about how in the short period since writing the book, my life has been touched by 3 suicides. Tragically, each time I go back to edit the manuscript, I have had to increase that number. After a mother of a 16-year old who hung himself on Thanksgiving presented at my office and shared her anguish with me, I had to change that number to 6. God’s heart is breaking. What am I willing to do?

Having gone through severe depression myself, I have found that this is an area that my own testimonial can be used to help others. Public speaking does not come easily for me; in fact I have struggled with public speaking anxiety for decades. But, despite that, and because I care about this issue so profoundly, I have found the courage to speak out on this subject.

I have a wonderful quote hanging in my office, “Speak your mind, even when your voice shakes.” I enlist this sound advice when I share my depression story to educate the public about mental illness and to help overcome the stigma associated with it. So what if my voice shakes? I have an important message, and though my struggle to speak eloquently humbles me, it won’t stop me. Is it difficult? Yes. Am I tempted to say, “Let someone else do it, someone who is more polished and poised?” Absolutely. But, when you feel a calling about something, you just do it. And somehow, every speech I have given  has gone surprisingly well.

This week was intense for me, and I am bone tired. But mine is the satisfying kind of tiredness – the result of worthwhile toil. I had two occasions to “speak my mind” and share my story of depression to reach out to people living with mental illness and the professionals who treat them. It was exhilarating to feel such an intimate connection with members of the audiences, and discover how deeply I was able to help them. Our shared stories, our united quest for dignity, and my  own triumph over depression provided hope and encouragement. It made me feel that my devastating illness had some redeeming value for others. In this, my long held prayer was answered, “Lord, let my life be a reflection of your power to restore the broken.”

Paradoxically, when I let my heart be broken, it is healed in the most powerful way.


  1. Very well said ….I believe that your message will continue to touch lives and bring a message of healing to those suffering. Keep writing

  2. I am grateful for our encouragement Pat. Thank you!

  3. Another great message Lisa. Thank you so much for committing yourself to sharing all that you can to help others be well and stay well.

  4. Lisa this is such a powerful message. I really feel so blessed to witness what you have been able to do to heal yourself through this great work. I know that I have a shared commitment with you to talk about mental illness and especially now with my experience with a painful suicide, I am never afraid to do a very thorough suicide assessment with my clients experiencing depression and have ideation. I try to do what you described in your training that did not really happen for you…I try to be present and listen. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to following all that you are doing to help heal others and promote wellness.

    • Thank you Michele. It is encouraging to hear of your ongoing growth and continually improving talents and skills as a therapist. I am thrilled that my class could further you in your learning and effectiveness with your clients. Great to hear from you!

  5. I really appreciate what you’re saying here and love the diagnostic of brokeness, passion, and my life’s work in the world. As a practicing follower of Christ I am amazed with the numbers of people I meet at churches who are depressed and on medication either prescribed by a doctor or themselves (booze, drugs, tv, porn, etc.). Those who are depressed break my heart and I so much want to help in ways that go beyond the glib “God never gives you more than you can handle” kinds of statements that I hear folks dishing out. So, for me, it’s about greater balance of inquiry over advocacy and love.

    • Thanks so much Pastor Tom. Your comments are so thoughtful and true. I agree with you about the glib comments – they just make a person with depression feel all the more alone and misunderstood. I believe churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques can benefit from a greater understanding of mental illness. It is certainly playing out in their midst, and if they can widen the welcome and deepen the support, many lives can be improved. This is the mission of the NAMI Inter-faith Collaborative that I serve on. If anyone would like outreach, education, or information on resources for their faith community, please let me know.I would be glad to help.

  6. Well done Lisa! This is great work! Thanks for sharing your pain with us and how God can work through it. I can relate to much of what you are saying. I look forward to hear more about your story and how God is using you even in your weakness to bring His power to others!!

  7. Marilee Dunker

    Thank you, Lisa, for writing to tell me how God used my father’s prayer and my message to bless your heart and encourage you in the amazing ministry you are called to. My parents would be especially blessed to know that in some small way our story has encouraged you as you reach out to those who suffer from depression and the spirit of suicide. In my book, Man of Vision”, I share that my older sister, Sharon, struggled with depression, and despite all the love and help she was given, she chose to go home to be with Jesus. She was twenty-seven. I was eighteen and it was the greatest heartbreak of my life! While it drove me to Jesus, the experience also gave me a very tender heart for those who face that battle and for those who lose loved ones so needlessly! So I know how desperately needed your ministry is!

    May God continue to bless you with a strong voice and a broken heart.
    Marilee Pierce Dunker

    • Thank you Ms. Dunker. I am profoundly touched by your response, and your candor in sharing about the tragedy of your sister’s death. Thank you also for your encouragement regarding my vision regarding suicide prevention. Your story spurs me on. Peace be with you.

  8. Lisa– Your writing was so moving, “let your heart be broken” seemed to speak to me. Just the thought of being “broken” enough to allow my weaknesses to be revealed enough to use them for some good. Y

    • Yvette – I’m so happy this was meaningful to you. But, I haven’t seen any weaknesses in you yet! Of course we all have shortcomings, but you truly shine in so many areas. I have been powerfully blessed to have you as a mentor.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: