After my first heartbreak ever, I drove my purple pickup truck across the New York countryside listening to Canadian sermons about suffering. On dusty trips to the dentist I divided my time between those sermons and the local rock station.
During those summer days I was all about trying to believe in the reality of my own suffering. Or, I was all aboot believing in the reality of my own suffering. I listened so many times to the sermons I picked up the Canadian preacher’s accent. I let the road’s dust in through the roll-down windows. I let tears stream to Bon Jovi’s …
What do you got if you ain’t got love?
Whatever you got, it ain’t enough.
I felt like God had taken me out behind the barn and shot me. But if I held up my suffering to the elephant-heavy suffering done by so many in the rest of the world, it looked like a pea.
I took detours so that I could share these meaningful moments with Bon Jovi and the Canadian preacher, driving around the familiar home terrain and smelling summer through the windows.
“You can’t do that, Chelsea,” my mother said when I returned home. “Gas costs a fortune right now.”
Oh, the pragmatic details of gasoline, even while the heart broke. It made sense, when I thought about it. Better to have no love with gasoline than no love without.
But my mother, gasoline notwithstanding, gave me a great gift in that summer. She gave me permission to have a broken heart.
I had driven home from work in a lakeside restaurant and wore the appropriate grime. My mother and I sat over peanut butter pie and tea, by accident more than by design. We are not the kind of perfectly framed people who plan peanut butter pie and tea for every deep occasion. Nor do we plan deep occasions. They just come.
When she asked about my emotional state I knew the theology: Through these unsought and painful circumstances God was doing me good. I cited a few examples of good life events that had so far resulted from my heartbreak.
“None of that stuff is worth it,” she said. “None of that stuff is as good as having a boyfriend.”
I sat surprised, certain my mother wouldn’t speak without faith that God was doing me good. In the Canadian sermons I had heard those lines of the deeply troubled William Cowper quoted dozens of times:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Surely my mother didn’t wish to give full credence to my dissatisfaction, or—what’s more—mean to identify my juvenile suffering as something real enough to cry for.
But she did mean to do that.
Because my mother refused to diminish my pain, I grew through it. I started to recognize the longings of my heart as longings for God. I learned to love Jesus through the lens of a bridal vocabulary: I felt unchosen, but He had chosen me. I felt lonely, but He would stay with me till the end of the world.
Now when I talk to girls with broken hearts, I try to give them what my mother gave me that summer: permission to ache. If we cannot ache, we cannot find out that what we really long for is the God of heaven.