Healing The Hole In Your Heart
I have said to you before that when it comes to preaching, I get by with a little help from my friends. Today, however, I am going to get by with a lot of help from one of my friends. His name is David McKechnie. He is the Senior Minister of the Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. It was he who gave me the idea for this sermon and it was he who gave me the courage to preach it. And it will take courage to preach it. It will take even more courage to hear it. You see, we are dealing today with one of the most traumatic, frightening, and devastating of all those issues which are besieging our families today. It is the issue of abuse and violence in the home.
Did you hear about the teacher who asked her young students, “What is the shape of the earth?” One little boy volunteered this answer: “My daddy says it’s in the worst shape it’s ever been in!” That little boy’s daddy and I see eye-to-eye. For all around us life is being marked and marred by the sins of humankind. Not so very long ago, the words “abuse” and “family” would never have appeared in the same sentence, “violence” was something reserved for the harshest of city streets and the deadliest of war zones, and “incest” as a word was not used in polite company and as an act was totally unthinkable. Now these words—and the actions they describe—have invaded our homes and, all too often, have turned our havens of peace and love into war zones with the accompanying casualties. I think maybe that little boy’s daddy was right—the world’s in the worst shape it’s ever been in! And I don’t know that we fully understand the devastation being wrought in people’s lives.
Let me say it like this. Inside your chest is a pump the size of a fist—it’s called the heart. There are 541 references to the heart in the Bible, but not one of those 541 references has anything to do with that pump in your chest. You see, when the Bible speaks of the heart, it is referring to the very center of our psyche, to the core of our being, to the substance of our knowledge, our will, and our emotions. When the singer of that once-popular song sung “You’ve Gotta Have Heart”—he wasn’t talking about the pump in your chest. When we see the Orlando Magic come back in triple overtime to beat the New York Knicks and we say “That team’s got heart”—we aren’t referring to that pump. The Psalmist wrote: “With my whole heart I cry: answer me, O God”—and when he wrote that he wasn’t referring to the physical organ which sends blood coursing through our veins and arteries. He was talking about the center of his being, the essence of his humanity.
Today I want to talk about having a hole in your heart. If you have a hole in that heart which is the organ in your chest, you will have a serious leakage of blood. And if you have a hole in your heart in terms of the very center of your being, you are talking about another kind of leakage. It’s the leakage of self-esteem and it is just as life threatening as a leakage of blood. Most of us speak out loud at a rate of 130 words a minute, but when you talk to yourself, you speak at a rate of 1300 words a minute, an incredible difference. Some of the worst things we ever say we say to ourselves—and some of those words which we speak to ourselves cause us to maintain a conspiracy of silence. In other words, there are some things in life we would rather not talk about, some things we wish to God we didn’t have to discuss openly. Today’s subject is a case in point. But we must talk about it, because abuse and violence in the home is punching holes in too many hearts today.
Let’s look first at what makes the hole—let’s look at what hurts the heart.
Buckle your seatbelts, because this is going to be a rough ride, but I don’t know any other way to make the point than to describe what is happening in the homes and families of America. Look at what is happening to our women. 30% of all American couples experience domestic violence and somewhere between 12 and 15 million women are battered by their husbands each year. The rate of violent crimes against women age 20-24 has risen by 50% in the last decade, while violent crimes against men in the same age range has decreased by 12%. Wife-beating results in more injuries requiring medical treatment than rape, muggings, and accidents combined. And then look at what is happening to our children. The best studies indicate that one out of three girls and one out of seven boys by age 18 will be victims of incest or sexual abuse—and it happens with equal frequency in every ethnic and socio-economic group. Child abuse cases now top 2.4 million a year, an astronomical 200% increase since 1977—what’s more, now the number one killer of children under 5 is child abuse. 80% of all sexual abuse cases involve adults our children know and love and trust. ABC News reports that more than 70% of all prisoners, male and female, in the United States experienced incest or abuse as children.
My friends, people who live with incest, abuse, and violence, live with a hole in their hearts, a leakage of self-esteem. And there are many people listening to the sound of my voice who have had or are now having that kind of experience. So many of you have been writing me letters about the issues we have been confronting, but the issue of abuse has triggered more letters than any other. I have received literally dozens and dozens of letters pouring out to me such a catalog of horrors as to leave me weeping with a sense of outrage and helplessness. The pain with which so many of my sisters and brothers are living is killing me—and my friends, unless we can stop this deadly cycle of violence and abuse in our homes, it’s going to kill our society.I have no idea to whom I am speaking today, but I urge you, if you are physically or sexually abusing anyone in your family, get help now. It’s not just a weakness or a minor psychological problem. It’s criminal activity, and you need to get help to stop punching holes in other people’s hearts—and you need to do it now!
But let’s go on to look at what makes the hole whole—let’s look at what heals the heart.
I heard about a preacher who went to visit one of his parishioners, an old fellow who lived out on a farm. When the preacher arrived, the old fellow was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. The preacher sat down in the other rocking chair and they proceeded to have a nice visit. However, all through the conversation, the farmer’s dog who was lying on the porch kept whining and whining. Finally the preacher couldn’t stand it anymore and he said to the farmer. “Why does your dog keep whining like that?” The farmer replied: “Well, you see, she’s lying on a nail and it only hurts her enough to make her whine but not enough to make her move!”
Well, authentic Christianity calls us not to whine but to move. The pain of my sisters and brothers who are the victims of abuse has hurt me so deeply that I can’t just sit back and whine. I’ve got to move to do something about it. I have called upon this church to martial its vast spiritual and healing resources in addressing this issue. It’s happening already. Hearts with holes in them are being made whole again. The painful and senseless leakage of self-esteem is being stopped.
But I must do more. If you are bogged down in the pain and heartache created by incest or abuse or violence in the home, let me offer some suggestions to you. They all begin with “R” so that I hope they will be easy to remember.
Refuse to be a victim. Don’t let the mistreatment that someone else imposed upon you become the controlling factor in your life. I think here of a boy named Al, five years of age, growing up in London, the son of a wealthy importer. Al was a bit small for his age but he had a cherubic face and he idolized his dad. Unfortunately, his father enjoyed playing cruel games with his son, Al. One day, for example, Al’s dad gave him a note and said: “I want you to take this down to my friend the Chief of Police.” Al took the note down a couple of blocks to the police station and gave it to the chief. The chief read the note, then he said to Al: “Come here, son.” He then led Al down the corridor to a row of jail cells. He opened one of the cell doors, shoved Al in, and locked the door behind him. He said to Al: “Your father told me to tell you that this is what we do to bad boys.” He turned and left Al there by himself. The boy was terrified. He began to scream hysterically. Later on, Al would say that it probably didn’t last more than fifteen minutes before the chief came back and let him out, but to Al it seemed like forever. And it left Al permanently scarred emotionally—he grew up from that point on never trusting his father again. And for the rest of his life he was victimized and made miserable by his father’s abuse. Al grew up to become the master of fear, the master of the involuntary scream—Alfred Hitchcock. Let me say to anyone who has experienced abuse: “The pain from that abuse is bad enough. Don’t compound the pain by letting the abuser continue to control your emotions. You can’t change the past, but you can change what you do now. Refuse to accept the role of victim. You are too important to God to do otherwise.”
Redeem the pain. Because you have been mistreated, you have earned the right to speak to others who have been deeply hurt by people in this life. Instead of simply trying to escape from your experience of abuse, use it to bring help and healing to others. Years ago, in Scotland, a group of fishermen were relaxing in an inn after a day at sea. They were swapping “fish stories.” Just as the waitress was approaching the table with a serving of tea, one of the men made a sweeping gesture as part of his story, accidentally struck the serving tray, and sent the teapot crashing against the whitewashed wall, leaving a huge, ugly brown stain on the wall. The innkeeper said: “That stain will never come out. I don’t know what I’ll be able to do about it.” Just at that moment a stranger at a nearby table said: “Let me work with the stain a little bit.” Opening a box he had with him, the stranger took out some brushes and glass jars of oil paint. He began to sketch lines about the stain and dab on splotches of color. Soon a picture began to emerge. The random splashes of tea had been rendered into the image of a stag with a great rack of antlers standing against the backdrop of soaring mountains and deep green forests. At the bottom of the picture, the man signed his name, paid for his meal and left. The signature read: “E. H. Landseer.” It was Sir Edwin Landseer, perhaps the greatest wildlife painter in the world. What Landseer did with that tea-stain is what God wants to do with the stain-like events that enter your life and mine. So let me say to anyone who has experienced abuse: “Don’t just try to cover over an ugly stain that someone else has left on your life. Instead, with the help of Jesus Christ, transform it into a thing of beauty. Redeem the pain!”
Re-define your family. When you are a Christian you are born into two families—an earthly family and a spiritual family—a family at home and a family at church. Therefore, if you have had holes punched in your heart by the abusive behavior of members of your earthly family, then reach out to claim your spiritual family as the substitute. If your earthly father inflicted great pain upon you, then here in the church we can help you find an older Christian man who will wrap you up with a Christ-like love. Don’t get mad at God if you don’t have an uncle who is a role model for you—find a spiritual uncle in the fellowship of the church. If your earthly sisters or brothers have been the source of great pain for you, there are sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ here at the church who will step into that breach. Remember, please, that Jesus had sisters and brothers who did not understand or encourage Him, so He redefined His family. He said: “My true sisters and brothers are those who do what God wants in life.” I have been deeply touched by the experience of a leper who had a glowing love for Jesus Christ. The leprosy had taken a terrible physical toll upon the man and the pain had been antagonized by years of mental and physical abuse at the hands of others. The leper had retreated into a cell of bitterness. But there was a Christian man from a nearby village who would visit the leper everyday. Every single day he brought food. And every day the leper would throw it back in his face. The man tried to talk, but the leper shouted at him “Leave me alone.” Still, the man in Christ kept coming, day after day after day. Finally, the leper said to the man: “Why do you keep coming to see me, to love me, when all I ever show you is hatred?” The man replied: “Because you are my brother in Jesus Christ.” When someone asked the leper how long this Christian from the nearby village came to see him before the leper gave his heart to Jesus Christ, the leper answered, “He came everyday for thirteen years!” Let me say to those who have experienced abuse: “We in the church are your sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ. We are your family. And we will love you and we will stand by you no matter how long it takes—no matter how many years it may take—for you to experience the healing power of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Re-define your family. Experience the power of the resurrection life which comes only from Christ and from those who belong to Christ.”
I would like to finish with this…
A teenage boy I know about has a bad birthmark on his face. He doesn’t seem to be self-conscious about it at all. One day one of his friends asked how he had learned to handle that large, ugly, birthmark on his face. The boy said to his friend: “When I was very young, my father started talking to me about that birthmark. He told me that he was so sorry that I had been forced to live with such a mark upon me. Then he would tell me that maybe the reason the mark was there was because that was where, when I was born, the angel had kissed me—and maybe the angel had done that so that my father could always find me easily in a crowd.” Then the young man added these words: “My dad told me this so many times with so much love that as I grew up I actually began to feel sorry for the other kids who weren’t kissed by the angel like I was!”
To anyone who bears upon their life the ugly stain of abuse at the hands of others, I would say that you have been kissed by the angel so that your Heavenly Father can find you easily, and embrace you with His love, and by the power of Jesus Christ, heal up that hole in your heart…