The Gift of a Broken Heart

by Hayley Arnold

August 10, 2022


Asking God to break our hearts for what breaks His is what one might deem a dangerous prayer. Early this year, I asked God to do this, which brought me on an unexpected journey of grief and grace. I am a teacher and have, on occasion, found myself considering my students as more of a burden than a blessing. With still-developing frontal lobes, pre-teens can be challenging to interact with day in and day out. This, coupled with the exhaustion and collective trauma brought by Covid-19, had me feeling somewhat numb as 2022 began.

My hope was that the Lord would renew my compassion for my students. Many of them have experienced considerable difficulties and are unfamiliar with God’s grace, love, and kindness. One of the greatest joys of being called to teach is the opportunity to demonstrate God’s love. I was actually writing similar words in a discussion post for graduate school when I felt convicted. Although these words are true and express why I entered the profession, they felt disingenuous because I was too fatigued to believe them anymore. I knew something needed to change, so I asked God to break my heart for His children.

I repeated this prayer until it was answered on February 24th. That day, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and my heart broke. For some context, I have spent significant time over the last decade working with churches, youth groups, and schools throughout Ukraine; serving there long-term has always stayed on my heart. I was wrecked the instant I read what had happened.

Suddenly, I had gone from feeling nothing to feeling overwhelmingly devastated and helpless. The only thing I could do in the moment was pray, which, of course, is the most powerful action I could have taken. I remember not being sure how I was going to make it through work the next day. I was glued to my phone, waiting not just for updates from news outlets, but also from dear friends and Ukrainian teens I’ve taught or mentored over the years. I arrived at work distracted and distraught.

When my students arrived that morning, one of them immediately asked if I was okay (clearly I had done a poor job of hiding my feelings). I explained what had happened and why Ukraine was so meaningful to me. This was followed by an avalanche of questions, most of which centered on if my friends were alright. My prayers had been for me to show more grace and understanding to my students, yet they are the ones who showed me compassion as they extended such kindness.

God is perfect in His timing and faithful to keep His promises. These are truths I continue to cling to now, over a hundred and fifty days into the war. God has kept my heart from numbing, which means that it continually breaks for His children, just not in the way I had expected. I have more questions than answers, but thankfully God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Even when I cannot see the bigger picture, He has already gone before and guides me through each of life’s circumstances.

Hayley is a middle school teacher who loves to spend time with friends and family, and has recently taken up hanging out with her new puppy! She has a heart for youth and loves seeing how God is at work in the next generation, whether through missions opportunities or her work in education.