What can Earnest Hemingway teach us about our own Brokenness?

I have long heard of Earnest Hemingway having a love for Northern Michigan.

I loved the story of “The Big Two-Hearted” and have wanted to explore Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in search for the elusive trout Hemingway refers to.  A couple years ago, I came upon The Nick Adams Stories, a collection of short stories written by Earnest Hemingway.  Nick Adams was his own semi-autobiographical character, and even though parts of his story are fictionalized, I noticed one line in the story called “Ten Indians” that has haunted me since my first reading.

A little background on Earnest Hemingway.  He grew up in Illinois to a father who was a doctor and a mother who was a gifted musician.  He spent his boyhood summers at their family cottage near Petoskey, Michigan.   His mother, being an accomplished musician, wanted Earnest to take cello lessons.  Earnest didn’t like it… he remarked that it caused “conflict.”   This internal conflict escalated into resentment and bitterness, and it is noted that he hated his mother because of her desires for him to learn music.

Hemingway went to war (WWI) when he was 18 years old and served on the front line in Italy.  He was wounded, and spent about 6 months in the hospital recuperating, where he met a Red Cross nurse whom he fell in love with.  They were to be married but when he returned to the US she mailed him from Europe saying that she was going to stay and marry an Italian officer.  This devastated Earnest.  He didn’t know what to do with his brokenness.   So he made a vow.  “I will never be dumped again.”  And he made it a point to leave or abandon the future women in his life before they had a chance to.  He was married to four women.

A clue that he didn’t know how to resolve and get healing from his broken heart comes in the Nick Adams story “Ten Indians”.  In the story, Nick is presumed a young man who has a crush on a Indian girl in Northern Michigan.  He finds out from his father that this girl was seen inappropriately messing around in the brush with another young man.  In the story, as Nick lies in bed that night with tears streaming down his face, says, “My heart must be broken.  If I feel this way, my heart must be broken.”   As his broken heart begins to settle down, he finally gets to sleep.   He wakes up once or twice in the night, only to find the wind in the trees and the waves crashing on the shore near his family’s cottage.  Thankful for the extra noise to quiet his restless soul, he goes back to sleep.  The story ends with him waking up to louder waves and a stronger wind and noticing he “was awake a long time before he realized his heart was broken.”

Earnest Hemingway, one of the great American writers of the 20th century, committed suicide at the age of 61.

I have heard it said that life is clear when looked back upon, but that it must be lived forward, and it often comes to us in cryptic form.   While reading this story of Hemingway, I felt his pain of lost love.  I felt his hurt of a parent that expected more of him in one area of life than he had desire or capacity for.  I am challenged by this Nick Adams story because it is my story, and I see it as the story of so many men.  The story goes like this:   We’re going along in life, and something happens to disrupt the flow of love as we know it.  We take a hit.   We get hurt and do not have a context to know what to do with the pain.   An internal message comes as a result.   That message is usually very unhealthy and full of self-imposed control to allow no one to know how hurt we really are.  From that, a “vow” is created that normally starts with “I will never” or “I will always.”  These vows we make when we are children are very powerful and need to be broken if we would like to live a life of freedom from the pain and hurt, even if it’s been buried for 30, 40 or 50 years.

In the case of Earnest Hemingway, his pain came from his mother who insisted on him taking lessons to play the cello.  Earnest lived with this discouragement, resentment, and eventual hatred toward his mother.   Later, when he was in World War 1 and gave his heart to the Red Cross nurse, it was shattered when he learned that she wasn’t coming to the US to get married to him, but rather would wed another man.   It appears from the stated history of his life that the message was that he wasn’t lovable for just who he was as a boy, then a young man.  Later, this message turned into a vow to never be the one to be abandoned.   He left woman after woman for fear they would leave him before he had the chance to call it off.

It is true that he had many physical afflictions because of his war-wounds, but prior to going to war it appears there was already some damage that had happened to his young heart, which could have led to his own suicide.  We don’t know for sure.

While I have seen this story repeated in many ways and forms in other men, I have also seen something different and altogether more hopeful.   I have seen men who are courageous enough to examine the fruit of their own lives.  I have seen men willing to deal with fruit that isn’t very tasteful or fragrant.  I have seen men go to the root of the pain that has been caused to them.  Men who are willing to invite Jesus into their hurt, pain, and shame and have Him tell them the truth.  Men who are willing to forgive and release their offenders, and take Jesus’ hand and walk away from the early traumas of life and onto a journey and pursuit of wholeness.  It is awesome to see God re-writing the stories of men.

Today, there is a pathway to wholeness.  It normally doesn’t come all at one time, but perhaps had Earnest Hemingway been around today, he could have found healing for his deep hurts and broken heart.  It is possible that we can recover what has been broken in our lives.  Jesus came to heal our broken hearts and set us free from the lies we began to believe in our younger years.

Do you have hurt in your life?

Do you remember when your heart was “broken”?

What did you do with it?

There is a path to freedom.  One tool that I recommend for your own healing is a little book by David Colborn called Four Streams.  You can order that from his website at www.texasbandofbrothers.org

Trusting in God with you in the pursuit of further healing of our broken hearts,



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