Getting “punched in the heart”

Playl's Ponderings


Almost every day someone - mother, father, grandparents - asks Katie Grace how her day has been, and almost every day K.G. says, exuberantly, “It was the best day ever!” Or else she replies, dolefully, “It was my worst day ever.” Never mediocre. It’s always either the best or the worst...EVER!

A few days ago, when it had been the worst, ever, our daughter asked her daughter “Why?” and the answer was, because a friend “...punched me in the heart...” (grabbing her chest and reliving the pain.) Turns out that, while playing on the playground, K.G. had caught an elbow to the sternum, and it knocked the breath out of her. It was likely an accident but a very painful experience.

Inky Johnson got punched in the heart playing football for the University of Tennessee. In a game against Air Force, in 2006, the star cornerback suffered an injury in which his right arm was paralyzed, and his heart was damaged. The heart injury required emergency surgery to save his life. The damage to his arm ended his dream of playing in the NFL. Inky’s “punch in the heart” was  both physical and emotional.

Nearly all of us get punched in the heart, emotionally, at some time in our life. For many of us, those emotional blows have occurred numerous times...obviously more for some than others. Death, divorce, rejection, a negative diagnosis, and other disappointing losses can cause a feeling of being punched in the heart.

Sammie and I have grieved the loss our parents. Three of the four died over a space of three years - a parent’s death every year for three years in a row. Every time the news arrived, we felt punched, kicked, stabbed in the heart.

A few years ago, we received a phone call telling us one of our precious grandchildren had drowned. Thank God he was in the right place at the right time and was eventually revived. We were punched in the heart over and over again as we drove through the night to the hospital, in Florida, our minds filled with questions. He was finally released, alive. Why he made it when others do not is a question none of us can answer.

Recently, I received a text that punched me in the heart...hard! It read, “You may have heard. Karen Lievers went home to be with Jesus last night. Will tell you when I get more details.” Sammie and I were punched so hard in the heart that we both lost our breath and wept. Neither of us could speak. We had known Karen since she was barely a teenager. We had been her pastor, almost 50 years ago. Her family was like our family. She was an unbelievable person. After weeks in ICU, she had lost her battle with COVID, asthma, and pneumonia. There is no doubt that Karen is now in heaven with her Lord, her precious mother, and others. Still, our hearts were absolutely overwhelmed with grief. When we heard the news, we could hardly imagine how her husband, children, and father were stricken.

 Karen’s husband and father are both pastors. All of us have the hope of a reunion in heaven with her, but that does not keep us from feeling punched in the heart right now.

You know the feeling. Don’t you? You’ve been punched in the heart, too, haven’t you? Just remember that God is there to heal your broken heart and walk with you through the darkest valley.

Inky Johnson was punched in the heart. His dream of a continuing career in football was destroyed, but that dream was replaced with the opportunity to become a motivational speaker who impacts the lives of thousands, maybe millions. Inky will tell you, “Never let a situation or a circumstance define your life.”

Even when you get punched in the heart, defining your life is what the Father does.

Steve Playl, columnist, college instructor, and retired pastor and chaplain, may be reached at   


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