An Open, Broken Heart



It’s a few days past Easter Sunday and the wild ride of Holy Week, where we see the rise and fall and rise again of Jesus. The story always gets under my skin no matter how many times I’ve heard it. There’s something about how God-in-the-flesh comes and goes and moves in our world and people’s response to Him. There’s something about the vulnerability of the people desperate for Jesus’ healing and hope.

There’s something about the vulnerability of Jesus, rocking the status quo and scorning the shame of the cross. Something about the Friday-Saturday-Sunday movement of Easter that reminds me that without the pain of Good Friday and the lament of Holy Saturday, there can be no joy of Easter Sunday.

That without pain, there is no joy.
That from despair, hope emerges.
That out of death, new life always emerges.
That real life hurts.
That real life is beautiful.
That hearts are meant to love and live and breathe and connect.
That hearts are meant to break.

It makes me think of some thoughts I read years ago by Parker Palmer called “The Open Broken Heart,” an excerpt from A Hidden Wholeness. He says that there are two kinds of broken hearts: the first is one that is “an unresolved wound we carry with us for a long time, sometimes tucking it away and feeding it, sometimes trying to “resolve it” by inflicting the same wound on others.” The second is a different way to consider what a broken heart might mean. He says, “Imagine that small clenched fist of a heart ‘broken open’ into the largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.”

He then shares a Hasidic tale where a disciple asks the rabbi, “”why does Torah tell us to place these words upon our hearts? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rabbi answers, It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in …”

Until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.

In life in the trenches in incarnational community, I am consistently reminded of the suffering that is reality of life this side of heaven. It seems like there is just so much pain, so much loss, so much heartbreak, so much not-the-way-we-had-hoped-it-would-be in so many directions. This pain is not just for people on the margins, but for friends everywhere.

Divorce, cancer, depression, chronic illness, lost jobs, poverty, addictions, mental illness, abuse, broken dreams, loneliness. I know people of all shapes and sizes and theologies and life experiences and sizes of paychecks wrestling with so many of these in different ways. Life is so tender, so fragile. Yet at the same time, it is so strong.

I see the incredible courage of people who keep going after such extreme loss, who laugh through the tears, who offer forgiveness after so much hurt, who move forward after huge setbacks. I constantly see slivers of beauty emerging out of heaps of ashes.

To be human means we will suffer. Parker Palmer also says that “when we don’t know what to do with our suffering, we turn to violence.” And we all know that violence isn’t just toward others, it is toward ourselves, too.

The most important thing is that we somehow don’t suffer alone. We were never supposed to suffer alone. It’s why I believe passionately that the church—the body of Christ in whatever shape or form it takes—is not supposed to be about singing some songs, listening-to-the-preacher-preach, and getting a spiritual fix.

It’s supposed to be a place for collective suffering, collective hope. Collective suffering, collective hope. This is why I am a nut case for community, because our best hope in the darkness is to have others with us who have unclenched fists and open broken hearts to help hold this pain.

People who don’t try to solve or fix or scripturize or try to make sense of what can’t be made sense of. People willing to enter dark places. People brave enough to welcome pain. People who can, as Parker Palmer says, stand in the “tragic gap,” the “gap between what is and what could and should be …”

That’s a thin place: the gap between what is and what could and should be.

I’m so thankful for those people in my life, for a God who is close to the broken-hearted, for a church that does not minimize suffering and keeps turning toward hope. And I’m grateful to be part of the SheLoves community, brave and vulnerable women who have open-broken hearts, who respect our own pain and the pain of others, who are willing to stand in the tragic gap.


Image credit: geir tønnessen

Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  1. You write so very beautifully, Kathy. I, too, am so grateful for the Sunday hope that precedes the broken heartedness of our Fridays, and the long wait of our Saturdays.

  2. The image of a broken heart allowing Equally beautiful is the idea of the church being a place for collective suffering and collective hope. This extends beyond the confines of four walls and joins neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and strangers that name the name of Christ. Thanks Kathy.

  3. Leah Kostamo says:

    I love this line: Until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.
    Thank you!

  4. I’m a huge Parker Palmer fangirl. So I especially loved this post, Kathy.

    “People brave enough to welcome pain.”

    I *so* want to be the kind of person willing to stand in the “tragic gap.” I’ve noticed that I’m most afraid to do this with my immediate family. I’m so afraid to ask the questions and poke around under the rocks of old suffering that has now become their normal. And because I love them so much, I know that their (old) pain will cause me pain today. So selfish really.

    Why destroy a perfectly lovely evening with that old memory? Who wants to rehash old pain when you can cuddle a baby, put on a pot of tea and cut another slice of cheesecake? The old suffering that my loved ones are carrying is the place of high resistance for me. Denial is sweet. At least for a little while.

    Sure it affects all of their life decisions. But what’s the big rush? What’s one-more-decision made out of fear and not freedom?

    It’s terrible.

    Your words are sobering. I’m challenged to hold space for those dearest to me even though it has a (selfish) cost to me. They need my permission, my curiosity and encouragement to grieve their pain.

    Thank you for the nudge and much-needed enlightenment in this area.

    Such a Wimp

  5. Wholeness comes in walking through the brokenness, and you have underscored the importance of having safe people to walk beside us. I wish every year that the predominant truths of Easter could stay with me: the value of lament, the holy surprise of life out of death. Thank you for making it last another day!

  6. pastordt says:

    You are exactly the kind of ‘nut case’ I love and I need. Thanks for these lovely, hopeful, true words this morning.

  7. Anne-Marie says:

    So good, Kathy. When healing from living with a seriously broken father, I cried for many days at church, and it felt strange because no one else seemed to be in buckets of tears. While we all walk through different seasons, that felt right, somehow, at the feet of the one who went through those hours on the cross and still bears the marks. Good to be reminded as I’m more steady than that now. I think pride tells me I don’t want to be the one who’s always feeling or struggling with something, but perhaps that is a gift, to invite others into.

  8. Helen Burns HBurns says:

    “So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in….” these words are stunning.

    Thanks for every delicious word here today – I am savouring every one of them Kathy. What a gift they are to nourish my heart today. xo

  9. O, Kathy, this speaks right into my heart. It’s everything I have always believed about community. It’s not always this way though, and that’s what I’m trying to reconcile with. Church outside of the building. I pray that we, as a body, understand the importance of this more and more. So many–Christians especially—are lost in their pain, suffering on the fringes, because the Church won’t come to them and sit and hold them in their pain.
    What an amazing post. Thank you.

  10. Bev Murrill says:

    Until one day, the heart breaks… and the words fall in.

    Thanks so much Kathy for finding this example to share with us. It’s a deep and powerful wisdom which goes so far toward explaining how somehow our suffering helps us become more like Christ.

    I love your authenticity and the way you choose to live life real! Collective suffering – collective hope… that’s how it works…

  11. Lisa Burns says:

    So beautifully said, Kathy! I traveled this week to the vast tulip fields of the Skagit Valley, in Washington state (where I live) and marveled at all of those open “cups” — holding sorrow and joy as they swayed in the breeze!

  12. Yes! May we all stand with others in that “tragic gap,” where the dividing of sorrows occurs.

  13. I love the image of God’s words falling into our broken hearts. This is beautiful.

  14. AMEN. Thank you.


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