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