The capacity for which the human heart can stretch is astounding. Our hearts exist on this enormous spectrum that ranges from numbing grief to euphoric joy. There are times when love can fill our souls so full it’s like a balloon filled with helium, demanding release to soar high. Conversely, there are times when our heart is broken and wounded, when the pain is so great, we curse love, question its worth, and wonder if we will ever feel whole again. But I’m discovering the most complex challenge for the human heart is when we are thrust into a form of dualism, those situations when we are given great pain and great joy at the same time. Is there an authentic pathway through the extremes love demands?
In the spring of 2003, my grandma was in a hospital room on one side of the city of St. Louis with my mom, aunt, and grandpa by her side. She was nearing the end of her time on earth and her passing was imminent. Meanwhile, my sister went into labor with her third child. My mom left the bedside of her dying mother to attend to the bedside of her daughter giving birth on the other side of St. Louis. Within hours, my mom was given the privilege of witnessing the birth of another granddaughter, this one who was destined to carry the name of her great-grandmother. A new Lela arrived while her namesake was passing. My mom’s heart was required to stretch across a city, across the generations, and across the span of life of death within a few hours.
These past few weeks in my life have been lived in a state of impossible heart stretching. On one side of this great chasm is a son who is hurting, away, searching, and healing. On the other side are daughters who are thriving, present, focused, and soaring. Then there are my littles, who are in the know but still somewhat oblivious to the great highs and lows their mama is facing. My heart is struggling to authentically rejoice for my girls, while remaining vulnerable and present for my son, and simultaneously stabilize the environment for my youngest children. I’m flailing here in this place. I feel empty, broken, poured out, and utterly incapable of coping in this chasm. How can we love big and hurt deep? How can we possibly live out authentic, honest, yet vulnerable love? How does new life come out of broken?
I’ve learned that emotional pain and physical pain both emanate from the same areas of the brain. Although science hasn’t yet discovered why our hearts hurt from this pain, they do know our brains interpret emotional pain and physical pain in the same way. Oddly enough, early studies have shown that taking Tylenol for emotional pain seems to have the same impact as it does on physical pain. Imagine that, taking 2 Tylenol might actually be a prescription for our souls.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” This is after all what our Savior has done for us. Jesus was broken and poured out because he so loved. His heart broke so that ours could be filled. Is this not the better way? The broken way? Are we not also called to broken and poured out, to love without regard, without restraint, without self-protection, to embrace the broken parts of our life? Isn’t this the path to resiliency? Always, the upside-down Gospel of Christ challenges us to view everything differently – even love. Especially love.
It’s okay to be sad for what is sad. Ann Voskamp writes, “There is no fear in letting tears come. Sadness is a gift to avoid the nothingness of numbness, and all hard places need water. Grief is a gift, and after a rain of tears, there is always more of you than before. Rain always brings growth.” Likewise, it’s okay to be joyful for what is good. It’s right for me to celebrate the successes of my daughters, because as a wise friend said to me: your girls deserve that generous part of your love.
You’d think that a broken heart would stop trying to love, but the funny thing is that somehow we still love with all of those broken pieces. These days half my heart is living in the valley and half my heart is living on the mountaintop. I haven’t found many roadmaps that show me how to live in both places at once. I’m learning you have to simply figure it out every day, in every moment, with every breath. And as always in my story, worship guides the way to life despite the extremes of love.