yeah, that’s a big word usually associated with life science class & people in the hospital with heart troubles. if you don’t know what it is, it’s the sac around our heart that protects it. if a pericardium is too weak, it’s not good for our hearts because it makes it too vulnerable. if it’s too tough, it’s not good, either, because it chokes off life.
a few months ago my acupuncturist who is part-spiritual-director-part-therapist-part-healer told me i needed to strengthen my pericardium. she was right when it came to a particularly hard season in an important relationship. there are times that i give too much of myself, take things too personally and make everything about me, and just don’t have enough heart protection. at the same time, it’s also easy to swing the other way & harden and protect my heart against pain, suffering, and intimate relationship and hide behind “strong boundaries.” the reality is that there’s a very fine line when it comes to pericardiums; a healthy pericardium means we can feel pain & engage in the realities of real life but not have it completely devastate us.
i continue to learn what it means to develop a healthy pericardium as a pastor, mommy, wife, and friend. it’s an art, not science. it requires faith not formulas. it requires time & God’s grace & lots and lots of exercise and practice.
and the thing i keep learning is that a healthy pericardium does not protect us from pain. it’s not supposed to. it’s purpose is to give us enough protection to not let the pain overtake us & shut us down completely when it gets really, really tough.
this week, my heart hurts.
like really hurts.
while i was in nashville speaking at outlaw preachers, i got news that one of my dearest refuge friends, an amazing & brave & survivor-of-all-kinds-of-atrocities single mommy had died. i had broken one of my most basic speaking rules and had my phone with me on the podium because it had a quote on it i wanted to use and was too lazy to write it down. i saw the missed calls & knew, somewhere deep inside that i can only attribute to the holy spirit, that something terrible had happened. i knew who the calls were from. i knew who they loved and cared for at the refuge. i knew something had happened to jessie. i just knew. so when i split everyone up into small groups to process some of the material on safe people, safe communities from down we go i had to make a decision. do i wait until i wrap up my presentation in a neat & tidy bow and pretend like something bad didn’t happen, or do i listen to the message and open what somehow i knew was going to be a flood of pain? i knew i couldn’t wait & i listened to the message in the hallway.
it felt like my pericardium burst completely and my heart was going to stop.
i felt like i couldn’t breathe.
people i didn’t know came up and held me.
i had lost a precious friend who i had journeyed in the trenches with for five solid years. through hospital visits & disasters & more drama than you can imagine. i wrote about her in the practice of love & down we go; her name in there is lydia, and she got into my heart & under my skin & into my bones. she was my daughter & sister & friend. she loved me fiercely, always had my back, and would kick the sh*t (literally) out of anyone who ever messed with me. she didn’t just give me her heart; i gave her mine, too.
conventional pastoral wisdom would have said that my pericardium was too weak when it came to jessie. that i let myself feel too much. to get too close. too care too deeply.
but they’re wrong. you see, i wasn’t in this relationship doing stuff “to” jessie or “for” jessie. we were in the thick of it together. she gave me as much as i gave her. she helped me as much as i helped her. she cared about me as much i cared about her. i learned as much from her as she learned from me.
and when we give our hearts this way, we get hurt.
it’s supposed to hurt.
when we’re real friends in a little pocket of love, it hurts worse.
when we’re real mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & daughters & sons, it hurts worse.
it’s part of being connected to the body of Christ together, all tangled up in ways that far supersede showing up every week and sitting next to each other at church. it’s about living in a little pocket of love together and sharing each other’s burdens in ways that look crazy to people who don’t understand.
so today as i write this, my heart hurts in more ways than i can count. for me, for her precious son, for her friends & family & all the people who loved her in all her strengths & in all her weaknesses–the way she loved all of us, too.
however, even though my heart is in pain, i am so grateful, too. because if my heart had been hard–my pericardium too tough–i would never have experienced the love & joy & beauty & care & mercy & fun (along with the pain & sorrow & anger, too) that we shared in my wild and beautiful relationship with jessie.
damn, life together hurts.
it’s supposed to.
my pericardium is working right.