broken heart syndrome.

I had a little scare last week with my heart. When I called my doctor’s office to tell them what was going on with me, a heaviness in my heart that kept persisting, they told me to go straight to the nearest Urgent Care.

I did.

My husband was scared when I told him what they said.

I was scared when they started doing every test under the sun.

But then, test by test, they all came out clear.

Physically, my heart was fine.

The pain wasn’t gone, but the fear was.

The next day I went in to my doctor and got cleared; he chocked it up to “one of those weird things that happen and you’ll never know what it was” (even anxiety didn’t make it on the list, geez).

A few hours later I went to my acupuncturist, who I also call my healer and therapist-without-words. She’s helped me for years now strengthen my back after surgery. The reality of my back is that I ignored the signs and it got worse and worse and worse until it finally broke. Now, 7 years later, I listen better to my body.

And it was speaking to me this week.

My heart has been extra vulnerable with everything happening in the USA right now, along with some good but laborious work we’ve done at The Refuge to reorganize and strengthen our community-lead model, and the day to day realities of working in a lot of hard places for a long time.

This incident was a case of what is best described as “broken-heart syndrome.”

It manifested itself in a situation I’d been in 100 times before but add a little twist, a few hurting kids, the realities of the ravages of mental illness and our screwed up system of care for it, and it broke.

I had no other symptoms except for a heavy heavy heart.

My pericardium just wasn’t strong enough and the pain and despair got in there deep and fast.

Thankfully, I’m in good hands and it’s already so much lighter.

But, like all things physical-emotional-spiritual healing, it’s tiring, too. I’ve been wrestling with the reality that I’ve spent more time and energy on self-care in this past year than I ever have before, and it’s still not enough.

I love what I get to do day after day as part of The Refuge community and in the wider Denver network and other spaces; it is so life-giving to me on more levels than I can count.

However, I have probably underestimated the toll this season has taken on me and how vulnerable I am.

Acknowledging that my heart has really been broken over the state of the US, the state of Christianity, the state of so many of our systems, is probably the best thing I can do right now.

It’s just sad and hard and weird right now.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not trusting God properly.

It doesn’t mean I’m not doing something right or that I’m doing something wrong.

It doesn’t mean I’m not faithful enough, spiritual enough, disciplined enough, ______ enough.

It just means that I had a case of broken heart syndrome and I need to be careful.

It’s dark out here, and I know a lot of you are feeling it, too.

Our hearts are aching over what is happening to dismantle the progress we made on equality in all kinds of different ways.

Our hearts are aching over the legislation being pushed that discriminates against the margins and protects the rich.

Our hearts are aching over the church, which is still spending countless energy defending scriptural interpretations while the world is crying out for hope.

Our hearts are aching over being disconnected from God and community after a shifting faith and what that means for the future.

Our hearts are aching over the powerless of being one small voice in an ocean of political clamoring.

Our hearts are aching over our own losses and struggles and broken relationships.

You may not have symptoms of heart problems, but my guess is that a lot of you know what it feels like to have a broken heart right now.

I’m in good company on that one.

I wish there was an easy answer–do this, do that, stop doing this, stop doing that, and the ache would go away.

But alas, that’s not how grief works.

The way through grief is to acknowledge it, talk about it, share about it, be honest about it, and find ways to take good care of ourselves in the process.

Advice doesn’t help (oh, how people love to give it!) but the love of God and friends and others who get it, does.

So that’s my hope and prayer today, not just for my heart because it’s doing much better, but for our big collective heart right now, especially during this season of our history and also Lent where some of our defenses are stripped away and we acknowledge our humanity in a more intentional way.

Our hearts are fragile & strong, and they are always teaching us things along the way.

How’s your heart doing in all this?

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • I think you’re absolutely right. I journalled recently about shoving thoughts and feelings down into my broken heart because so few have the time or inclination to even listen… There’s a big problem with that, though. The thoughts and feelings quickly decay and become like poison. And the poison seeps out until it makes one physically ill.

    Jesus, the Healer, lives in us and we in him. I’m praying that those with broken hearts will turn to one another and bind up one anothers’ wounds. I pray that we are learning to be Jesus to one another.

    I love you, dear friend. We will survive and we will thrive. I am sure of it — and when I’m not so sure. Guess who helps me? You do.

    It’ how they know we belong to Christ…

  • I’m heartbroken at the state of things, too. It is so good and right to know when it’s time to grieve and hold it tenderly and let it move through. I’ve been doing a lot of sitting in my sadness lately, but it’s not stuck, it’s moving through me and transitioning me into something new. Every realization, every change, every transformation comes with grief. My sadness is usually at the bottom of my anger and fear. Thank you for sharing this, Kathy, and for being so vulnerable and wise. Thank you for all you do, the ways you put yourself in places to have your heart broken to stand with those who don’t have a choice about their broken hearts.

    • thanks my friend. sorry for my late response over here. yeah, that deep grief and sadness at the bottom of anger and fear honors it so well. glad to be alongside you on this wild path.

  • Oh my goodness Kathy…. this blog makes me think/feel that you are using IT to work through your own personal angst and pain from your past…. it’s tiring … its not a peaceful place for healthy reflection and conversation anymore …it just reads angry….whatever happened to DIGNAFIED dialogue?

    • Indeed. Whatever happened to dignified dialogue? I hear very little of that these days, only more news about plans to cut programs for the poor, the elderly, the homeless and minorities to pay for high walls to keep out the minorities and to build more bombs. That’s what we all need. More bombs, more guns, more walls and more lies. Maybe I’m just working through my own personal angst and pain from my past.

    • it’s spelled dignified and it would be good to read the dignified dialogue guidelines on the front page. this is a great example of what it’s not.

  • Thanks for sharing, friend. My heart is reading a lot like yours above. But I’m hopeful that in the day to day, around tables, we can keep waging peace and love and the Christ message, the Good News, in spite of all the bad. Keep healing and processing. xoxox

    • thanks, adrienne. your words always are good for my soul! yes, i agree 100%! love from colorado..let me know if you come out this way. i sure would love to see you.

  • Almost every time I read this blog I end up saying “this is how I feel” but I don’t know what to do about it. Or maybe I do but am not finding any relief or resolution where I have before. I keep moving that is all I know to do

  • Thank you for this! My heart is broken too. It helps to read about yours… and ours. I realize I didn’t have the faintest idea who “we” were. The collective turns out to be something very different than I imagined, both nationally and right here in my town. It has been shocking to realize that hate, disregard and violence in the name of God are things people are committed to. Not just in the past, Right now. I’m still trying to get my bearings.
    I’m So Grateful to have found you and your work – Thank You!

    • L, thanks so much for reading and taking time to share. i’m sorry i’m just so behind and haven’t responded to anything on faith circus, either, but i am glad you found your way here. there’s a lot on here through the years to wade through but hope you find some resonance and hope!


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