A heart that is broken is a heart that is open

My son Zion is the most openhearted person in my life. Of course, he’s only nine. We all started openhearted. It is the quality of being a child. Zion’s openheartedness sometimes is breathtaking.

Recently, we had some North Park seniors over for a cookout and one of them, Ryan, played with Zion all afternoon. We finally rescued Ryan for a time of reflection around the fire. Zion was not very happy about this, even though he was allowed to watch cartoons while the group chatted. Right before Zion had to go to bed Ryan played with him again. But only briefly; it was late and there was school in the morning. When I stepped in and said “Ok, bed time!” Zion was undone. He was devastated that the happiness he was experiencing with Ryan had to come to such an abrupt end. From the heights of happiness to the depths of sorrow in the matter of a second. So connected.

I walked Zion up to his bedroom as he sobbed, protested, and argued. We got his pajamas on and him tucked into bed. All the while he’s still fighting, still undone.

I asked him, “Zion what are you so upset about?” He said, “I want to keep playing”. “But Zion, it’s time to go to bed,” I said. “No!”, he shouted. So I kneeled there beside his bed with him. Eventually his body settled into what was true, and we were able to talk.

“Zion what you are feeling is totally right. It is very sad that happiness is so fleeting in this life.” I continued, “God made us to be happy always; and it is for what your heart most wants. But tonight you are learning a difficult life lesson: there’s nothing more fleeting in this life than a moment of happiness. Happiness is something that cannot be held. It comes quickly and leaves faster. And the older you get the less happiness feels so happy, because you begin to protect yourself from feeling the pureness of it. It hurts too much when it is gone. Son, hear this:  this is something to be really sad about. I’m so sorry.” 

In that moment his sadness, his grief, was so right. It was an expression of the fullness of his humanity; and it was revelatory -- how often I minimize or escape my sadness!

This moment just so happened to come when I was undergoing something of my own grace awakening. Had it been just a handful of months earlier, I would have reacted very differently. I could have easily gotten angry over what I interpreted as defiance. I would have harshly forced him to his room and I would have heaped contempt upon him for his struggle to absorb reality. “Why are you crying, son!”

But instead, in this moment, having begun the long process to both name and grieve my own sadness, I felt sad for him and I noticed in his sadness my own; a sadness I had never grieved. 

I too know the reality of the extreme brevity of happiness; I know the harm done by of disappointment; I know exploitation by another with the promise of happiness. Happiness seems always to come at a price. But this reality of happiness has not been something over which I’ve ever grieved. But I should. It wasn’t supposed to be this way! And this is why the hope of heaven is so meaningful. 

Because I have begun to grieve what Evil has done in my own life, I was able to lead Zion through his experience of lament. We lamented what Evil has done to God’s good creation. We named it. We brought it to conscious expression and put creative language to it. We felt the sadness of it. And we proclaimed the hope of heaven together. On the other side of the grief, we found hope again. As his father, I grieved with and for Zion. 

I am finding that God is just this kind of father. I have begun to encounter God’s kindness toward my broken and wounded heart; I’ve begun to recognize God’s own grief for me. Not his grief of me, but his grief alongside and for me; his grief over my wounded heart. Not the self-centered grief of disappointment over an awkward, bruised, sinful child, but God’s empathetic grief because of what has happened, what Evil has done to me and the complicated adult that has emerged in the aftermath. God’s grief connects him to me; and my grief connects me both to God and to others. This is openheartedness. 

The capacity to experience the extremity of both joy and sorrow is openheartedness; it is a new childlikeness made possible by the gospel; it is the beauty and glory of a humanity-in-process-of-being-restored in the middle of God’s story. 

I’m inviting you, through this blog and through my forthcoming writings, into openhearted living. Let’s do this together. I’m glad you’re here!