Bleeding Hearts are a beautiful perennial flower that blooms in the spring. They need moisture and grow in the sun and shady areas. After the flowers bloom, (flowers that look like a broken heart, hence the name) they will lie dormant until the next season when they will bloom again. However, just because they are dormant, doesn’t mean that they aren’t growing, the foliage will continue to grow.
2018 has been challenging so far. We are six months in, and as pastor, I have walked alongside eleven families in their grief as they have buried loved ones. In addition to funerals, there have been several people facing and processing difficult health challenges as well. And with an aging congregation, this has been a year proven to be one of intense and difficult grief work. While difficult, it is a sacred space where as a pastor, we are invited to walk with people whose hearts have been broken open and spilled out.
Each day, I wake up and wonder what the day will bring – will it bring joy? Frustration? Grief? Or something else? On the days it brings conversations around grief and pain and struggle, there are many times when I hear, “Pastor, if I didn’t have this faith as my foundation and foothold, I’m not sure how I’d be getting through this. I don’t know if I’d be here.” It is their faith that keeps them connected and rooted.
Sometimes it is in our pain, grief and hard days that we just want to walk away… to leave God and the community behind because we are so mad, so angry that we just want to leave everything behind because even the church reminds us of the pain and what once was. However, there is something that tugs at our inner being, our heart strings and we can’t leave. Because even when we want to leave, we find that it is our faith that roots us, it is our faith in God that gives some of us hope that eventually things will be ok and there might be some beauty again someday. It is our faith that burrows deep into the recesses of the darkness and pushes forth a bit of life. And maybe, we remember that there is this community that helps care for, nurture and walk alongside us in the darkness that draws us forward when we feel stuck. For this thing we call faith, and for the body of Christ, I am thankful. So many times, I have been cared for and nurtured and drawn into life giving moments of fresh air.
Last weekend, after a particular intense series of conversations with several individuals, I went home my mind and heart heavy and exhausted. More bleeding and broken hearts. That afternoon, I noticed that a Deacon from church shared this picture of the bleeding heart plant you see above. And yes, it is growing out of the stones.
How amazing is it that a beautiful plant such as a bleeding heart, could grow while stuck between a rock and a hard place? Smashed in there, it is still growing…refusing to be held back. It is rooted in the stone and bursting out into the world as if to say, it wasn’t easy…but I survived and there is beauty and hope! I was in awe of this picture and the idea of such beauty was growing out of such a tough space.
As I shared the picture with a friend, the wondering was …is it trying to get out or being held in? Regardless, we both agreed that it was something to be in awe of.
Why? Why is this so amazing and why are so awe-struck? Probably because of where it is growing out of. You see, that picture is just a close up, the bleeding heart is actually bursting out between two stones at the church! (This is actually just off the entrance of the big doors going into the sanctuary).
[Yeah… I’ll let that sink in a minute. They say a picture is worth a thousand words…this one truly doesn’t need any words. So, if you want to just look at it and let it soak in, then please do. If for some reason you’re curious what I’m thinking about bleeding hearts and the church, you are welcome to keep reading.]
Here is what went through my mind as I stood outside the church and just took it in. I thought about the resurrection moment when Jesus came burst out of the tomb, full of life.
I thought about Ezekiel’s words “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”
I thought of Jesus’ words in John 15 “Abide in me and I in you”
I wondered about the new life and new creation that comes when one is in Christ. (2 Corinthians)
As I stared at the bleeding heart bursting out of the church wall, I could picture every person who was struggling, and finding themselves in a dark space, longing to get out and what that resurrection moment for them, that life giving moment for them might look like and when it might take place. Praying that regardless of where one might find themselves…steeped deep in the throes of grief, pain or struggle that there will be glimpses of hope and life and growth.
While I continued to look at this beautiful plant, I pictured this small denomination, the Reformed Church in America and its churches, striving to be faithful, but are grieving what once was, what is being lost, what is at stake and what might be. There is a sense of brokenness and bleeding taking place as we anticipate and wonder about (and passionately discuss) what it looks like to be the church in a world that is so broken and filled with hurt, hatred, fear and anger. I wonder, how are we going navigate these waters and the terrain that lies ahead when we seem to be stuck in some spaces of ministry that appear to be between a rock and a hard place? I wonder how will we grow through this pain and struggle? Will we grow through this pain? How will we burst out of the rock and hard space and reach into the world who so desperately needs to hear and witness a message of hope and love?
It is my hope and prayer for the church, that we might not remain stuck, but that our hearts will be broken and bleed for the world. That we will burst through the walls and proclaim God’s love, grace, peace and bring a season of life and hope to a world that so desperately needs to experience a life-giving moment.
It is my hope and prayer that in the midst of the unknown, in the midst of the brokenness within the church, that we might remember our roots, our common-ness, that we will allow each person, created by God, to grow and live and love and be as we all feel called.
This morning, in worship, the congregation that gathered witnessed this pastor’s breaking heart (and weepy eyes) as she read the communion liturgy and prayers.
“O Savior God,
look upon your church in its struggle upon the earth.
Have mercy on its weakness,
bring to an end its unhappy divisions,
and scatter its fears.
Look also upon the ministry of your church.
Increase its courage, strengthen its faith,
and inspire its witness to all people,
even to the ends of the earth.”
(RCA Communion Liturgy Prayer).
My prayer from that continues that we might all have hearts that bleed for the world…may we bring a season of hope and life as we move beyond the walls of the church, reaching into the world.
If you have hung in there and have read to the end, bravo… and wherever you are finding yourself these days, if you are stuck in a rock and hard spot, if you are in the throes of struggle and dark days, keep breathing…there is growth happening. And if you are witnessing a miracle of the growth, savor it and be filled with even a moment of gratitude.
Grace and peace of Christ be with you today and always.
~ Pastor Kendra