I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid pain. As a small child, I once got a papercut while licking an envelope. Upon experiencing the searing pain on my tongue, I declared to my mom that envelopes were dangerous and should be banned. I shied away from rollercoaster rides because they were risky, and I avoided contact sports because I didn’t want to get hurt. I pestered my parents with questions about how safe most anything was, and they spent much of their time as parents urging me to spread my wings and fly (while I cowered in the corner because I was certain something bad might happen).
But, for all the ways I tried to keep myself physically safe, I have never been able to prevent myself from experiencing the pain of heartbreak.
One of my earliest memories is of a birthday party in which my guests were asked to dress up like clowns. I was decked out in full clown make up, but no one else (at least the way my memory recalls it) came dressed up at all. I felt embarrassed and out of place. And a tiny little crack formed in my heart.
Later, I experienced the loss of a family member. I wept on the playground and tried to wrap my young mind around the finality of death. Another cracked fractured me.
I’ve felt pain over lost pets – Max the gerbil who far exceeded his life expectancy (much to the chagrin of my parents) on account of how loved he was. My heart ached over unmet expectations, broken promises, and lost innocence. I wrapped my physical self in metaphorical bubble wrap, but I could not protect my heart. Each loss formed a tiny little crack, and I could not stop my heart from breaking.
As I sit down to write this post, my heart is hurting yet again. After a little over a year of caring for my backyard chickens, I lost my chicken – Muffin. She was my favorite. When I would let the chickens out to roam my backyard, Muffin would let me hold her or place her on my knee. She loved to eat from my hand, and she was gentle, unlike some of my feistier birds. It might sound silly to say, but I shed tears when I discovered Muffin lifeless in the nesting box yesterday. Yes, she provided me with eggs and I always knew she wouldn’t live forever, but losing her still made me sad.
The Bible is full of verses about broken hearts and the healing God gives to those who are hurting, verses like Psalm 147:3: “[God] heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds.” When we experience the pain of heartache, we aren’t left alone in it. God is there with us, healing us and binding up our wounded places. But, my experience suggests that while broken hearts may be healed, they are never quite the same on the other side of it.
We heal, but often the tiny little cracks remain. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to spackle over the cracks. If I couldn’t avoid them, at least I could conceal them. I didn’t realize that by doing so, I was spackling over the entryway for grace. Leonard Cohen once mused, “There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” And he’s right. The cracks are there.
But, Anne Lamott is also right: “Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.”