Yoga mats and Fire Pits: On Space for the Broken

A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
– Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still

as if it trusts
that its own stubborn
and persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us

– Jan Richardson

I showed up at my church with stars in my eyes. It was love at first sight and the service time was perfect for us. Sunday evenings. When we moved into a bigger venue, and to the proper-church time of Sunday morning, before noon, it took a toll on my body. I had been living with fibromyalgia for nine years then. I knew what I needed, and it wasn’t a cute outfit and a spot in the third pew to the front. I didn’t know what would happen when I walked into church in all my broken glory, but I did it anyway.

It was cold outside and my feet would only allow me to wear my oldest flip-flops. My upper body was wrapped in my most comforting hooded sweatshirt and my knees breathed from my ripped jeans. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit in a chair for any length of time. I brought in my yoga mat and rolled it out in the aisle. I sat there, in the aisle, in the clothes that made me feel safe. I worshipped, I listened, I cried.

When you are in pain, church is often the hardest place to be. 

No one blinked an eye. It became so normal it was as though no one saw it and on the days I couldn’t make it at all, my friend (who happened to be the pastor’s wife) would call after church to see if the extra sleep had helped and would I be available for lunch. I forgot about it really, that it was weird for a woman to be sitting on a yoga mat in the aisles of the church auditorium.

But then, my pastor thanked me for my brokenness. 

On a normal Sunday with my yoga mat under my arm, my pastor stopped to tell me that my brokenness was holy. He wanted me to know that my willingness to show up with my unhealed body on display on my yoga mat in the middle of the aisle made space for other people. He wanted me to know that he valued me. Just as I was.

I think it was this space that finally allowed for the healing to come, the space for me to be broken. I showed up every Sunday, and there was space for me to be broken. And every once in a while a woman I love would tell me that she believed that I would be healed. Sometimes it made me angry, sometimes it made me sad, mostly I would brush it off. Every once in a while, I would believe her. Maybe healing could come for me.

And then one day it did.

This wasn’t the first time a church had made room for this broken body of mine. I was blessed by a youth leader who said yes I could go on the physically grueling mission trip, and yes I could sleep in the van whenever I needed to. I was loved by a church camp who let me take a nap in the middle of the day, every day, for two years. Even if I looked fine, even if I pretended I was in the moments I wasn’t sleeping in the infirmary.

No one ever pushed healing on me, even as they prayed for it, even as they wanted me to be healed as badly as I did.

I know that there is space for brokenness in the church, because I was broken and the church made room for me.

I hosted an IF:Gathering in my living room this past weekend. Well, sort of in my living room. The TV with the live stream was on in the living room, but there was a place to rest upstairs, there was guacamole being made in the kitchen, there were conversations happening in my dining room and a fire pit in the backyard. Rumor has it someone broke an empty bottle against the fence in my backyard. For sure one of my kids peed on the floor.

It was all so messy, and I think that is the way I like it, perhaps even what I long for.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved so many of the things that happened on that stage in Austin, streamed right to my living room via the magical powers of the internet. (I mean, I could barely lead a discussion after this talk, I was just a blubbery mess.) But I wish somehow, when the church gathers, there would always be more room for the fire pit.

The fire pit, where the women who had quietly emailed me, asking if there would be space for them, escaped when the messages brushed up against wounds that aren’t going away anytime soon. Even though they have begged and pleaded, have written the words of the Lord on their hearts. The fire pit where we talked late into the night. I sat and witnessed their pain and their struggle. We wrestled it out together. I listened and poured more wine. I didn’t need to keep screaming at them to claim their redemption. I know it is coming as sure as I know the sunrise is on its way.

Even if the healing never comes this side of heaven, I see God right now, in the brokenness.

I know the stories where the mess has already been redeemed are important to tell. I love those stories, believe me I do. But I long for the time when the redemption is so deeply believed in, that there is space for stories that are not yet redeemed, that there is room for someone who has nothing to offer but her brokenness, not yet healed.

I believe the brokenness is beautiful….I think God does too.

I long for the day when the fire pit is pulled right inside. When there is space for brokenness and space for healing. I long for a time when my story and my church are not the exception, where people say to people:

Isn’t church the place where all those broken people gather and love on each other?

The brokenness is an offering. Even before it is healed. The brokenness is holy too.

37 thoughts on “Yoga mats and Fire Pits: On Space for the Broken

  1. “Even if the healing never comes this side of heaven, I see God right now in the brokenness”
    That. Right there.
    That’s why I love you, girl. We’re singing that same song in harmony. It always does my soul good to hear this. Thank you.

  2. I thought about this one a lot today. I mean, a LOT.

    A few years ago, I lost my job, and my academic career was ruined. The time since has been spent dealing with a rather inconveniently terminal illness, and the inevitable financial setbacks.

    And severe PTSD has woven a thread through much of my adult life.

    But that said – I don’t feel broken. I feel pretty good, really. Sure, the pain’s vicious, and I’m (pardon my saying this) puking blood, but things could be so very much worse.

    Sure, loud noises cause a response that’s rather frightening to those around me, but I came home. I buried pieces of friends in unmarked graves. (Again, I ask your pardon for saying that.)

    I miss teaching, terribly, but the fault for its loss was not mine.

    There have been bad days, yes, but the sun has always risen at the end of night.

    S, I guess I’m writing this as a question – am I missing something? Is there an overweening pride implicit in my words that have separated me from God?

    I understand that we may need to be broken before we can be mended, just as a stallion must be broken to the racing tack before running the Preakness.

    Are my thoughts those of a stiff-necked Pharisee? I hope not! But they sure could be, and your post has really made me wonder.

    I may be so wrong!

    • No, I don’t think you are wrong. I think you get it. Look at the way you aren’t sure if you can say you are puking blood or you buried your friends. I would LOVE for that to be normal conversation in the church. I think perhaps you get it more than the rest of us. So I am broken, so what?

    • No, thank you for these words. You simply have listened better than most of us, and you have learned to wear your brokenness like a crown. You get it. Thank you. These words were a blessing.

  3. This is one of my favorite posts ever. Ever. From anyone. Thank you for writing this out so beautifully, Abby. I wish you’d link it up to this week’s Q & A, which is on suffering this time around. Just beautifully done, Abby. Truly.

  4. I would have loved to be out there with you all, standing near the fire, sipping wine and listening to your stories! Thank you for sharing this. It is inspiring to hear of such faith and love and it really encourages me knowing that groups of women can share their pain and their brokenness and in the midst of it faith be affirmed.

  5. I’ve wondered a lot about how the church can be a safer place for people who are hurting, instead of a place where everyone is supposed to seem victorious, or at least pretty good. Thanks for this real life example!

  6. Uhh, you forgot the tears and snot alert again. The founders of AA knew the body of Christ was about broken people but they couldn’t call AA the Church or Christian because somebody had somehow convinced broken people that Christians and the church didn’t welcome the broken and didn’t have the healing they were desperate for anyway so the founders knew they wouldn’t come. Maybe they were wrong. . . .

  7. Abby, this is my first visit here but it won’t be my last! I love how you write on brokenness and healing. It resonates strongly in my spirit and I sigh longingly for such a church as you describe. Such beautiful truth here to lift our souls. Thank you 🙂 x

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  10. What is it about a fire pit, really? When I think of some of the holiest moments of my life, being still and knowing God is near, or talking late into the night until the fire is ember and the night is cold, or singing full-throated praise songs with teenage abandon — they’ve all been around fire pits.

  11. I write a blog, and have been wanting to read and write a post like this for years. YEARS.
    Thankyou for writing what I wanted to say but for some reason it wouldn’t come out.
    It really is a beautiful piece of writing, and so very true.

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