Navigating The Terrain Of The Heart

The heart can be challenging territory. Exploring its depths is alternately a beautiful, sometimes terrifying and ultimately mandatory endeavor for those who want Jesus to be at home there. It is the core of who we are – not just what we feel, but the seat of our identity and life’s vitality (Pr. 4:23). God created us with hearts at the center of our being (Ps. 33:15), speaks to us through them (Heb. 3:7-8), longs to make them whole (Ez. 11:19), and blesses us with His presence in them (Eph. 3:17).  Who we are and were made to be is contained within it (I Pet. 3:4). And in certain seasons of life, He invites us to slow down (or stop), look around and see what lurks and lies hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) there (Pr. 20:27). simple heart map

Romantics, counselors, artists and poets often know its terrain well, as do those with relational gifts of mercy and compassion. Over the years I’ve met some people with such emotional health and warmth – they know how to love, be loved, relate well, be honest with and communicate their feelings, understand something of their motives, confess their sin and still know they are forgiven and wanted by the Savior and others. I love these people. I would like to be one of them some day. Sigh.

Intellectuals though, those who lean into their heads, often think spiritual maturity is found in books. In knowledge. In idea acquisition and mastery. I know this because I have spent much of the first part of my life in this camp. While the intellect is a valuable part of each individual, a head with out a heart is incomplete.  Those of us with this bent sometimes try to  justify and differentiate ourselves from our ‘heart-informed’ brethren by saying rather ignorant or arrogant things like, “Well, I’m just not emotional.” (Um, really?) Or, “I prefer to use my brain more than my heart.” (Implying that they are mutually exclusive, or one is better than the other.) Or, “I don’t have the gift of mercy.” (As if that makes it ok to be an insensitive jerk – because you know, God made me that way.)

So, recognizing my inherent weakness in this area, I’m making this a topic of prolonged study. (ha ha – intellectually studying the emotional heart…yes, humorous, I know…) In doing so, I’m learning some interesting things about the process of digging into this vital and life-giving part of my life. I thought I’d share them here in bullet point form.

Navigating The Terrain Of The Heart:

  • Brutal honesty is a key navigation tool. There are days I really like to lie to others and myself. Oh, I do it subtly enough. I usually cloak it somehow, under humility or self-effacing humor. Sometimes I prefer to blame others and point fingers, or claim ignorance, but the result is the same. I am trying to minimize that which I am responsible for and make me look less bad than I actually am. What I’ve found is that I’ve got to be brutally honest about what is going on in my heart. Am I angry? Sad? Disappointed? Is there some sin in there that is ruling over me? If I don’t name the emotion or sin properly, no matter how embarrassing or revealing it may be, then what I do with it will almost always be wrong. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Find a travel buddy. Just like you should never swim alone, you shouldn’t really go in to the heart for extended periods completely alone. Sometimes looking at things of the heart is like looking at clouds with a friend and trying to find shapes in them. “I see a bunny!” And your travel buddy says, “Are you sure? Because, to me, that looks kind of like a tiger that might want to eat you.” The equivalent might be, “I’m angry!” And your friend says, “Are you sure?  Because to me, you look terrified.” My point is, having another point of view can open your eyes to things you would never see on your own. And back to the first point, it doesn’t do any good if you lie to your travel buddy. We need their honest evaluations, which means they need to work with accurate information.
  • Jesus gets to lead the exploration. Unfortunately, I think many folks approach their hearts like they do most other things in their lives: with their agendas, expecting Jesus to join right in and follow their lead. Yeah, about that…Jesus doesn’t follow our lead. And the sooner we drop our expectations, our right to choose our speed, route, destination, etc. the sooner we actually get somewhere. It is sort of like when my 7-year-old sits behind the wheel of our parked car. It is sort of cute, but we aren’t going anywhere till she takes her actual seat. I know this because as I’ve dug in to my heart, I know I’ve said things like, “Jesus, let’s talk about my anger issues.” And He’s said, “Actually, I want to talk about your idolatry. And until we deal with that, we aren’t going anywhere.” I have the choice at that moment to get out of the driver’s seat and hand over the keys…or not, and stop all potential progress.
  • Pack some snacks. I suggest this tongue-in-cheek because the journey to whatever is going on in your heart can be a glacial, circuitous one that can take a long, long time. I’ve seen Jesus show up in some people’s lives and bring heart-healing rather quickly…but that has not been my typical experience. Instead, the sanctification process in my life is often much slower, messier and more unpredictable than I like, am comfortable with, or would choose on my own.

(originally published in a slightly different form 12/8/11.)

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And My Answer Is…Yes.

Jesus, my answer to you is yes.

To whatever it is you ask, to whatever it is You want. To wherever You lead, even and especially when I don’t know where we are going. Yes to following You through pain and things I would never choose for myself or my most beloved ones. Yes to the loss of choice and how that terrifies me. Yes to a season of darkness if it means I learn to find Your hand in that very darkness.

Yes to following You into places in my heart that cause me to grimace and wince because of their raw power. Yes to opening up my most private, shameful and personal memories, allowing you to speak to them and change my perception of them. Yes to Your changing my habits and patterns that are so ingrained and hidden, only a serious disruption of “normal” brings them into view. Yes to my paying attention to and cooperating with whatever disruption it takes for you to save me from myself. Yes to letting you pry my hands off of my beloved status quo.

Yes to You loving me enough that sometimes You tell me “no.” Yes to letting You break my heart if it will save me from the damage that some of the things I love do to me. Yes to letting go of things that are less so you can give me more.  Yes to releasing that which has been holding me tighter than I have been holding it.

Yes to walking in to the unknown and to following You down paths where no one can go with me. Yes to a heart sickening loneliness if it teaches me to learn to love and relate to You more authentically and healthily. Yes to Your plans for me, even as it means the death of my dreams for me. Yes to not running from fear of You when You choose to flex Your muscles, to exercise Your sovereignty, to call attention to the fact that I am helpless before You. Yes to laying down my desires and my control tendencies, to opening my hands and being willing for them to stay empty for as long as You want. Because yes, I believe You want to eventually fill them with more than I had before. And Yes to You taking as long as You want to accomplish Your purposes in my life, even as I think I’ll die waiting for You.

Yes to You stripping away my illusions of how I think the world works in exchange for You teaching me the truth of how it actually works. Yes to the grief that comes along with seeing truth for the first time and realizing how long I’ve lived with lies. Yes to following You to places of repentance and an accurate self-view that can be so devastating.

Yes to Your request to physically occupy more space in my heart that I have given away to idols and taken for myself. Yes to not just allowing You to take up space, but to my inviting You in, willingly and wholeheartedly. Yes to learning and re-learning how to love you in a way that actually honors You, rather than in a way that is convenient for me.

Yes to resting in You and to letting You lead. Yes to slowing down even as my heart pushes me to speed up. Yes to letting You be You, even when it is so bewildering, confusing and doubt-inducing. Yes to Your heart for me and yes to trusting You with my heart. Yes to the lifelong process of acknowledging, with my head, mouth and life that You are indeed God and that you are indeed good.

My answer to you is yes. May it always be yes.

(originally published 5/18/13)