I took a walk with God yesterday. I’ve had this nagging question in my heart, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it:
Why do I have this part of me that wants to chuck everything and just walk away?
This past year has been hard on all of us. Really hard. We’ve all taken our share of hits and bruises, and broken bones. Some of us have lost people we loved, and livelihoods we cherished. And so far 2021 isn’t exactly promising a reprieve from all that loss. In times like these it’s natural to want to withdraw yourself from life, to pull back your heart and tuck it away where the world can’t get to it.
Some of that is good, and healthy, and needs to happen. When life punches you in the throat, it’s quite correct to pull yourself back, cover the place where you were hit and give it time to heal. I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve cried this last year…how many times I’ve grieved the loss of a friend, or an ideal…how many times I’ve yelled in anger and frustration…how many times I’ve felt betrayed by people and institutions I thought I could trust—or at least, understand. I think that’s true for all of us. And we’ve needed—we need—time to step away and mind those injured places within our hearts. These words from John O’Donohue have been a comfort to me in all those painful moments:
"This is the time to be slow, Lie low to the wall Until the bitter weather passes."
Yet, a serious threat also lurks in the shadow of times like these. It is the temptation to pass an ultimate judgement on life based on how things look right now. To look out at this messed up world and say in your heart, “It’s not worth it.” To give up. To check out. To decide that this life is simply not worth the cost it exacts from your heart.
Why is this such a danger? Well, aside from the fact that it isn’t true—“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!”—there’s real danger in what a judgment like that does to you. When you decide to withdraw from living life with your whole heart, it hardens you. It forms a crust on your soul, and a callous on your heart. That kind of hardness may protect you from pain, but it also cuts you off from joy, and awe, and wonder, and hope, and faith, and most of all, love.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis
My own disenchantment with the human world this past year has often tempted me to sequester my heart, or at least a part of my heart, in ways that I know are ultimately intolerable to me. To live disconnected may insulate me from harm by others, but it also seals me off from the very oxygen I need to live. A suit of armor does you no good in the long run if it slowly suffocates you to death.
Of course, none of us actually wants to live a half-hearted life. We all want to live our lives with our whole hearts. We instinctively know this is the best way, the most beautiful way, for anyone to live. But in difficult seasons like the one we’re in now, we often don’t realize that when we pass judgement on the awfulness of it all, and we say things like, “I give up,” “I’m out,” and “it’s not worth it,” we’re pulling our hearts right out of the game. We’re choosing a half-hearted life.
There’s more to the O’Donohue poem I quote above. The rest goes like this:
"Try, as best you can, not to let The wire brush of doubt Scrape from your heart All sense of yourself And your hesitant light. If you remain generous, Time will come good; And you will find your feet Again on fresh pastures of promise, Where the air will be kind And blushed with beginning."
I believe it's worth it to live with your whole heart, even when the days are hard. In fact, I believe those are the days when it's most important of all. It's in the dark times that we most need our lights to shine, to stand firm in our sure belief that goodness and love and everything that is beautiful about life will ultimately prevail.
So, how do you live whole-hearted even when times are as costly as they are right now? The first thing is to make a commitment to yourself, and to keep making it every day as often as you need to:
I will not live a halfhearted life. I choose to live today with my whole heart.
Then, apprentice yourself to these three daily practices—call them "habits of wholeheartedness," if you like:
1. Bring your whole heart to every moment. Say: “I choose to bring to each moment today not only my full attention and energy, but also my full heart.”
2. Be willing to get hurt. Say: “I choose to let my heart be accessible and available to others, and to the circumstances I encounter. I choose to come unguarded, openhearted, willing to be affected by others, and to be hurt by them.”
3. Be available to Joy. Say: “I choose to engage today from a posture of ‘yes,’ a childlike openness to possibility, wonder and awe. I choose to be available to joy.”
I suggest you type these into your phone or write them on a piece of paper and read them aloud every morning. Make it part of your prayer for the day. You’ll be surprise the powerful impact such a simple practice can have.
To live wholehearted means to bring everything I am to everything I do—to reveal myself, to engage my heart, and to let the world and the people in it have access to both.
This is the Beautiful Way.
"The most audacious thing I could possibly state in this day and age is that life is worth living. It’s worth being bashed against. It’s worth getting scarred by. It’s worth pouring yourself over every one of its hot coals." — Jeff Buckley