One of the gifts of having a spiritual director is experiencing in a new way the love of the Father. My spiritual director hears about the good, the bad, and the ugly–and, believe me, there’s plenty of each in my life. Yet what amazes me is his gaze, how it never wavers, how it doesn’t narrow as I describe melt-downs or frustrations.
I’m a woman (obviously) and yet one of the things that has taken years for me to understand is that it’s alright to cry. The fairer sex is usually portrayed as emotional and weepy. Perhaps it is for that very reason that I never wanted to be that way. My innate desire to be other than what is expected caused me to desire toughness and logic. Despite being logical and (fairly) tough, I still have emotions to deal with and my spiritual director has told me over and over that tears are good.
Yet even after hearing tears are good dozens of times, it is hard to believe it in the moment that the tears want to come. I’ve had several difficult conversations in recent weeks and they have been truncated by my need to either cry or yell. Neither seemed appropriate at the time. Neither seemed to be things from which I could tactfully recover. So the conversations had to end because tears seemed to be the only thing that could accompany more words.
However, when I don’t cry and when I don’t say what needs to be said, I do not remain the same. I steel myself against the tears, which can be helpful at times (like in my “early years” of teaching and students’ comments made me want to cry), but sometimes it just makes my heart like steel.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This must be the struggle of the Christian life: to keep our hearts ones of flesh and not of stone. There is a false security in letting one’s heart become a piece of rock. It makes me imagine that hurt will not come and that hopes won’t be disappointed. If I have a heart of stone, then I will be steady and be secure.
Those assurances of security are all lies. A heart needs to be a real heart of flesh. Which means that it also must be capable of being wounded, bent, and broken. And that, I am nearly convinced, is worth the joy that comes with being real.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
(The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams)
This realness can hurt. Sometimes, I get scared of that and intentionally harden my heart. I know it when I’m doing it and yet it seems to be the only way to survive, the only way to be strong enough to live in this world. Yet every time I do it, I regret it. Then I start the process of allowing my heart to be real again, even if it means crying at inopportune times and having the ability to be hurt.
Over and over again, Jesus directs us to “take heart.” Take a real heart of flesh and live in the security that He has conquered all. Despite difficulties, crushed hearts, and painful misunderstandings, He knows and loves this mangled little heart. In the midst of childishness, He loves this heart. When I have little hope left for myself, He has hope for this heart. As I fight the desire to be properly understood, He knows my heart. Little though it may be, He wastes nothing and He will not waste this little heart.