Tag Archive: heart


Unplanned

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” 16:1 says something similar. “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue.” There’s also 19:21, which says that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Maybe a week and a half ago, I had some ideas about how the last nine or ten days were going to go. I was going to keep chugging along with my spring cleaning project, I was going to work three days, I was going to have company in from out of town, I was going to write several blog posts, and so on. It would be fair to say that “many [were] the plans in [my] heart.”

As you may have guessed, things didn’t exactly go according to my plans. Instead of cleaning and getting up posts Friday a week ago, I woke up at 6:30am with a horrible stomachache. Except for brief interludes for throwing up and pacing, I spent the whole day curled up with pain and nausea in bed. Rather than going to work that Saturday, I was still dealing with pain and nausea. Same thing happened on Sunday. Monday I started feeling more human, so I started back with the cleaning. Tuesday, I actually had an appetite, and the cleaning was going well, but I got more and more congested and was getting a sore throat. Hoping it was merely a reaction to all the dust from cleaning, I did go to work on Wednesday and found out it wasn’t the dust. I had almost no voice by midafternoon. The sore throat was hanging around, too. Not only did I have a for-real-not-dust-related cold, it also snowed. It’s late March in a temperate zone. Snow really had no business falling in the last week. Most of the country experienced record high temperatures and not record snow falls, for goodness’ sake! Snow it did, though, making the drive home from work lengthy and treacherous. That might have been okay, but, adding insult to injury, there was so much wet and heavy snow that it knocked down trees and knocked out power all over the place. We lost our’s about 2am on Thursday. The electricity didn’t come back on until around 2pm on Friday. It was only about 36 hours. It is amazing, though, how not having power complicated things. We didn’t have light. We didn’t have heat. We didn’t have water. We did have guests. It was so not the plan. Everything did work out. It was harder, for the most part, but it did work out. It just wasn’t the plan.

As for God’s purposes in all this plan trashing, I couldn’t tell you. I’m sure that He had them. Maybe one of these days, He’ll even reveal ’em! But for now, I haven’t a clue.

What does strike me as interesting, though, is the lack of electricity combined with that lack being unexpected. I’ve lived before without electricity for a week or so at a time. My grandparents used to take us on awesome camping trips every summer over in Eastern Oregon. We didn’t have anything except what we hauled in, and we didn’t haul in generators. I never felt deprived, but we planned carefully. We had alternative methods to keep warm and clean, to dispose of waste, to cook, and to do all the other things that we needed. Losing power without warning at home was another experience entirely. I felt frustrated. I was worried. It was a little bit frightening. It was hard, and there wasn’t much I could do except try to find some workarounds and wait. I had no power over my lack of power.

That is interesting as well. We call electricity power, which it is, in probably more than one way. It is power in that it is a force that runs our lights and heat and all kinds of things. It is also power in that we use all those things to run our lives, to establish control and make our plans come to fruition. I wonder how well we’d do in a world without power, where our plans went unfueled.

It was a sobering experience.  It’s made me a bit pensive.

Ecclesiastes 8:7 – Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?

Ecclesiastes 11:6 – Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that,  or whether both will do equally well.

Layers

Marching along from my previous post, which is fun to do sometimes, I want to talk about layers. I’d borrowed a line from “Shrek” about ogres, onions, and layers and said that people are like that, too. I think people have layers.

One reason I say that is because of I Samuel 16:7b. It says:

man looks on the outward appearance,(L) but the LORD looks on the heart.

That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? God is telling Samuel that there are things about people that aren’t immediately apparent. We get all busy looking at how tall somebody is (or isn’t, in my case), what they’re wearing, and so on, and so forth, but all that is hardly the sum of a person. There’s more to them, like hearts.

Another reason I’d say people have layers is life experience. I’ve certainly lived long enough (I don’t think you have to live very long to run into this, actually) to have experience a misjudging based on outward appearance. For instance, I didn’t like my hair to be long (it wrapped itself into huge snarls) when I was in grade school, and I loved to wear jeans and climb trees. Silly people who didn’t know me often thought I was a boy. Another example would be my age. I’ve never looked it! At 15, I was being given menus for 11 year old children, at 18, people wouldn’t believe I was legally an adult, and now that I’m in my 30’s, I still occasionally have to resort to showing people my driver’s license to convince them that I’m not in my 20’s. This misunderstanding has never been based on my behavior (no, I didn’t act like an 11 year old when I was 15 :-P), but solely on how I looked at the time.

Beyond physical appearance, it’s easy enough to misjudge what someone is saying or doing. I heard a great story about this at work yesterday. A lady was telling me about a large group out camping together with a little boy who went boohooing back through the camp. When he was asked why he was so upset, he told folks that a woman “put her hands on me and told me no!” That was true enough, too. Some lady who cared about that kid’s life did do put her hands on him and tell him no, because he was about to grab a baby rattlesnake! Fortunately the lady telling me the story was able to explain that to the boy’s mother before the mother got too protective. Without knowing about the snake, the top layer didn’t look too good. It’s amazing how that works, how the whole story can look so different than a little part of it.

Personally, I think that people don’t stop at misjudging and misunderstanding each other. I think we get confused about ourselves, too. I know that when I look at myself, I don’t always go beyond the top layer, and that has definitely caused me some trouble. There’s another great verse, Jeremiah 17:9. Here’s the ESV version of it:

9The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

This verse can be used as a guilt trip ticket or yet another nail in the heart’s coffin, but, man, I think that’s overkill. So God says that the heart is sick and deceitful – fine. That doesn’t mean beat the poor thing and blame it for all your problems. I’ve tried a variation of that, and it doesn’t work so well. What’s interesting to me is the question. “Who can understand it?” or, as the old King James said, “Who can know it?” It’s taken me a while to really accept that I’m not the person best equipped to understand or know my own heart. It’s been sick, and I’m too easily fooled. What’s kinda funny about it is that I knew, like my head knew, that I wasn’t getting my heart. I would get frustrated over my inability to understand what was going on with my heart – with my emotion and motivation and mood and attitude and desires. It was that whole thing Paul had going on where he knew what he should do and couldn’t figure why he couldn’t do it! So I knew, but I didn’t accept that I didn’t understand myself. I kept trying to make what worked parts like my head work for my heart.

“Who can know it?” Surprise, surprise – the next verse tells us.

10(R) “I the LORD search the heart
(S) and test the mind,[b]
(T) to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.

It’s God, of course. In fact, we already knew that because of I Samuel. God is the one looking at our hearts. At times, that’s been enough to just make me shiver in fear. I expected an Almighty guilt trip, something crushingly powerful. Actually, that’s probably why I fought so hard against accepting that I couldn’t be the best judge of my own heart. I didn’t treat it well, thought it was bad, and I expected God to do the same except worse! More power, right?

I’ve changed a bit since then. For one thing, it didn’t make any sense to me that I should love God with all my heart if the thing was just rotten. Another is that Ransomed Heart Ministries did me a favor by pointing out a couple of passages in the Bible (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 are good ones) where God talks about giving us new hearts. Yet another is Psalm 139. It was written by David, a man after God’s own heart. At the end, David writes:

23Search me, O God, and know my heart!
(AG) Try me and know my thoughts![c]
24And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and(AH) lead me in(AI) the way everlasting![d]

For him, the point of being searched and known was to be able to follow God in the way everlasting. It wasn’t about fear or guilt or shame. He didn’t let those things stay lurking in his heart and keep him from following God, and God helped him. That gives me hope.

Integrity

Let’s take a look at integrity today, shall we? It’s one of my favorite words in a long list of words I like, and it’s one I’ve spent some time absorbing. Integrity is something I very much want to have present in my life. Like most everything in life, its presence has been something of a process.

An important part of this process has been asking questions. As I began to ask them, an unpalatable realization emerged. I was not as honest a person as I’d thought I was. I’d been fooled, I was fooling myself, and since I was doing that, I wasn’t telling other people the truth, either. This hurt. I’d prided (can you tell what got hurt?) myself on being an honest person, and I’d had nothing but contempt for liars. To find this discrepancy in myself was indeed painful.

Unfortunately, in some ways,I didn’t help myself very well in dealing with my own lies, but that’s another story. What I think that I did do well is to search for understanding of what honesty means. Along the way I learned that there is a difference between behaving honestly (what I’d been attempting to achieve) and being an honest person.

Being an honest person is much more demanding. You can’t settle for a mask or the appearance of honesty. Instead it requires some soul searching to see if the honesty goes any deeper than the surface. You have to look at uncomfortable things like motivation. Honesty is a good thing, but there are bad reasons to pursue it, like pride in one’s good behavior. I can tell you firsthand that pride in one’s honesty can give a person an unwarranted sense of superiority.

I was trying to move past the mask. I did the soul searching and got very angry about what a crappy person I was. That, by the way, would have been me and not God piling on the blame and hate. He doesn’t operate like that. Anyway, I also dragged out a concordance and started looking up references containing honesty. I pulled out dictionaries and found definitions of honesty. I even got into the thesaurus and found synonyms for honesty and repeated the process with some of the synonyms.

Not surprisingly, integrity was listed as a synonym. Honesty and integrity go hand in hand. At the time, all I knew about integrity was that it could be used instead of honesty, and it would mean the same thing. It was a synonym, right? Well, that is true, but as I dug some more, I had a beautiful insight.

Here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of integrity:

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

Let’s compare this to honesty, shall we?

1 obsolete : chastity
2 a : fairness and straightforwardness of conduct b : adherence to the facts : sincerity
3 : any of a genus (Lunaria) of European herbs of the mustard family with toothed leaves and flat disk-shaped siliques

We’ll skip the obsolete meaning and the one about the mustard family, because we’re talking about people, and focus on door #2. Honesty, the “fairness and straighforwardness of conduct,” could be fairly mistaken as a behavioral measurement, could it not? You do this, this, and this, and you’re considered honest. Yay! You look good. However, let’s go back to integrity and pick out a couple  of words, like “condition” and “state.” Those go a little deeper than “conduct.” You start talking about the state or condition of something, and you’re talking about what it’s like. You might even be talking about its essence, that elusive element that makes it what it actually is. Interesting, no?

Let’s look at another dictionary’s definition of integrity, which is what I did to reach that insight. I looked things up all over the place, because I was trying hard to understand what I was reading and not be writing my own mistaken ideas into it. Integrity is:

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

Look at that. Isn’t it beautiful? Whole, entire, undiminished, sound, unimpaired, perfect – I don’t know about your heart, but that’s exactly what mine was straining toward. God says things in the Bible about how His people will be a “new creation”, that we’ll be born again and have eternal life, and that the life we have will be “to the full.” If you go snooping about the Bible, you can find all kinds of good things God says about the people He calls His. You can even find some references regarding integrity. I like I Kings 9:4-5 and the ones in Proverbs, personally, except for 29:10. But, yeah, beautiful!

There I was with a disconnect between who I was and who I wanted to be, between who I was and who I should have been, and there’s integrity, a word meaning wholeness, perfection, and unimpaired condition. Now, remember that my goal in life is and was already at that point to love God with my heart and mind, soul and strength. How do ya’ do that without integrity? How do you do that without wholeness or soundness? How does a person who is diminished or impaired or broken all to pieces even try to love God with their whole being? Got me! I don’t even want to try. I don’t think it’s possible, and I started asking God specifically for integrity.

For myself, honesty alone doesn’t cut it. I need something more than “straightforwardness of conduct” to – well – keep me honest. Integrity, however, seems to fit admirably. It’s got more depth and, to me, more hope to it. It’s about being honest all the way through. It’s about wholeness and soundness and being a person who actually might be able to love God with all that they are.

I even hear that God likes it! See?

I Chronicles 29:17a

I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.

Catch you later!

A Heck of a Mess

How in the world was I supposed to love God from the mess that I was that lay hidden behind the facade? I’m so glad that you asked that, but before I try answering, let me talk a bit more about the mess. I’ve been having a lot of fun here telling my story. That is a good thing, but I think I would be remiss if somehow through all my fun, I glossed or minimized over what a mess inside I really was.

I hurt – a lot. I was very angry. I was afraid. I was confused and desperately uncertain. I was mostly blind to how I felt or what motivated me, and I literally could not tell you, “I hurt.” I did not cry. I did not feel or express pain or anything that might betray a weakness if I could possibly help it, and I’d gotten very good at helping it. As far as I could tell, my dad enjoyed seeing other people’s pain and fear, and at a very young age, I’d sworn to deny him access to mine. He could beat me, and I would not cry. He could frighten me, and I learned to sneer. He could bully and bluster, and I would stand firm, defiance of his will intact. “You can’t touch me” is what my whole life told him. It wasn’t exactly true. He could. He hurt me a lot, but what my vow did do for me was pull me from the “easy prey” category.

What it also did was make me like this everywhere I went. I didn’t have a soft side that showed up in other places. Just because I wasn’t home or Dad wasn’t around didn’t mean that I gained the ability to say, “I hurt.” It didn’t mean that I was suddenly someone who could be touched, not in my heart or physically. For whatever reason, how my dad treated me and what I learned to expect from him helped define every relationship and relational concept that I had. Even after he left home for good, I was still who had been. I expected everybody to use me, to hurt me and then lie about it and/or enjoy my writhing. I did not trust, and I was highly suspicious. I was always, always scanning for potential threats. I was not okay, and I really had no idea that I was a mess.

Some part of me, deep down, knew I was in trouble. Come to think of it, my heart was probably part of that. But for the most part, I only had a faint notion that what I knew – and I mean, knew, as in this was normal, as in confidently expected life to be like this in the same way that I assume the sun will rise, as in what I knew was real and everything else was a fairy tale bedtime story worthy of my scorn knew – was extremely limited. My dad’s attack on my grandfather helped jolt my confidence in what I “knew.” I began to see the tiniest glimmerings of light, so faint that I was not all sure they were real. I wasn’t sure for a long time, like years, that I was not just making that light up like a bedtime story, and because of that, I did treat myself with a great deal of scorn.

So here I was, a mess, and there God was, demanding that I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Knowing what I do now, God was not demanding, but back then, I had no other experience by which to measure. I expected Him to demand, and I resented Him for it. The ironic thing is that those demands were all in my head. My attitude wasn’t exactly, um, fair to God. Anyway, I had no idea how to love Him. What came to mind was more of I Corinthians 13:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Hello the fairy tale! Can you tell I did not greet this with great rejoicing? I’ll chat about it more in my next post.

Faith and Love

To continue my story, there I was, seriously unhappy over this little revelation that without love, my life is worthless. I know that sounds extreme. “Oh, no! My life is worthless without love.” It might even be a little bit extreme, if you can be a “little bit” extreme. Seems like that would be oxymoronic. But, oh, the angst! The drama! The angry mutterings and sarcastic rantings spewed by my grubby, little soul were vitriolic, rebellious, and yet… still hopeful. I didn’t like what I was hearing, and I didn’t like what I was seeing, and I really wanted to be mad at God for pronouncing me a failure, but I was convicted. This mess I was in was not His fault. It was mine, and I wasn’t getting anywhere that I wanted to be by blaming others. Having that suspicion about who was to blame sneaking about my soul didn’t make me feel less angry or otherwise less upset, by the way.

I couldn’t even justify being mad at Him for setting me up to fail or anything like that. God wasn’t saying, “Forget you, idiot. You’ll never make it. Enjoy the hellfire and brimstone, MWAHAHAAHA!” The Bible abounds with stories of creation, redemption, and transformation. I could and did pull it open just about anywhere and read about God’s life-giving prowess. Look at Genesis 1 – the earth is reported to be “without form” and covered in darkness. Three or four chapters later, it’s bristling with light and life. There’s a nobody named Abram who does pretty well following God, and God blesses that obedience. Abram became Abraham, he has a kid, the kid has kids, and next thing you know, there’s this whole nation of Abraham’s children’s children’s children running around who are probably making God pull His hair out. Children are good at that. The thing is that even though those children messed things up bad – following other gods, killing and exploiting each other, bad deeds, more bad deeds, naughtiness, mischief, sin, sin, more sin, blah, blah, blah – God still showed up for the nation and redeemed them. Even when they’d been overran by their enemies, He sent judges, prophets, kings, people who preached and led the nation in conviction and repentance. The nation of Israel has had more lives than the proverbial cat! Blind folk were given sight, illnesses were healed, dead people were made alive, the hungry were fed, the imprisoned were freed, the treacherous were rebuked, and the guilty were forgiven. God dealt justly, with mercy, and in love toward a fallen humanity. If He would do that for Abraham, for Israel, for all those people Jesus or the disciples encountered, maybe, I thought, just maybe the same would be true for me.

In the midst of those ruminations, another unpleasant conviction intruded. I was trying to figure out a place to start. A girl can’t do everything all at once, right? Gotta have a place to start. I was doing my standard thing of reading and meditating and asking God for enlightenment when I ran across a verse that made my priorities pretty clear, good ol’ Matthew 22:37. That’s the one that tells us all that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. It’s repeated (for emphasis, I suppose) several times, starting in Deuteronomy and continuing into the New Testament. The terrific thing was that this certainly gave me a place to start. Jesus called it the greatest commandment, and it simply doesn’t get more explicit than that. You might was as well have a big, flashing, neon sign (burning bushes are so O.T. and B.C.) saying, “START HERE.”

The rotten bit, though, was that not only did it emphasize my troubles with love in general, it showed me yet another area where I was miserably failing. I was still looking at life as a performance. That “outward appearance” that man looks at was my yardstick, what I used to evaluate life, my life, other people’s lives, and God Himself. I didn’t have another metric to use, and I didn’t understand how limited my perspective was. This verse about the importance of loving God helped provide illumination for me. God looks at the heart, right? Oh, yeah, God looks at the heart. Crap.

I thought I might be able to put up a decent display of loving God with what I did and what I thought, but my heart? Uh, er… um… I was uncomfortably aware, horridly so, that my heart was an unplumbed, untrustworthy depth. I mean, hey, I was well informed about the state of human hearts. Jeremiah wrote that those hearts are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). I only had to recite that verse a dozen times or so throughout my school years. Not only had I recited it, I knew I’d seen some evidence of that in my own life, with maleficent motivations popping up to reach out and smash someone. That seemed like wickedness to me. Besides all that, I’d grown up with a definite need to protect myself. I’d learned to bury myself deep and wear a thick armor, to protect myself and to protect others from the angry, frightened, hurting mess that lived at my core. I’d buried it so deep I but rarely felt it or much of anything. I lived within armor that was both protection and prison. How in the world was I supposed to love God from there? I wasn’t even sure anything still existed where my heart supposedly dwelt.

I really wasn’t liking myself much those days. I was in a heck of a mess, and I couldn’t even blame God. Lame!