God Broke My Heart

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  "And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart." Ezekiel 36:26

Throughout my whole life, I wanted the flesh heart that Ezekiel talked about.  I remember this verse and being intrigued by the idea of a real heart in terms of the interior life.  I knew that I had a physically real heart beating within my chest, but in terms of my spiritual life, the landscape of my heart looked more like a stone mountain range instead of a fertile planting ground for God to take root in.

So I took my desires to adoration and prayer and began to ask God to give me this real, fleshed out spiritual heart for His plan and will in my life - even though it would mean having to daily, if not hourly, combat the pride that stood in the way of the destruction of my cold, dead heart.

Yet instead of giving the hammer to God and asking Him to do exactly as He said He could, I pridefully took control of the hammer and began to chip away at my own heart.

Chipping away was probably an optimistic overstatement.  It was like I had a huge boulder to break down inside of my soul, but instead of pulling out a jackhammer and dedicating every waking moment that I had into smashing that stone encasement to smithereens, I was scratching at it with my fingernails in my spare time.

It wasn't working.  The stone was still there and but I was hurting, aching, longing for anything different.  Although it was cold and hard, the stone was at least familiar and comfortable.  Having a flesh heart would hurt - the vulnerability and lack of control of a tender heart scared me to death and I was content with my stone.

"Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them." - Fulton Sheen.

God had the incredible ability to, if he so desired, simply glance at my stone heart and do the shatter-and-replacement mission in a split second.  Yet He, out of complete love for me and the desiring of my good, chose to break my heart first so it would mend and bind to His heart in the healing process.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, the character of Eustace, an English school boy, is turned into a dragon because of his selfish desires and hardened heart to his role in the Narnia quest.  There is a beautiful scene that resonated with my own story within the pages of the book.  Eustace returns to camp, transformed back into a boy, and tells his cousins the story of his transformation.

I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sorts of things and snakes can cast of their skin.  Oh of course, thought I, that's what the lion means.  So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place....

Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - You will have to let me undress you.  I was afraid of His claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.  So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right through my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I had ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure feeling the stuff peel off.

Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only even so much thicker, and darker and more knobbly looking than the others had been.  And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.  Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.  And then I saw why, I'd turned into a boy again.

When Eustace tried to scratch away his dragon scales himself, he readily admitted that it hadn't hurt.  It was only when he lay vulnerable to Aslan's claws, although they terrified him, that the transformation back into His real self was possible.

The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is the only religion that makes sense out of suffering.  In light of the cross, the suffering that we have is transformed and redeemed into a beauty from ashes.  Because Christ's death is outside of the limits of time, each time trials or hardships are placed in our spiritual journey, we have the unique opportunity to unite those sufferings with those of Christ crucified.

My heart isn't all the way transformed into it's best-version-of-itself flesh state.  There are still many areas along it's surface that are rough with calloused, hardened stone that God is still ripping off and breaking off in front of my eyes.  And, like Eustace's transformation, I look at the pieces of my stone heart that lie in front of me, knowing that those are chunks of stone that would have taken me decades to smash myself.

God is good.  

I feel like I say that everyday, but it is the only phrase that my simple heart can utter in light of the incredible mercy and grace He has shown me.

The process still stings, but when I'm thrown into the waters of grace through confession, the pain is but moment and the joy is life-long.  And the tender heart that God is slowly transplanting into my chest is one of the most beautiful things that I have seen - tender and vulnerable, but protected by His hand and heart in ways I could have never imagined.

 

 

 

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Adult life is hard, not going to lie.  Long gone are the days of decisions being made for you.  Now are the times where you must make choices for yourself.  Where you are going to school, your degree field, your friendships, your relationships, your faith are all just a small portion of the things that are now resting on your shoulders as you bravely step out into this crazy world called 'Adulthood.'

Maybe you, like me, are wondering how in the world this is going to work out.  How am I supposed to be responsible for the course of my life here on this earth when I still draw in coloring books and have to sing the whole alphabet to find out what letter comes next?

With a lot of help, needless to say.  So the latest partner in this walk down the path of adulthood has been Saint Ignatius, or specifically, Father Timothy Gallagher and his book The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living.  This book is amazing - and it goes through how to make a decision and properly discern in matters both big and small.

Let's tackle the big matters, shall we?  In three semesters, my undergraduate degree is finished.  Signed, sealed and diploma delivered.  And while I am counting down the days until I walk across that stage, shake the hand of the president of the University and trip my way down the stairs, I am also dreading that day.

Because it means more decisions.  And the decisions just keep getting bigger the older I get.  Adulthood is funny that way.

So how does one go about making those decisions?  Prayer? Yes - but it has to be more than that.  I can't sit in the chapel fourteen hours and leave angry because God didn't tell me what to do.  Instead, it must be followed up with understanding and action.

Be Aware:  You can't make a decision if you don't know that the decisions needs to be made.  Say that five times fast.  Basically, know where you stand and what is going on in your life.  Are you coming up on a decision that has quite a bit of gravity to it?  Where do you stand? What are your options?

Saint Ignatius describes this awareness as having his eyes 'opened a little' towards what was moving within his soul.  It's a realization that God has a plan for your life, and that the role you are called to play in that plan is an active one.

Yet we live in a world where the noise of the business and distraction blind us to the plan God has.  Saint Augustine says, "You were within, and I was without.  You called, you shouted and broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone and dispelled my darkness."  What is crowding your life right now that is blocking the sound of God's shouts and calling to your heart?

Understand: In my high school graduation card, a friend wrote one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes: "You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose."  Key words that have always stuck out to me in that phrase: Steer and Choose.  This means that the knowledge and ability that you have after you've gained an awareness of your decision is active.  It requires understanding and reflection and choices.

Father Gallagher writes, "This is the interpretative step in discernment, and it too, like a spiritual awareness, is an invaluable spiritual aid.  A clear perception of the origin and direction of the spiritual stirrings of our hearts provides us with the necessary light to follow accurately the guidance of the Spirit."  You know that there is a decision to be made, and now have an understanding of the ramifications and consequences of the decision.  So now what?

Take Action: This is the most important step.  Ignatius boils this step down to two words: Accept and Reject.  Once you have looked at a decision and understood it in light of your spiritual life, it's time to do something.  Father Gallagher says, "Everything in the discernment of the spirits is directed towards action: towards firmly accepting what is of God and equally firmly rejecting what is not.  Through spiritual awareness and interpretation, accurate and decisive spiritual action is possible."

Accurate and Decisive Action. Is prayer important? Yes. Is asking people's opinions and thinking about the different facets of a decision valid? Sure! But if there is no action to back it up, then why even discern?

When the morning's freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and suddenly, nothing will be quite as you wish.  It is then that you must not hesitate.  (Dag Hammarsjold).