“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV 1984)
I never really thought about this passage in great detail until today. The “wellspring of life” is an interesting way of putting it.
I see a psychologist every couple of weeks. Unlike some of my favourite people I see nothing inherently problematic with this – as long as a correct perspective is kept on the whole activity. I have tremendous respect for her, and I understand myself better as a result of our sessions. I have, over the years, kept counsel with many people in a similar role in my life. I have opened my heart and shared the deepest recesses of my mind in an effort to better understand my motives and actions.
In truth, my current counselling leaves me feeling lifted and supported just as much as any of the Christian counselling I’ve had. My heart feels protected, and on an emotional level I feel strong.
Now I’m not advocating the path of psychology for every issue that arises. There are certain things we need to feel rotten about so we can move out of that area of sin. The issue is that once we have moved out of the area we must as a matter of urgency stop beating ourselves up about it.
I had a friend who used to go to AA meetings but stopped because he found a single issue with them. He still doesn’t use, and he is sober now for several years. He had a problem with every time he introduced himself having to say “My name is X, and I’m an addict.” His issue was that after he’d been in the program for several months and fallen flat on his face many times he had received prayer and the addiction had been taken from him. He simply no longer desired the alcohol he’d desperately needed just a day before.
Now don’t misunderstand me. AA is an important organisation, one I advise people to go to when I’m asked for advice. I just know my friend found the declaration broke down his heart.
Our physical hearts are fragile – ask any doctor. Our Spiritual heart is even more fragile than the physical one though. It can be bruised, pierced and broken in a far more deadly way than the physical one can – and if it hardens we can get to the point where we don’t even realise it. That’s where counselling comes in.
The people who know me best know I had a lot of loss in my youth. But the pain I carried hardened my heart in ways far beyond what I had experienced.
My brother died in a road accident when I was almost 13 and he was almost 10. It was a life-changing experience, but the power it held over me for many, many years was disproportional. I used it as an excuse to not develop close friendships at school. The school I went to was an all-male environment, and to say I didn’t fit in was an understatement. I wasn’t an athlete, I was a dancer. I wasn’t highly academically inclined (for the school), rather I was a musician – and I didn’t even reach the full potential I could have done in that because I didn’t bother to practice as much as I ought to.
I left school at 18 feeling like I was a worthless failure, then set out to prove the theory. I got a rude awakening in my first job – as a classroom assistant – where I got affirmation daily about my skills and knowledge. I left home and moved to Devon, where I would live for the next ten years, and received more affirmation that I was actually a capable, caring, witty and intelligent person who was worth being around.
I really struggled with that because I didn’t have that image of myself – but it was what I wanted me to be.
Now I’m nearly 40, I’ve finally completed a business degree – which I studied for part-time whilst running a medical practice – and I find myself advising younger men to guard their hearts from worthless advice given by older individuals who actually have no maturity. They stopped their hearts from maturing by locking them away and although its been 30 years since they were saved they have never moved beyond that initial level!
Now I’m not saying I’ve arrived. There are many areas of my life where I need to unlock my heart and allow it to grow and mature – hence the visits to a counsellor – but I’ve at least understood this and I want to move.
Movement is painful though. It involves having a heart replacement – stone for flesh. I’m comfortable with my stone heart in places. It’s familiar. I dislike change in a major way – so do most men. But change is essential if we are to grow close to God. We must not stay where we are, but we cannot change our own heart, any more than a surgeon – no matter how skilful – can perform his own heart transplant.
Jesus offers us a new heart, one piece at a time. My Grandad was 80 when he went Home to be with God, and he was still learning after over 60 years as a Christian – most of those as a minister.
Heart surgery. We all need it.