Source: Heart S T R E T C H
Source: love you….
We postscript it. We call it out as our kids hurriedly grab their lunches and run out the door. We are sure to say it to our grandma after a sweet visit and a hug. We also say it when we don’t know what else to say…
It can be the veil that shrouds the true meaning of the heart.
When does it become REAL? Organic and raw. Uttered from the deepest, most guarded vault of the heart and whispered with sacred awe.
Well, the wise old shabby Skin Horse knew the answer. We would do well to listen in on this conversation…the secret of loving held the answer to real…as the very loved and worn horse knew.
“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.” (Williams, Margery, The Velveteen Rabbit).
Ah! Loving becomes a doing which must require time, patience, and well, some rough handling. Love involves being carried around absently without proper appreciation or being handled with clumsy hands that do not know how to carefully hold you. Love involves comforting and being squeezed too tightly with wet teardrops smattering your best clothes. Love gets terribly messy engaging in day to day honest life; the dirt of adventure and the hot sweats of fever bring glory and fear, deliver delight and despair, breathe familiarity and heartfelt hand squeezing. But, loving is belonging. Loving is giving. Love takes time. Love gets a little rough, because compassion is a heart moving toward someone…
Loving is meeting a need.
Wafting aromas of home-cooked goodness helped to create a warm coziness in our home this past holiday week. The meals filled us to plumb happy as we gathered together around the table, and we now need to exercise this home-cooked goodness off our bodies!
Can I talk about the importance of stretching?
The after-workout bulge of muscles can make a person appear extra buff; but what is really happening is the pumped up muscles are still shortened in contraction and full of lactic acid and other by-products. Overloaded muscles are shortened by the exhausting reps which only use a partial range of motion. The build-up of lactic acid causes the familiar muscle soreness. The muscle might loose some of its bulge, but stretching out the muscles helps them to become looser and to “remember” their original range of movement. It also helps get rid of the lactic acid and other waste-products. Although not “pumped up” as much from the tightness of the contraction, the muscle needs the loosening to return to its originial full range of motion.
But, there is a muscle that needs stretching far more than any other muscle…to the limits…as far as you can reach…and it needs to be done constantly.
Heart – s t r e t c h i n g
Did you know that Peter, a rugged fisherman in the Bible, actually talks about stretching out? Perhaps, being a fisherman made him keenly familiar with sore muscles? Fishing in ancient mediterranean times was hard, complicated work that required substantial and intensive manual labor. Fishermen developed thick muscles and a strong physique through the strenuous activity involved in their trade. Imagine the wind blowing through Jesus’s hair as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee watching two burly brothers with muscles bulging as they cast their heavy fishing nets into the waters (Mark 1:16-20). It was demanding work that required endurance.
Peter, a fisherman by trade, called to be a disciple of Jesus, was then appointed an apostle of Jesus Christ to the church. Having done very physical labor, he writes
using “muscle building” language, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[ in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” The word “fervent” is the Greek word ἐκτενής (ektenḗs) and can be used relating to the body; it means without ceasing, fervent, stretched out. Peter wants the church to “stretch out” their love muscles to their absolute limit, reaching as far as possible. He also wants them to “remember” what is the most important thing, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.‘” Love is to be “stretched out” in a full range of motion getting rid of the build-up of self-aggrandizement. Love must be stretched to its limit to cover many sins -not mere mistakes- but wrongs inflicted, not just once- but over and over- for there will be hordes of things to cover. “Stretch out” in order to hide the knowledge of wrongs against you. Reaching out our genuine love muscles helps them remember what they were intended to be: kinder, gentler, more humble, less self-seeking and to love authentically from a pure heart. Jesus gave us instruction to love others as we have been loved by him. That’s a whole lot of stretching! But, this stretching does not hinder growth; instead, it enhances flexibility and intensifies strength building. So, it is with our faith, hope and love “muscles”; but the greatest of these is love.
“Love knows no limit to its endurance,
no end to its trust, no fading of its hope;
it can outlast anything.
It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”
Noise. It’s all around us.
Daily, we hear a clamor of voices originating from outside of ourselves vying for attention. Then there are voices directing our focus within, to our own feelings, experiences, and inner voice. “Follow your heart” echoes in the cacophonic chaos. This is not a new experience– wasn’t our mother Eve deceived by followng her own desires? by listening to an unknown voice?
There is one distinct voice that should be heard. Jesus Himself taught about listening to voices. An extraordinary teacher, Jesus often observed ordinary objects or everyday work to use as illustrations. Since raising sheep was common, Jesus used it to explain with simple comparisons saying, “The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.”
Outrage prevails or apathy blinds, and like sheep we go astray. We listen to the discordant, exacting voices that demand more and more, news reports slice and dice sound bytes, the public outcry of outrage. The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote, “Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: ‘How could they have let this happen?’” Sometimes the dissonance is overwhelming, and we numbly distance ourselves from the uncomfortable. Like the ostrich we bury our heads because we do not want to face the evils around us or the daily dose of stress.
But, in each life, there exists a dark valley which resists being ignored.
Paul Miller writes, “Both the child and the cynic walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd.” Jesus calls each child of God by name as their Shepherd. “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life,and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.” The goodness of the Shepherd is seen in Psalm 23, but the world’s voice increasingly shouts louder excluding the Shepherd’s voice. The sheep are vulnerable and hopeless without the Shepherd. When the goodness of the Shepherd is removed from the Ps. 23, it is striking what remains: we are left alone with our perennial struggles, unmet wants and controlling fears.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, me
beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear
for you are with me;,
your rod and your staff
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You annoint my head with oil;
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will
dwell in the house of the LORD
To hear the Good Shepherd’s voice is to be known and loved. It is to do life with Life. The Good Shepherds speaks safety and assurance overcoming the loud noise of the world, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me[ are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them.
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life
and have it in abundance.
“The Shepherd and the Lambs,” Project Gutenberg’s Mother Stories from the New Testament, by Anonymous.
No one actually seeks God; we mainly go our own way. But, when the knowledge of God reaches down from intellectual assent into the intimate inner sanctum, a heart is either wooed or threatened by the revealing of his presence.
Our heart always will be wooed by something, for it was made to worship. If the object of heart-love is worshipped more than God, the heart will recoil in losing its ultimate comfort and counterfeit lover. Sometimes, there are subtle softenings that contaminate the well-spring of the soul. I am reminded of an ancient story…
Travel in ancient days was slow and burdensome, so it was as dusty travelers approached the camp. Their sandals flopped, visibly patched, and so worn they were barely strapped to their dirt-encrusted feet. There was a stench, warm and offensive, coming from their garments. Representing their countrymen, the men declared their purpose for peaceful relations. Finding Joshua, the men came right to the point, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” It was an act of self-preservation based on the intelligence they had garnered about Israel’s encroachment. “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth.” This was their response to the revelation of Yahweh–self-preservation that meant a strong-willed deception. They did not desire to know Yahweh, but their focus was to manipulate around the obstacles presented by the very one that made them tremble.
Joshua heard their story, but remained suspicious, prompting the envoy to show evidence of their long journey. They pulled out the remaining supplies from off their
donkeys and said, “Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” Joshua surveyed the evidence apparent to the senses and acted based on things judged with the eyes. Joshua and Israel’s leader did not ask counsel from the Lord but took action to enact peace with the Gibeonite men in covenantal agreement. It only took three days to discover the ruse, to discover the faked travel time which in reality had only been three days journey by donkey. But the oath was sworn.
Subtle softenings contaminate so that we do not seek God.
O Prince of Glory, who dost bring
Thy sons to glory through the Cross
Let us not shrink from suffering
Reproach or loss.
From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakening,
Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified.
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.
Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire,
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.
*The ancient story is factual and found in Joshua 9.
“The Gibeonites deceived Joshua”, 1728 engraving, Abraham de Blois.
Shadow art “God-Ego” by Fred Eerdekens