“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put in you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
In the past, compassion and kindness toward others was not something I was comfortable expressing. It’s not that I wasn’t feeling the emotions, and it’s not that I did not want to reach out to comfort or lift others up. But somehow, the signal coming from deep in my heart was stifled as it traveled toward tangible action. I remember the last night of church camp growing up. Everyone else was typically very emotional that night—sadness at the thought of leaving their new friends and the compelling turn-or-burn message had the already hormonal adolescent crowd whipped into a near frenzy of tears and life-long pledges.
On one hand, I thought they were crazy, and on the other hand, I felt incredibly left out. I had the emotions, but somehow could not translate them into actions. I longed to put my arm around my sobbing bunkmate, but all I could manage to do was to put my hand very solemnly on her shoulder, a look of concern on my face.
This is not a bad move, as shows of compassion go. In many instances, this would be perfectly acceptable and even preferable. The point is that there was so much more in my heart that I longed to express. I hated this about myself. And though I progressed through my awkward pre-teen years, I still was unable to adequately express a heart of kindness.
Was it just “social awkwardness”? Was it being raised by reserved parents? Was it a long-forgotten scar? In spite of this handicap, I have been drawn over and over again to situations, ministries, churches where the free expression of the heart was necessary, common, and celebrated. That’s right—you heard me correctly. As uncomfortable and inadequate as it made me feel, I put myself in a situation that was in need of something I did not have over and over again. It would be like routinely going out to cross a desert with no way to carry the water I needed. I guess there was always enough success, no matter how small, to keep me trying again.
Just this week, I found myself with another opportunity to feel inadequate. I had volunteered to serve at a weekend retreat. My role was to pray for and with a small group of women going through the retreat. I knew how these things go by now, having volunteered before: there are lots of tears and hugs, emotional outbursts sometimes, laughter and dancing at others, all while crammed cheek to jowl with about 140 other women over the course of a long weekend.
On the morning of the second day of the retreat, I got up early to pray and found myself thinking about what a drag it was to face this thing in my heart that kept me from relating to people the way I longed to yet again. Then I remembered theses verses in Romans (not verbatim, but well enough to know I wasn’t making it up):
Then it hit me: this inability to express kindness and compassion was not a part of who I was! It’s not so much that I was sinning when I was unable to put my arm around my sister and encourage her, but it was very much the EFFECT of sin on my life, in that missing out on that ministry was certainly NOT the way God designed me to function. Since it wasn’t who I really was anyway, I didn’t have to live that way.
Then an image came to my mind of a large boulder coming out of the forest floor. Tree roots grew around it, moss covered the sides, leaves were piled up around it: God was showing me my heart. I thought, I have no idea how this rock got here. I realized that I had been trying to function as God designed me to, but with an enormous obstacle in the way. In remembering the verses in Romans, and realizing that this was not who I was, I decided to reject the false identity that was unable to express kindness and decided to act out of my true nature, found in Christ.
In the image in my mind, the rock disappeared leaving a dent in the dark earth where it had been, no trace of it to be found. I would no longer live according to my old nature. And throughout the weekend, I had ample opportunity to live out of this new nature, and you know what? It worked!
I wonder what other stones I can root up by faith? My life may look very different a year from now… ~Joni Butler
Your Turn: Can you relate? Is there more in your heart that can’t seem to make it out no matter how much you long for it to? God is working in you and in all of us as we remain in him. Do you have an outlet for the love and revelation he has shown you? ~ Breath on Paper