The Heart is Loved Above All Things and Desperately Loved
I first knew I wasn’t to be trusted around the age of five, when left with a babysitter who left me alone and I took an Oreo from the cookie jar shaped like an apple on the corner of our countertop. A cookie never tasted so good and so bad at the same time. My bum was worn thin from spankings already, for infractions too numerous to mention, but this is my first memory of weighing the pros and cons of obedience and choosing to go my own way. Later, when a Sunday school teacher told us that our hearts were desperately wicked and could not be trusted, I earnestly believed her with my whole wicked and untrustworthy heart.
This should have been the first sign something was awry.
I have spent my whole life overcompensating for the wicked and deceitful heart that beats inside of me. I have done it by mainly thinking of myself in reference to others, their approval, their love, a semblance of peacefulness between us. “Are we okay?” has been my barometer for “Am I okay?” If the people around me found no fault with me—I would convince myself—then surely I was doing okay. I learned to deeply mistrust my own heart, my own inclinations, my own beliefs, and my own convictions. It wasn’t that I so much trusted others hearts, inclinations, beliefs, and convictions, but that I looked at them as arrows pointing to true north in my disorientated world. If I kept going that way or this way, then surely I would stumble into truth or goodness or righteousness or God.
I read about a study several years ago—and then conducted a completely informal study of my own to see if it was true—that about 50% of people generally think they’re right until proven wrong and the other 50% of people generally think they’re wrong until proven right. My completely informal poll garnered the exact same results from its 800 or so respondents. I couldn’t believe it was true because I always assumed everyone was like me, wholly assured of their wrongness until proven beyond doubt they were right.
This study dislodged a question in me that I’ve always been too afraid to ask: What if I’m right?
I began to tentatively apply the question to almost everything in my life. What if my political instincts were right? What if my ecumenical persuasions were right? What if my thoughts about the character of Jesus were right? What if my ideas about an ever narrowing and ever widening kingdom were right? What if telling the truth about my own story was right? What if that situation in which it seemed that everything went horribly, horribly wrong wasn’t because I was wrong, but because I was right? What if my gut sense that something misguided was about to happen was right? What if my heart is not so wicked, untrustworthy, and deceitful as I believed my whole life? What if the Spirit had tuned my heart to sing of God’s grace? What if it is more true that I am loved than I am hated?
David Benner, in his book, The Gift of Being Yourself, writes, “Some Christians base their identity on being a sinner. I think they have it wrong—or only half right. You are not simply a sinner; you are a deeply loved sinner. And there is all the difference in the world between the two.”
What if an unloved heart cannot be trusted, but a deeply loved heart can?
I have been memorizing Psalm 16 recently, and these words roll through me with regularity: “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.” Is it true? Is it possible? Can the God who loves me give me a heart that instructs me with goodness? Can my heart be trusted to choose right, even if the reference points around me—other people—may think I’m choosing wrong?
We have been in a season that I sense many others are in as well. A season of hiddenness or aloneness or loneliness or, as I’ve come to think of it, a season where my former reference points for righteousness are muted. In the past, I would have felt unmoored and reached out my hands for something solid to hold onto, a pastor’s counsel, a friend’s feedback, a leader’s affirmation, a mentor’s permission. But instead, I have been learning to trust my own heart, the one God formed and made and filled and put in me for his good works through me.
What this has meant is that I don’t quite belong in the same spaces I always have. I don’t fit in, nudged between the opinions of others or the approval they gave for doing as they did. I used to find safety in numbers and said I believed that a particular kind of church membership or a particular sort of submission or a certain kind of surety was right. But the truth, the real truth, the truth I actually believe with my whole (good and God-made) heart is that sometimes God does his most beautiful work in our most lonely seasons. Sometimes he takes us out into the wilderness to teach us not only his sufficiency, but also our ability to hear Him most clearly when all the clatter and clutter is swept away.
These days, instead of asking the question, “Will this relationship be okay if I do this or that?” I am learning to ask, “What would I do here if I really believed I was loved by God and he made me very good?” I don’t do this well yet. This past week I had two opportunities to ask it and in the heat of the moment I didn't, and regretted it later. But I am learning. I am learning what it means to trust my very good and very loved and very God-made heart.