Don't Follow Your Heart

When my grandparents were young, during World War II, during the age of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, people were told that they should have the courage to stand up for what is right.

These days, I hear a lot of people say that we should all have the courage to follow our hearts.

After all, something done spontaneously has more validity, right? Something that comes from the heart means more than something that took a lot of effort?

I hear this from Christians, as well as from the secular world. We are told to take a risk, to have the courage to follow our hearts, our passions, our dreams. We are told that God uses our passions for His glory, so we should take financial and emotional risks, even risks to our family, to do what we are passionate about.

This is what many are taught to believe that Jesus came to model and teach: that "to thine own self be true" is the central goal and task of every man.

This actually sounds a bit like Gnosticism, a philosophy that John spoke out against in the New Testament. 

Although an ancient philosophy, see if this sounds familiar today: There is a spark of light hidden in us underneath layers of social and cultural conditioning. Whatever we most truly find within ourselves is right. My heart tells me how things truly are and I must go with my heart.

May I please decry the idea that something done spontaneously has automatic validation while something that is done while following orders or after careful reflection is less valuable or even hypocritical? Thinking carefully about a course of action does not mean that you are being false to yourself. 

This all reminds me of the romantic idea of art vs what art really is. The romantic says that art should be effortless, that it should just flow from your heart and soul. The true artist, whether visual arts, music, dance, writing, or any other genre, knows how much hard work and practice it takes to get to the point of seeming effortless. 

Perhaps it takes more courage to stick with the hard task, to continue working to provide for your family, to practice patience and self-control every single day than it does to just throw it all away and follow your heart's desire.

Then He said to them all: "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." ~ Luke 9.23

In After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (you will be hearing more from this book in coming weeks!), N.T. Wright says that following your heart
tries to get in advance, and without paying the true price, what virtue offers further down the road, and at the cost of genuine moral thought, decision, and effort.
I am not suggesting that what you do only has merit if it is dull and drudging work or that doing what you love is wrong. Yes, God does use our gifts and talents. Yes, sometimes God does call us to do something crazy, something that our world would call foolish.

What I am suggesting is that we should test what is in our hearts before we blindly follow. We should spend time with God, seeking to know what He wants rather than assuming that what is in our hearts is right. 

I don't know about you, but my own heart can be incredibly fickle.
A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. ~ Prov. 21.2
Perhaps doing only what we love is not always the godly path. More often than not, it seems that the godly path is the harder road to follow.

I promise you, though, it is well worth the work and effort. 

Just like a beautiful piece of art.

art credit: Shakespeare playbill; Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night


A Plea for a Different Sort of Compliment

Today is going to be a bit different.

One small difference is that I'm not going to use pictures. As you read on, perhaps you'll understand why. 

The main difference? 

Usually, I write about things that have a fairly wide range of interest for people rather than writing for parents or musicians or thirty-four-year-old women who love art and logic.

Today, though, I feel as though God is asking me to speak directly to my women friends. To be honest, I've actually been avoiding this essay for a while. I've found, though that it's usually best not to disobey God.

To my men friends: please don't go away. Keep reading if you like and hear some things that could teach you how to better love all of the women in your life.

The impetus for these thoughts was a conversation I overheard at a Hearts at Home conference last month. 

Yes, I was eavesdropping. It's a really bad habit of mine. My darling husband has tried his best to break me of it, but people always have such interesting things to say! I can't help being curious about people I see.

The two women were talking about a marathon that one of them had just completed. My own thought was "Wow! That's impressive. What discipline and what an amazing accomplishment." 

The comment of her companion? "Wow! No wonder you're as skinny as a stick!"

My heart grew just a bit heavy as I glanced back at them.

May I say something here in this space that we don't talk about much, if ever? Something that is a really hard thing because this place in our hearts is so very sore and tender?

All of the women I know, with whom I have spoken about these things, struggle with their body image. 


Small, large, tall, little, plain or stunning by this world's standards...all.

If you do not and never have struggled with this, you are in a blessed minority. I am so grateful that you have not had to hurt over this. Will you keep reading so you can know how to help the rest of us?

Sweet friends. Our world, our culture, screams at us that we should look a certain way, that our bodies should be a certain shape. Most of us (all of us?), at the least, go through periods where we do not like what we see in the mirror. 

Some of us never like what we see.

With our world forcing impossible images in front of our hearts and minds, could we, as sisters in Christ, vow to stop talking to each other in the manner I overheard? Could we stop complimenting each other on how skinny we are and bragging about how little we eat? 

Could we, instead, praise each other for working hard at a difficult task, for doing yet another week's laundry for our family, for working on the fruit of self-control, for spending a little extra time with God yesterday? 

Yes, we should take care of our bodies. Yes, we should encourage each other to eat well and exercise so as to stay healthy and to have enough energy to accomplish the tasks that God sets before us.

But could we please stop reinforcing our culture's obsession with the size of our waists?

We seem to think, and to communicate to each other, that we are made beautiful by what we do or don't do, rather than by the simple fact that God made us. 

To paraphrase James: my sisters, this should not be! We are called to be different, to speak God's truth to each other.

Out of love for each other, out of love for your sister who is struggling to see herself as a beautiful work of God, could we all promise to choose different compliments? 

The words that we use with each other can either reinforce our culture's perspective that we are how we look or our God's view that we are beautiful because He made us.

My beautiful sisters (and you amazing men who stuck with me!), will you choose to be mindful of how you speak? Will you promise to use words that encourage rather than words that make us want to either run into a darkened room to hide God's amazing creation or to take sinful pride in what we have accomplished in our own strength?

If you wish, we could use the comment space as a safe place to talk about this subject. We have only kind words and compassionate hearts here.


Joy and Gratitude, Sorrow and Longing



New life.

On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. "Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!"

Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history
Death is beaten, You have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
Endless joy, perfect peace, 
Earthly pain finally will cease
Celebrate Jesus is alive!
Oh, happy day, happy day...

My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing. 

On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without Kristina

As we celebrate Jesus' victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Kristina with a physical ache. As I plan a baby shower, I can't help but think of how Kristina would have been at her finest, crafting beautiful invitations by hand. 

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God. 

And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus' arms and told that all is now well. 

And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,
Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

My heart cries out "Why?"

Why do You love me that much? 

You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn't that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.

On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene


The Last Temptation

This, the Friday before Easter, is a hard day. 

I'd much rather jump straight into Easter, to the joy of the earth singing as it once again feels the touch of Jesus' feet.

Yet you cannot get to the empty tomb without going through the suffering of the cross.

I've written a lot about suffering and pain in these pages. I am often tempted to do almost anything to avoid feeling pain.  

It recently struck me that perhaps that is what temptation really is: Satan doing everything he can to help you avoid suffering here on earth.

We don't know about very many of Jesus' temptations, but God gives us enough glimpse to know that He, like me, desired to avoid pain. 

That is what Jesus' wilderness temptings were: Satan trying to convince Jesus to believe in him and take the easy, pain-free way of becoming king rather than believing God and obeying His pain-filled, cross way of becoming king. 

The way that would also rescue His people.

Too often, I believe Satan instead of God.

Yet Satan did not end his tempting of Jesus in the wilderness.

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time. ~ Luke 4

That opportune time?

The Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus' last temptation. 

The temptation to once again take the comfortable way instead of the suffering way. The temptation to believe in Satan's hazy seductions rather than in God's rock-solid promises.  
Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will but Yours be done. ~ Luke 22

I bow my head in shame, knowing how often I choose to believe Satan.

Yes, He was God, yet He still struggled as much as we do with this same temptation.
And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. ~ Luke 22

And so we come full circle. 

That which began in a garden now ends in a garden because this time the man obeyed.

Jesus obeyed. He chose to believe in God's promise while knowing the immediate consequences of pain.

My heart wants to weep because I know why He did this.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5
Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil. ~ Hebrews 2
Because He loves us and He wants to rescue us, to rescue you, from the power of pain and death.

This. This is why we linger long on this hard day instead of leaping ahead to Sunday. To remind us to believe in God's promises of the end of death and pain even while knowing of the fleeting death and pain we might face in obedience. 

May I end with something I wrote and a video I made with a friend? (if you are viewing this via email/in a reader, click here to view this video) 

Pause for a moment and dwell on the hard things so that on Sunday your heart can resonate even more fully with Easter's joy.

It swirls around me like a hurricane
sending my intentions spinning into the blackened sky.

I hear the voice of God
I hear Him tell me what is good
Why can I not obey?
My consistency is that I fail to listen
My constant is that I continue to fall.

The ugly truth?
I don't believe God.
I don't believe Him when He tells me what is best.
If I believed, I would obey.
If I trusted in God's goodness, His love, I would always do what He asks.

I would choose love instead of anger.
I would choose compassion rather than bitterness.
I would forgive instead of clinging to my grudge.
I would assume the best rather than enjoying my irritation.
I would think of others and forget about myself.

How can I obey,
how can I root out this ugliness that is deep inside my heart?
I cannot listen when I will not trust.

And yet I remember.
God is mercy and God is grace.
He changes hearts and He captures our gaze.
He is faithful if we ask;
His wisdom He delights to give.

Christ stayed in the wilderness
He faced down our sin
He trusted in God
Trusted God's love and goodness
Christ conquered to make me a conqueror.

It captures my heart and teaches me to trust
changing my nature so that I am now able to believe what God says
And obey.  

(special thanks to Kati Pessin for putting together the video and to our Pastor for his thoughts on Christ's temptations)

art credit for the video: music is "Window" by Album Leaf