Cultivating a spacious heart…September 19, 2019
I don’t know if you can remember a time when your heart was filled with love. Perhaps you thought, “I don’t think I could ever love more than I do now.” It might have been on your wedding day, or on the birth of a child – or even when you first met your puppy!
For me it was certainly on my wedding day. As Rosemary glided down the aisle, I knew this was a forever thing. My heart was bursting with love, and I was intensely grateful. That love has never left – actually, 39 years later, it continues to grow.
Five years after we married, our first child was born. As I held him for the first time, it felt as though my capacity for love reached a new level. My love for Rosemary was a love between equals. This was a love for a little thing who was immensely vulnerable, and very dependant upon me. He made immediate and persistent demands upon my time, energy and finance – and yet my love for him kept growing. In no way did my love for Rosemary diminish – rather, I realised that the heart has the potential to be a spacious place. There was room for Rosemary, for our first child, and in due course, our second and our third.
But we weren’t just having children!
I pastored some very special congregations, and taught at a few theological colleges. The people there didn’t necessarily leap into my heart on day one – indeed, at times it was a bit of a struggle – but for all that, at some point I realised that many had made their way into my heart. Sometimes you start to care for people without even realising it. Meeting more people doesn’t diminish your capacity – you discover that the heart is indeed a spacious place.
Sometimes those whom I have struggled with the most have found a very secure spot in my heart. Funny that, isn’t it? At first you find someone very frustrating and annoying – and then later you think about them, and you catch yourself smiling. You realise it has happened again. They do actually matter to you – they do have a place in your heart.
If we are open to others, we find that they work their way into our lives and they change us just as we change them – not dramatically (because love isn’t really about changing people), but modestly and genuinely. We understand things about life we otherwise would not have. Some of them trust us with their deeper and more challenging stories. As we hear their pain and struggle, we see life with a slightly different lens. We imagine our way into their world – and our world changes as a result.
Many people want to love, but live their lives defensively, afraid that if they don’t, they stand to lose the small gains they have made over time.
So often we build worlds of insiders and outsiders, and the other is always a threat to us. But faith in God invites us to cultivate spacious hearts – hearts which discover that when we open our heart to another it is not at the expense of someone else, but that God enlarges our hearts – there is actually space for all.
Of course I am not talking about inappropriate love – lust which pretends to be love but really just wants to use the other for its own purposes. Nor am I talking about fake friendships which have their own agenda and which try to manipulate the other into paths they would rather not tread. Many things masquerade as love, and counterfeits are in ready supply. But then we only counterfeit something because we know how valuable the genuine article is.
Why am I writing like this? Have I suddenly become sloppily sentimental?
Actually, in my personal devotions I have been reading through 1 John. It’s not a particularly tidy letter, and John seems to go off on many tangents, often with very few qualifications. It’s not always easy to be sure just where he is coming from. But one thing is clear – because he comes back to it over and over again. God loves us and we are called to love one another. As it says in 1 John 4:19-21 “We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars… those who love God must also love one another.” Or how about his earlier insight in 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Lay down our lives for one another… wow, that’s serious stuff.
I have been a pastor for many years, and have worked in theological education for almost as many years. There are very few accusations against the church that I have not heard – but I can confidently say that I have yet to hear someone complain, “The thing I really didn’t like about that church was that I went there, and the people loved me.” Nope – that is not a complaint I have ever heard.
There is something very disarming about love.
At a time when many fear for the future of the church, I’d like to suggest that we invite God to take us on a journey from fear to love. A journey where we stop worrying about what we might lose, trust God for our future, and love a little more generously. 1 John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear.” Let’s stop making excuses based on fear – they are so different, they don’t really believe, they – well, let’s stop thinking “they”, and refuse to be drawn into a world of them and us.
The heart is a spacious place. It really won’t break if we love a little more.
As always, nice chatting…