The Telltale Heart
Do You Listen to Your Heart or Does it Listen to You?
In our increasingly self-centered, self-satisfying culture we are propagandized by Hollywood happy endings and pop songs to listen to our hearts. When considering a new or an old relationship we are told to listen to our heart. When faced with personal loss we are expected to move on from it. The Roxette duo sings, “Listen to your heart / when he’s calling for you / Listen to your heart / there’s nothing else you can do.”
There’s nothing else you can do… Really? Are we simply trapped in the dichotomy of listening to our hearts or listening to outside opinions? As with most dichotomies presented to us, this one is false. We do not have to listen to our hearts to be happy—happiness is temporary, anyway; by the modern definition of the word. Nor do we have to live under or up to someone else’s idea of success. When life does not go as planned, when we feel pressure to achieve the American dream, or we feel miserable because we have not attained some form of love, success, and affluence, we absolutely should not listen to our hearts. We should not listen to the world, or even well-meaning Christians spouting “feel better” pop psychology.
If we ought not listen to the world or to our hearts, what other option do we have? We need to tell our hearts. We need to speak truth to our hearts and minds, even when we feel miserable. The most oft quoted reason for unhappiness and dissatisfaction I hear from my friends is that they are single. A spouse is their idea of success. They have made a good thing an ultimate thing. They have made God’s gift of marriage an idol. This is a perfect example of where we can speak truth to our hearts, rather than wallow in the misery of what we don’t have. So we speak truth to our hearts, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing,” says the writer of Proverbs (Prov 18:22). Marriage is good, but it is not our ultimate good or end. And if we are single, we speak truth to our heart in reminding ourselves that the time we have while we are single will change if we marry. The truth is, we have more time now to spend with the Lord, if we aren’t wasting that time on feeling sorry for ourselves or trying to be busy so we don’t have to be still.
“An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).”
Perhaps you are experiencing a season of lament. Maybe you are deeply lamenting the loss of someone dear, a dream, a good thing, or something in you relationship with God. You can speak truth to your heart in this, too. Lamentation is valid and should be given its place. Yet we do not want to become bitter… In the midst of grieving, remind your heart to hope.
The valid lament:
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
The equally valid truth spoken to the heart/soul:
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
We may not yet be in the place where we have hope in God, much less in a place of rejoicing. However, we must speak truth to ourselves: hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, as the English Standard Version words verse five. The Psalmist is reminding his own heart of how he used to joyfully praise God. Yet it is no longer he who is so full of praise that he is at the head of the people going to God’s house. Does he sit down and kick and scream? No, he tells his heart to hope in God, for at some point in the future he will again be able to praise God.
Perhaps you are in the midst of many crises all at once. Cancer, divorce, death, car troubles, and more befell my family in the course of two years. In that place I was tempted to say, “God, I could use a little kindness, some ray of hope right about now. With all I am going through, I deserve a little help.” Yet I do not dare to believe that I deserve anything from God. “All is gift,” a friend of mine told me once. It is true, all is gift. Even those hard things I still can’t fully see the use for or the gift in. Even though I can’t see the gift fully, I can see in part. And I can see that I never could earn God’s goodness or kindness. I can’t earn my redemption and salvation. I don’t deserve any good thing from the hand of God. All he gives is a gift, and what I can do is to receive that gift with an open—not grasping—hand. This I must remind my heart, when it would rather think it is entitled to good things.
Finally, after you tell your heart what is true, do not become myopic. Don’t dwell on how right you were and how wrong your friend was in an argument. Dwell instead on the truth of God’s word. Dwell instead on how you can live at peace with all men, speaking the truth in love. Don’t let sorrows or circumstances overwhelm you. Speak truth to your heart, meditate on it…then do something.
The best way I know to meditate on truth is to go for a walk. As I walk and pray, I look at the little birds and mighty mountains—I remember my place in the universe is not too big, nor too small. I may not know how to deal with a problem or what step to take next, but I know I can put my hope in God. I know that he is the One who saves. I know that he directs my steps. I know that he is my light and salvation, there is nothing to fear—not really. When I focus on who God is and know that he will keep me, that he will walk through those shadows with me, my hope is renewed and I again praise him…and I walk home, my heart enlightened by the truth.