A Turn in the Suffering :: When We Can Consider Forgiveness

Through the window.

It took me a really long time to get to forgiveness. 

I knew forgiveness was pretty important — Jesus makes that really clear in the Gospels. But I also had gone through enough of the process of learning my heart to know what was really in there. I couldn’t fool myself into believing I’d forgiven when I really hadn’t.

Besides, I knew that wasn’t what Jesus wanted, either. He’s the one who taught me the importance of the heart. He’s the one who helped me learn that our hearts are the key players in relationship with God.

I couldn’t just play lip service to forgiveness. Neither Jesus nor I would be fooled. 

So what do you do when you know forgiveness is important but you just aren’t there? 

You ask God to help you get there, and you be with the truth of the mess in the meantime. 

I’m serious. This is what I did. For years — literally, years — I consciously asked God to help me learn forgiveness. And then I would look at the reality of my heart and know that forgiveness wasn’t in there yet. I was still reeling. Still in shock. Still picking up the pieces of brokeness. Still learning what happened because of all that brokenness. 

Still learning what Jesus could do with all that brokenness, too. 

I read so many perspectives on forgiveness over the years, and none of them penetrated me.

Forgiveness is a choice, they said. It’s a choice you keep choosing and choosing and choosing each day. Or they said, Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting what happened or saying that it’s okay. It means wilfully choosing not to hold that against someone anymore. Or here’s another one: Unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the other person to die. 

These things may be true, but none of those declarations or platitudes meant anything to me. They just didn’t compute. And they annoyed me. 

What got me to forgiveness was being with the pain. Examining it. Learning from it. Figuring out how it had formed me. Allowing Jesus to take me on the long journey of reckoning

And then getting to a place where I saw new things. 

The thing that helped me the most with forgiveness was having been with Jesus through that long season of darkness and scratches at healing. That long season helped me realize Jesus could handle everything that had happened to me. Even more, he could bring me through it — teach me new things, make something new.

I became more identified with Jesus and what he was making of me and my life than with the broken circumstances that had brought me to him in the first place. 

That’s when I could finally consider forgiveness.

When I didn’t need to hold the wrongdoings so close to my chest anymore. When Jesus had given me something more.

A Turn in the Suffering :: When We Become Less Identified With the Circumstances

Captiva sunset.

Do you know what it’s like to feel so identified with your suffering that you don’t know how to tell your story without it? 

I do. 

I know what it’s like to be so connected to all the ways I’ve been broken that I can’t see anything else anymore.

Living in the anger. Living in the sadness. Chafing against the injustices. 

You feel like your suffering defines you. It’s the only identity you have.

I also know what it’s like to come out on the other side. It feels like slowly waking up, or watching the misty fog clear before your eyes.

Suddenly, there’s more to see.

For me, each time this has happened, it has been akin to realizing God was able to handle all that happened to me. It didn’t surprise him or faze him. He let me come to him with it and said, “Yes. It’s true. I know.” And then he sat down beside me or walked next to me in the aftermath, attending to the process of carving out a new identity, showing how these things would be connected to bigger pictures

I became less identified with what had happened and more identified with what God could, would, and was already doing with it. 

It makes for a pretty monumental shift.

I’ve experienced a shift like this a few different times in my life, and each time it has felt like a huge boulder being removed from around my neck, and the connecting rope along with it. Instead of being submerged at the bottom of the ocean anymore by the weight of it, I found that I could stand upright in the water, my feet sure on the sandbar beneath me, feeling the cool water and its buoyancy against my skin, surveying the waves and the horizon and the light … free, now, to play.

A Turn in the Suffering :: When It Creates a Reckoning

Welcome into the light.

I’ve shared here previously that I walked through a marital separation and divorce in 2003-2004 and that it was an experience that created a heavy cloak of shame that I wore the length of my body every single day. 

I remember sojourning back to California from the Midwest, where I’d been living the previous year, with all that belonged to my name packed in the backseat and trunk of my little white Volkswagen Jetta. I arrived at my dad’s house, which would be my new home for the first part of that new season, and stepped into the tiny guest bedroom feeling all out of sorts and wondering what, exactly, my life had become. 

I was starting over. Starting from scratch. Re-entering the familiar context of my hometown, surrounded by people I’d known my whole life, but nothing was the same. 

Those first few months created a cocooning of sorts inside my soul. I would hole up in my room at the end of each day and play Sarah McLachlan’s new album over and over and over. I sat in that room with the door closed tight behind me. It was the safest place I knew.

And it was grief. Disorientation. A place where I pulled my shame cloak just a little tighter about my shoulders each day. 

But I’ve also shared that, eventually, I began to rethink all the beliefs that had been stamped into my soul through that experience. That was I worthless and thrown away … but no, I was beautiful to Jesus. That I was a single girl on her own for the first time … but no, I was now the bride of Christ. That I was less than desirable … but no, Jesus found me to be lovely

And then, in what was one of the most pivotal moments of turning around inside that season, there was the belief that my shame was merited because my new life as a divorced woman was counterfeit … but no, God sees me as Christianne, his daughter, not Christianne, his divorced daughter.

It became a season of reckoning. 

My suffering brought me face to face with what I truly believed about myself, others, and God. And by leaning into what those beliefs really were, God and I could look plainly at them together. In the context of that painful honesty, he could begin the work of reforming my crumbled foundation. 

A Turn in the Suffering :: Let It Take as Long as It Takes

Afternoon sun and shadows.

When I think about “turns in suffering,” my mind immediately flies back to the first major turn I encountered in my own experiences of suffering. 

I had been walking in a very intent way with Jesus for about 10 years. Ten years was about how long it took for me to find myself steeped in my belovedness, to be rooted and grounded in that identity of love. I’d spent many long years encountering the truth of my heart — learning what my heart even was, and then learning what was true of it — and then combining that with the process of learning who Jesus was and how to bring the truth of my heart into relationship with him. 

In those 10 years, I’d discovered and acknowledged the wounds in my heart. I’d been through the anger mill. I’d grieved a lot of losses. I’d allowed myself to admit what I didn’t know. I’d allowed myself to learn.

And it wasn’t until about 10 years into that sacred journey that I experienced my first turn in the suffering. I guess healing — or preparation for healing — just takes that long sometimes. It did for me, at least. 

And when it did, I was ready to receive some new perspectives. 

Let it take as long as it takes. I’ve learned from experience that the wait is worth it.

What is it like for you to let the suffering and healing process take as long as it takes?

A Turn in the Suffering :: No One Reason Fits All

Let's experiment, shall we?

As we begin our turn in the exploration of suffering, I want to share right from the outset that I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all response to it. 

I’ve noticed this on even just a small scale in my own experience as I’ve been holding this exploration in my heart the last few weeks. I’ve gone back to key moments in my life history that created shock-waves of suffering, and here is what I noticed: 

  • The way those situations impacted me often differed from one to another.
  • The way God met me in the suffering of each often differed from one experience to another.

Each experience of suffering meets us in a unique way.

Each time, the effect of suffering has to do with an amalgamation of so many factors — our life history up to that point, what certain relationships meant to us, what we believed about the world at that point in time, what we believe about God, our specific hopes and dreams, and so many other factors, too.

How something affects me at 5 years old is different than how something else will affect me at 25 years old — even if both are real experiences of suffering.

Who I am, how I take in the world, and what I understand about myself and the world around me will be different in each instance because they happen at different points in time. My understanding of reality has changed in the space between them.

Therefore, the way each instance of suffering impacts me will differ in both.

And the same holds true when it comes to making meaning out of the suffering and finding healing in some way. 

Each case is unique — and this holds true inside the scope of our own suffering experiences as well as from another person’s experience compared to ours. 

In this series, wherever we range in the exploration of suffering and how to hold it, I want you to know this is my heart toward you and where I’m coming from. I will share some of my own meaning-making and healing experiences with you, but these will not be meant to be prescriptive — just descriptive. Descriptive of my own unique experience and what helped me understand or led to healing, and descriptive of just one of the many possibilities that exist in the realm of suffering and how we might hold it.

This is my heart toward you: making room for your own unique experiences and needs. 



A Turn in the Suffering :: It's About the Heart

Leaf heart.

Hi, friends. 

That turn in our exploration that I mentioned previously is here.

We’ve spent a long time wading into the deep marshes of pain, haven’t we? My heart has carried two realities at once as we’ve journeyed together: sadness at the heaviness of the pain, and a fierce emboldenment to make room for the reality of it and protect this space to honor it.

Today, as we begin to shift our position to look at suffering from some new angles, I want to go back to where we started. What began this exploration? 

It was a poem about the beauty and intricacy of the heart: 

I Promise

Has not the Architect, Love, built your heart 

in a glorious manner,

with so much care that it is meant to break 

if love ever ceases to know all that happens 

is perfect?

And where does anything love has ever known 

go, when your eye and hand can no longer 

be warmed by its body? 

So vast a room your soul, every universe can 

fit into it.

Anything you once called beautiful, anything 

that ever

gave you comfort waits to unite with your 

arms again. I promise.

— Hafiz

Suffering comes from a brokenness of heart. A marring of the perfection of love we once knew creates a detachment, a fracturing, a shattering, a disintegration of being. 

It’s pain.

The pain of suffering can be experienced in the body, yes. But even the pain of bodily suffering affects us at the heart level. It crowds our hearts with questions of love, worthiness, significance, meaning, care.

Let’s explore, together, how the heart might subsist in suffering, and how the heart might mend.

Taking the Suffering Seriously :: How We Are Alone In It

Storm over farmland.

I’ve been thinking about the loneliness of suffering. 

The reality is, no other person can be completely inside our experience.

One of my best friends lost her son at 16 days old. Sometimes I sit and think about the reality of the loneliness of her experience. No matter how many other mamas she meets who also lost children to congenital heart defects or for any other reason, no matter how many friends will sit and be with her for as long as she needs to talk or simply cry and cry and cry, there is a fullness of suffering specific to the particulars of her own heart that no one will ever fully know but her.

It hurts my heart to know that.

There’s always separateness between us and what others know of us in our suffering.

I felt a loneliness like that when I went through a marital separation and divorce in 2003-2004. I was the only person among my married friends who knew separation and then divorce, so I felt like an awkward, sore thumb sticking out among all of them. I had many close friends who were single, and here I was, having moved into marriage and then beyond it.

Even those in my life who did know divorce didn’t know my experience of it. They had their own particular experiences of it, their own process of living through it to the other side, their own sense-making process for their own experience that was not my own.

I walked through that experience carrying a whole world inside myself that no one ever fully knew.

Do you know this aloneness in your own suffering?

Taking the Suffering Seriously :: How It Shuts Us Down

Dark and light.

At ages 5, 6, and 7, through a string of unrelated events that felt like they were cut from the very same cloth, I learned two things:  

  1. The world is not safe.
  2. People will harm you in your most unguarded, vulnerable moments. 

I don’t need to go into the details of what happened. Just imagine the innocence of a 5-year-old girl, put her in a natural, commonplace setting, and then introduce cruelty, manipulation, and humiliation aimed directly at her.

And then imagine the same thing happening to her at age 6. And then age 7.

I was a pretty quick study, and so I wisened up after that. In what I’m sure felt like an incredible act of maturity at having learned a thing or two about the world, I shut my heart down completely.

Closed. Out of business.

No unguarded moments. No vulnerability. No trust. Just caution and vigilance. 

No freedom. No joy.

The collateral damage was pervasive. I grew into a young woman who lived more like an automaton than a vibrant, alive, healthy human being. I couldn’t let people in. I kept myself small. I stayed invisible. I didn’t know the first thing about being honest with myself or others about the truth of my experience of life.

I was completely shut down, for the world had shown itself cruel. 

Suffering teaches us many things. One of the things it teaches us to do is to shut down.

Have you ever experienced this?

Taking the Suffering Seriously :: How It Makes Us Angry

Rocky ground.

When I began to realize at age 19 that my entire reality was rooted in faulty and harmful premises (of which what I wrote yesterday was just one), I got angry. 

Like, really angry. Super angry.

Not to mention completely disoriented. If what I’d oriented my entire reality to believe about myself, God, relationships, and the world was not really true, what was?

Commence downward spiral. Freefall.

It’s not just that solitary moments in our lives harm us. It’s that they shift entire realities. What happened in that one moment — or moments — hurt. But as we explored yesterday, they carry the capacity to form the way we live from that point forward. 

And when you get to the moment of reckoning — that moment of realizing just how great a life-altering impact that one moment or string of moments made — it’s like kryptonite. We have the potential to spontaneously combust. 

Because what are our lives, really? They’re just an illusion, we realize.

We’ve based every waking moment upon premises about ourselves and the world around us that are not true. And that leads, justifiably, to anger. 

Everything that happens is perfect? Hold on just one second with that presumptuous and unfeeling assertion, we protest.

Okay. We’ll hold on.

That’s why this is an exploration, not an answers lab.

How has your suffering led to anger in your life? 

All That Happens Is ... Perfect?

Patch of light.

I Promise

Has not the Architect, Love, built your heart

in a glorious manner,

with so much care that it is meant to break

if love ever ceases to know all that happens

is perfect?

And where does anything love has ever known

go, when your eye and hand can no longer

be warmed by its body? 

So vast a room your soul, every universe can

fit into it.

Anything you once called beautiful, anything

that ever

gave you comfort waits to unite with your

arms again. I promise.

— Hafiz

dear friend of mine included this poem in the weekly inspiration e-mail she sent out this morning, and thinking on it has gobbled up my morning.

It speaks of the very things I fiercely believe:

  • that our hearts are, indeed, built in a glorious manner
  • that they break when we cease to know the perfection of love
  • that the shattered pieces of the love we once knew inhabit whole universes of secret rooms inside of us
  • that the heart waits, even yearns, to be rediscovered and to heal and to be made whole and connected with our full selves once again

There is a bit of a sticking point in this poem, though. It says that the heart, in the way it was made, “is meant to break if love ever ceases to know all that happens is perfect.”

This implies that everything that happens is, indeed, perfect … even if it doesn’t feel that way. 

I’ve wrestled at various times, for various reasons, with this idea that everything that happens is perfect. I know wounding. I know pain. I know the imperfection of love, for sure. I know this world is pretty fantastically, grievously broken.

So, how can all that happens be, somehow, perfect? Is this poet speaking true?

I think this has to do with believing — trusting — that something greater than the pain is present even in the midst of our being grazed by it. It’s the idea that something holds all things together and has a greater, grander scope than we can see in the midst of our wounded, pain-filled realities.

This is a hard idea. I know.

And when we are in the midst of pain, this idea is the last thing we want to hear.

But here is something true.

I have come out on the other side of hell — several times, actually —  and have discovered, on the other side of it, a perfect love that casts out the fear that doubt implanted. I have discovered a more perfect love that encompasses and heals those painful, disturbing wounds. I have discovered Someone faithful and capable to hold all things, even the most painful realities I have known, in his hands. 

And incredible as it may sound, I have become thankful for the pain. 

It is only because of encounter with the perfect and intimate love of Jesus that I can say today that I am thankful for it. The perfect love of Jesus makes everything — even seeming darkness — beautiful in its time.

But I won’t pretend. This is a really hard idea to hold. It’s one I still wrestle with, in various forms, today.

Here’s a possibility, though, in the midst of the struggle. Perhaps the more we feel the pain and grope in seeming darkness toward the light of love, the more overwhelming and sweet that light will be once we find ourselves inside of it. 

I know, for myself, that the measure of my love for Jesus is inextricably tied to the very personal ways in which he has met me in my distresses. 

What is your response right now to this idea that everything — perhaps all things — are just as they’re meant to be?

He Loves You


Yesterday we talked about the connection between loneliness and belovedness. Today I want to invite you deeper into a truth I’m sure you’ve heard many times before: 

God loves you. 

I don’t know about you, but that truth didn’t mean anything to me for a really long time. Two-thirds of my life, in fact, was lived without any meaningful experience of that phrase. I heard it, I believed that I believed it, but in reality, it just bounced right off me. 

I’ve learned that the experience of God’s love is essentially connected to the experience of ourselves.

What I mean is, if we aren’t in touch with ourselves, we can’t experience love. Because the part of us that experiences love — the real us, the deep-down us — isn’t there. It’s out to lunch. It’s on vacation. It’s in the avoidance spiral. It’s completely disconnected. Turned off. Shut down.

Being in touch with the truth of ourselves is essential to our experience of God. I would say it’s the essential first step to connecting in a real way to God at all.

Have you experienced God’s love for you in a real and true way? Do you want to?

This Is Spiritual Formation


God rewrote the text of my life

   when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.

— Psalm 18:24

A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about the way our lives de-form us.

I was reflecting on many of the pieces of my heart — large, sweeping sections of it down to the tiny nooks and crannies — that Jesus has come in and healed. These pieces and places that he’s healed and the way he’s then reconnected me to the true self he created in conceiving me — this is spiritual formation. This is the work of God (and us) in our life with him.

This is his intent. Healing. Wholeness. Freedom. Life. The extension of the kingdom into the places where we live.

How might God intend to rewrite the text of your life? What is it like for you to consider opening the book of your heart to his eyes?

Pulse Check: What Do You Need?

Step through the doorway?

Needs and wants are funny things, especially when it comes to examining the heart.

I’ve noticed so many times over the last couple years that I’m surprised by my wants and needs — that what I think I want and need isn’t what I really want or need at all, once I really quiet myself to listen.

Has this ever happened to you?

My spiritual director, Elaine, is great at helping me clarify my needs and wants — and not just the difference between them but also what is real and what is superficial assumption. There have been several times in the last few years, for instance, that I’ve come into a session with her upset or confused or fidgety about something. We talk for a while about all the conflict of thoughts and emotions I’m carrying, and then she’ll often ask one of two questions: 

What do you need in this place? 


If you could ask God for anything in this place, what would it be?

These are such amazing questions. I’ve found they so often crystallize the difference between what I think I want or need and what I really want or need.

So often when I’m struggling with something, I think that I want God to fix it — to take it away, restore peace and serenity, and just overall to clean things up. But when I really get quiet and listen to my heart’s voice in that place, often the real need or desire is different from that. My heart instead says things like: 

  • I want to know God is here. 
  • I want to know he hears my heart. 
  • I want to remember how to trust him.
  • I just want to see his eyes looking at me.

It’s been interesting for me to notice that I don’t necessarily want or need God to fix everything, but rather that I simply want to know he is there, that he sees me, that he’s not going anywhere. 

That kind of distinction just blows my mind. 

For today’s Pulse Check, I’d like to invite you to consider your own wants and needs.

Consider what’s right on the surface — if you had to answer in a quick heartbeat right now, what would you say you want or need in this very moment?

Then take a moment to go deeper. Allow yourself to ask the question again, with more intentionality: What do I really need right here in this place? 

What's in Your Heart?

Holding his heart.

I’ve been curious about you today, wondering how you would answer the question: 

What’s in your heart? 

At one time in my life, understanding myself was foremost in my heart. I spent a number of years in self-examination and discovery, starting to piece together the jigsaw of my heart — who I am, why that is, why I’ve done and thought and felt the things I have. 

At another time in my life, understanding God was my greatest preoccupation. I wanted to understand Jesus, to understand grace, to understand how God views me and wants me to relate to him. 

Some people have in their heart some great and particular mission. I think of people called to serve a specific group of people, to start a nonprofit or some company, to live their life in some specific way — perhaps as a ballerina or gymnast or runner or actor. Their calling occupies their hearts and informs their days. 

What about you? 

What is in your heart right now?

Our Most Vulnerable Places, with Love

Where do the cracks lead?

I’ve been encountering the vulnerability of courageous, beautiful hearts lately, and such visions make my own heart seize up at the tenderness of it, make my own heart melt, make my breath stop short, make tears slide down my face. 

Words written from a deep-down place that feels like prayer, yet shared in the public spaces of a book’s pages, inviting us to see what that deep-down prayer is like for her. Her true heart. Courage.

Lyrics laced together from a deep-down place of truth meshed with hope and pain and sadness and longing, strung along notes that surprise us with a voice that arrests us. A different voice than any we’ve heard. A songstress giving us her own true heart. Courage. 

Images pieced together and collaged, laid over with words that speak the tender longing of a lonely, sad, but hopeful heart. Her courageous prayer.

Poetical words pieced together on page, confessing and yearning, hoping and fearing, all at once. Her true heart, full of so much beauty.

It isn’t easy to get to those deep-down places.

Such revelations require safety. Warmth. Invitation. Love. 

They require courage — courage that learns to muster when surrounded in warmth, invitation, safety, love.

In these places, our true glory dwells.

These are the places God lives. This is where he wants to meet us. It is where he wants to lead us. It is where we really live. 

Do you know your deep-down honest voice? Can you hear what it is saying now?

Letting the Truth Be the Truth

Colored bricks.

I shared recently that I’ve been experiencing emotions that are quite new and powerful to me. They rise up, quite unexpected, and honestly unsettle me.

I’m not used to feeling my heart on my sleeve. I’m the kind of person who takes in an experience and ponders it slowly, deciding how I feel about it and how I want to respond. I’m slow to feel, you might say, always wanting my feelings to match what seems most fitting or right or true to a situation. 

As much as I have often thought that approach to my emotions is the equivalent of wisdom, I’m learning these days, as I experience my emotions much more in the moment, that it keeps me from really knowing myself. This slow to feel approach has served as a shield of sorts — a shield that keeps me from knowing my heart, my emotions, my true response to situations, and even, in some ways, the depths of my own depravity.

That’s not always helpful. 

And so God has been giving me the gift of my emotions lately, even as they don’t feel much like a gift at all. When the emotions are hard, or when they cause me to sin against another in my heart, I wish this gift wasn’t being given to me at all. 

And yet I can read the psalms and be reminded that this is, in fact, a good thing: 

Count yourself lucky — 

God holds nothing against you

and you’re holding nothing back from him.

When I kept it all inside,

my bones turned to powder,

my words became daylong groans.

The pressure never let up;

all the juices of my life dried up.

Then I let it all out;

I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”

Suddenly the pressure was gone —

my guilt dissolved,

my sin disappeared.

— Psalm 32:2-5

Those images of bones turning to powder, of pressure never letting up, and of the juices of one’s life completely drying up … they’re pretty vivid, aren’t they? We get this sense of what happens when we hold everything in and don’t let it out. Our bones dissolve to powder from the pressure of holding those feelings down and down and down. Just like a covered pot of steaming food will eventually dry up if it’s left covered too long, so will the juices of our own lives dry up when we hold inside the truth of the emotions we feel. 

So I’m doing as the psalmist says today and counting myself lucky. I’m lucky because the truth of my emotions can’t go unnoticed right now, and so I bring that truth to God. And in the places where those emotions cause me to sin, I confess it and am set free. 

Understanding Increases Through Largeness of Heart

Tree romance.

I’ve been continuing to read my way through 1 Kings, and the story of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, keeps teaching me so much. This morning I read the following: 

“God gave Solomon wisdom — the deepest of understanding and the largest of hearts.”

— 1 Kings 4:29

The word understanding shows up quite a bit in the Bible, and it is especially present in the book of Proverbs — which, unsurprisingly, was written in large measure by Solomon. Littered all over the pages of the Proverbs, for example, we read exhortations like the following:

Get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. 

— Proverbs 4:7

Wisdom and understanding are somehow linked, and very closely so. 

But how are largeness of heart and understanding linked? That largeness of heart was included in the description of Solomon’s wisdom gave me pause. I’d not considered such a connection before. What does it mean, really, to have the deepest of understanding or the largest of hearts, and how are those things related to wisdom?

I thought then of the story in 1 Kings 3 where two prostitutes show up in Solomon’s court and argue over their two infant sons. One of the sons has died, and the other one still living is the object of both of their desire. Solomon is asked to sort out which woman is the true mother. 

I’ve always loved this story because Solomon solves it a bit like a riddle. Since the women can’t agree, he orders the baby boy be cut in half and both of them to receive half. It’s a crazy dictum, but Solomon knows what he is doing. He knows that the real mother of that baby would not bear his being cut in half. She would rather save his life than see him brought to harm, and she would rather the other woman have him if that meant she could keep him from that harm. So when the woman who couldn’t bear to see that happen spoke up, Solomon knew she was the boy’s true mother, and he gave the boy to her. 

This tells me about Solomon’s “deepest of understanding” in the sense that he could see deeper into the matter than his own life experience would normally teach him to know. He understood the heart of a woman — and of a mother, really — even though he was not a woman or a mother himself. 

In this way, Solomon evinced largeness of heart. 

Upon reflection, I think largeness of heart has to do with the ability to hold another person’s experience inside yourself. It’s an ability to contain more than yourself inside yourself. It’s about having room for more than just you. Your heart, instead, is large. It expands. It can hold more. 

And in holding more, the capacity for deeper understanding follows. And in that deeper quality of understanding, wisdom is found.

What Prayer of the Heart Looks Like


Hi, friends.

I want to begin by acknowledging the quiet in this space recently. I’ve been committed to writing in this space five days a week for you, and I still expect to maintain that rhythm here for the foreseeable future. But over these last couple weeks, life has caught up with me, and I’ve had to occasionally acknowledge the limits of my humanity once again

One thing is true: I’ve missed being present in this space each morning of the week with you.

This morning, though, I had the chance to sit quietly at my desk for the first time in several days. As I sat there, I could hear my mind buzzing like a lawn mower and whirling things around inside like a big and powerful leaf blower. But I sat quietly with all that internal mind-noise, glasses off and eyes closed, and let my mind descend into my heart

This is what prayer of the heart looks like for me. 

My mind, with all its buzzing and snapping, floated down into my heart and slowly settled. There, I saw my heart fold open, a bit like a water lily resting on a lily pad, opening to the honest truth of myself and opening to the presence of God with me. 

There is such a difference between the experience of the whirring and snapping of my mind and the experience of this prayer of the heart. I noticed that difference this morning.

When my mind is buzzing and plowing around, it’s like I’m talking to myself, trying to remember everything I need to do or dimly aware of the feelings surrounding me. I talk to myself about those feelings in my mind, telling myself: I feel sad. I’m overwhelmed. I’m scared. 

But in prayer of the heart, I talk to someone — God, specifically. 

When I open my heart like a water lily, laying my heart bare before God, and tell him what I think and feel, it’s an experience of relationship.

I feel sad. I’m overwhelmed. I’m scared.

It’s quite different to tell someone, with such vulnerability, what you are feeling, isn’t it?

What is it like for you to express the truth of yourself to another person? How is that different than expressing it just to yourself?

The Infinite Patience of God

Gradations of light.

Hello, friends. 

This morning, as I held the recent reflection series we just completed in my mind, I talked with God about why that series was important. Besides what we discussed about how God feels about our hearts, why was it important to discuss it in such detail at the time that we did? 

I thought about the city image we’ve been discussing here for a while, and then was reminded of a more recent post offered here about a darkened hallway and the entrance of the light of Jesus into that place. Do you remember that post? 

In it, we talked about the intent of Jesus to come to you in the places you are. We talked about his desire to find you. But what happens when he does? 

On that post, one of our community members, Lisa, offered a beautiful and perceptive comment about the quality of experiencing Jesus in a place like that: 

That image of Jesus offering light … is hugely powerful for me. There is such gentleness and safety in it — not a God who forces, but who invites, and waits patiently, with love and peace in the waiting, and not condemnation or guilt. 

Isn’t that beautiful? I’m so glad she shared that she has come to experience Jesus in that way. 

Also as part of her comment, Lisa mentioned a book called Stumbling Toward Faith by Renee Altson that includes a meditation on the parable Jesus told about the ninety-nine sheep and the one that was lost. In that meditation, Renee identified strongly with that one lost sheep and, when found by Jesus and invited back to the fold, she felt herself unready to return. Renee ends the story, Lisa says, by sharing that the shepherd, Jesus, “sat and waited with her for a long time.” 

The shepherd, Jesus, sat and waited with her for a long time … until she was ready to take the next step. 

On my personal blog, Lilies Have Dreams, I’ve shared recently about a long and intentional journey I took with Jesus through the woods. It was a season of deep formation for me — a time when I learned some new truths about my heart, grew in a lot of ways, and experienced pain and joy at varying increments. 

What often stood out to me during those several months I traveled through the woods with Jesus was the infinite patience he displayed as he journeyed with me, no matter where on the path we found ourselves. Whether I was struggling to receive a new truth, grieving newly discovered pieces of my heart, or basking in the joy of God’s grace and presence and love — whether I experienced light or darkness at any point on the path — Jesus stayed with me and was fully present and waited every single time.

There was never any pressure or expectation to hurry up and get to the next step of the journey. He just stood and waited with me for as long as I needed. 

As you journey into discovering the truth of your heart, what is it like for you to consider receiving the infinite patience of God with you in each discovery? 

Learning Your Heart: Spiritual Direction Helps, Too

Stop and rest a while.

In this short series on “Learning Your Heart,” we’ve been talking about some of the practical ways we can learn to get in touch with the reality of our hearts, since Jesus demonstrated over and over again — as did the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament — that it is the heart God truly cares to know inside of us.

Before stepping into the final suggestion of this series — that of meeting with a spiritual director — let’s take a minute to clarify what is meant by the word “heart.” It’s a word that gets commonly thrown around, isn’t it? It can be easy for us to think the heart refers to something sentimental or overly feely inside ourselves.

But let me be clear: that’s not what Jesus meant by the word at all.

By “heart,” Jesus is referring to the absolute core of who you are.

The heart, as Jesus described it, is the place inside of us that holds what we know, feel, and believe in the deep-down places, even if those things contradict what we might say and even tell ourselves we believe, know, and feel. 

I love that our hearts are not a mystery to God. Although they may be a mystery to us, and although what we discover there may embarrass or repulse us, it never surprises or repulses God.

God is interested in our getting to know the truth inside ourselves so that we can bring that into real relationship with him. 

It’s in the truth that real relationship happens.

So, this short series has been offered as a place to start. We’ve talked about paying attention to those subtle intimations that flicker into our awareness but rarely keep or capture our attention for different reasons. We’ve talked about collecting and reflecting on key moments in our lives that made a deep impression or formed us in some way. We’ve talked about practicing prayer of the heart. We’ve even talked about therapy

Today, to close out the series, I want to offer one more suggestion that can help you attend to the landscape of your heart, become aware of what’s really there, and bring that into relationship with God.

This suggestion is spiritual direction

You may have heard of spiritual direction before and wondered what it is. Is it mentoring? Counseling? Some strange way of submitting yourself to an authority who tells you what to do in your spiritual life? 

It’s actually none of those things.

Spiritual direction, plain and simple, creates a space for you to attend to your relationship with God.

It offers space to reflect on how God has been present to you in your life, or perhaps to consider ways God has not been present in the ways you had hoped. It creates a place to notice and talk to God about these things. And a spiritual director is someone who provides a listening, discerning, compassionate, caring presence and gives you the room to notice and connect to God in these ways. 

I can’t tell you how helpful I have found spiritual direction to be in my own life. I’ve been meeting with the same director for several years now, and I am so incredibly thankful for the room she creates for me to notice, connect with, and talk to God. Even though I have a faithful prayer life and my faith is an integrated and vibrant part of my daily life, I still meet with her once a month (and sometimes twice a month) and plan to meet with a spiritual director for the rest of my life. I have found it to be just that invaluable a part of my life.

I’d encourage you to consider spiritual direction as a regular part of your life, too. And if you are looking for a space to simply talk openly and honestly about your relationship with God or concept of God and your interior life, you are welcome to contact me here. I’d love to provide such space for you.

Are you familiar with spiritual direction? Have you ever met with a spiritual director? Do you have any questions about spiritual direction that you’d like to ask here?