Recently, on a visit to my hometown, I took the time to drive by the house that had been my childhood home. It was the first time I had seen it in nearly two decades. It was largely unchanged except that it seemed so much smaller. Surely, the house, and what I thought had been a sprawling front yard, had shrunk over the years.
How else could Shane, Michael, Zane, Tammy, Connie, Angie, Sarah, Elvis (yes, there was a kid named Elvis in the neighborhood), Jeff, Cotton, Jamie, Richie and myself have all fit in it to play baseball every summer evening? Now, the front yard looked like a meditation garden it was so small.
Not everything, however, was small and nostalgic. The neighborhood itself had gone to seed. Homes were completely abandoned. Once beautiful yards were overgrown. Everywhere I looked I saw the same thing: Dilapidated, deteriorating, run-down homes.
So what happened? It was a failure of vigilance more than anything else. Everyone moved out or moved on, and homes that aren’t lived in break down. The same can be said for our hearts. By “heart,” of course I’m not speaking of the cardiovascular system, but the mysterious, inner person.
Almost all ancient languages refer to the heart as the core or essence of a person. Thus, we have the admonition from the Hebrew sage: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” The writer wasn’t referring to elevated concentrations of LDL cholesterol or high triglycerides (though one should be cautious of these, for sure).
He was addressing the spiritual center of the person, for the heart can become as overrun as an abandoned home, as fallen into disrepair as a forsaken neighborhood if one doesn’t stay with it. And I mean exactly that: You have to occupy that space, living at the center of who God has made you.
It’s tempting to run away from who you are, moving out and moving on, but at the end of the day (literally and metaphorically) you have to come home to yourself. And home will not be a very pleasant place if you haven’t taken care of the space, if you have no center – no core – if you haven’t taken care of where you live.
Put bluntly, you are stuck with you; and if you have let your heart go to seed, how can you ever be happy occupying a place like that? If your heart has been given over to the wilderness, if the dust and mold are a foot deep inside, and if cockroaches, critters, and cobwebs have taken over the joint, why would anyone else want to share that space with you?
Chris Hurst, a young songwriter from Nashville, asks this question: “How do you break a heart?” He answers, “You abandon it. Slip out in a moment of weakness and vulnerability; when it has turned its back. Leave it lonely. A heart cannot be crushed. It cannot be pierced. It cannot be gagged. It must be neglected. Then and only then will it break.”
I dare say that most of the heartbreak and heartache we suffer is not the result of what others have done to us, but what we have done to ourselves, the result of our own spiritual indifference. Yet, the forgotten and abandoned heart can be revived. It will take some time and hard work, mind you, but time and hard work will get it done.
Trim the hedgerows with prayer or meditation. Cut the grass, that is, keep bitterness and unforgiveness nipped in the bud. Repair those broken places of the past, long ignored. This kind of sweat equity will clear the cobwebs and clean the windows, allowing the light to shine in, and you’ll begin to feel safe and sheltered.
Guard your heart and you just might learn to love the person God has made you to be and the life he has given you to live. Give your heart the attention it deserves, and you just might discover a wonderful place to call home.